Although we have yet to see an official report from any outlet, it’s been speculated by a number of national media pundits — from Adam Rittenberg of ESPN, to Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports, to Bruce Feldman and Stewart Mandel of The Athletic — that James Franklin could be connected to the opening gig at USC should the Trojans fire Clay Helton.
Here’s a piece of what Feldman and Mandel said on “The Audible” podcast:
Feldman: People will say, “He’s a Pennsylvania guy.” Yes he is. And he has really done a really good job in State College. Here is the reality though, and I don’t know if Penn State fans probably will not like to hear this, but if you’re the head coach at USC, you have by far the best job, the best program in the conference. It is not even close in terms of you have all these recruits in your background. You have manageable academics to get them into school. A lot of these kids — most of these kids — grew up dreaming of playing for USC. You have really good facilities. You are also going into the Pac 12 South when it is in complete disarray, right? If you’re at Penn State. Yeah, it’s got great tradition too, and you got really good facilities. You also have Ohio State and Michigan in your division, not to mention Michigan State. I mean, I think most people who are objective and who are not diehard Penn State fans would say that’s probably the third best job in the division, right?
Mandel: Absolutely. That’s the reality of it. And another thing that should be brought up is: I don’t know if the Penn State fan base has ever fully embraced James Franklin even after winning a Big Ten Championship. I still hear the criticism every time they lose a game. They’re 8-3, you know, that’s not a bad season by any means, but I’m sure a lot of people thought it should have been better. So you could stick around and continue to butt heads with Ohio State and Michigan and trying to keep winning everybody over, or you could go to a place that is so hungry and desperate to win that you’ll be given the royal treatment the minute you step off the plane.
Of course, the whole “Clay Helton hasn’t been fired yet” is a rather important piece here. USC A.D. Lynn Swann has yet to make a move on the head coach, but unless the Trojans pull off an upset against No. 3 Notre Dame, they will fail to make a bowl game (non-sanction wise) for the first time since Paul Hackett’s last season in 2000. If that happens, it’s difficult to see a scenario where USC decides to keep Helton.
Again, there have yet to be any official reports about James Franklin and USC, but it likely isn’t a coincidence that every national writer is bringing up Franklin when discussing who could replace Helton.
Could it be a leverage play from James Franklin to get more resources (bigger recruiting budget, hurry-up on the facility upgrades, etc.) from Penn State’s athletic department? Perhaps. As other outlets have mentioned, Franklin’s agent Trace Armstrong could be using the media to his advantage in order to play hardball with Penn State. But regardless of what is going on, it’s likely this isn’t the last time Franklin is mentioned with the USC job.