PITTSBURGH (93-7 The Fan) – I think Penn State coach James Franklin can be an over-the-top, runs-his-mouth-a-bit-too-much, talks-a-big-game guy sometimes.
Then again, a lot of college football coaches — especially successful ones in the current climate — seem to have that sort of quality.
Truth be told, until this season, Franklin didn’t have the team to match his flapping jaws. But with a 19-point win over Pitt this past weekend (albeit with warts) and the Nittany Lions among the favorites in the Big Ten Conference, it seems high time for Franklin to not just gather the spotlight but make sure people pay a ton of attention to him while he’s in it.
All that said, he delivered a quote in his Saturday postgame newsgathering session that appeared to rankle some.
“I know last year for their win [against us], it was like the Super Bowl,” Franklin said of Pitt. “But for us, this was just like beating Akron.”
All of that.
I don’t know if he was trying to illustrate that Penn State treats all games equal, that Pitt is nothing more to the Nittany Lions than some MAC school or to get a huge dig in on Pat Narduzzi’s squad. Heck, maybe it was all of those things — and the guess here is that it was, as Franklin is incredibly media savvy and ultra-aware of the power of his words.
When he let rip with that line, relegating Pitt to nothing more than some lower-tier opponent in his eyes, Franklin actually did Pitt fans a favor as the two teams still have games scheduled next season and in 2019.
He made himself a villain.
He is now a scoundrel personified. He is, make no mistake, someone Pitt fans should absolutely “hate” —- in sports terms, obviously, not “hate” in literally form.
You see, that’s what all good sports rivalries have. Hate is healthy in rivalries. They have heroes and villains to each fan base; they have people you worship and people you positively despise and can’t stand with every cell of your being. That’s what James Franklin made himself into for Pitt fans when he uttered those words comparing the Panthers to Akron.
Is Pitt and Penn State a “rivalry” game? Certainly, it is. There is positively no question about it.
Does James Franklin look at the Pitt game the same way he looks at the Akron game? Not a chance. Not in a gazillion years he doesn’t. And neither do his players, particularly the ones from Pennsylvania.
That’s why there is little doubt he knew exactly what he was doing when he got his dig in —- and when you win, you have the license to say whatever the heck you want. If you don’t like James Franklin saying outlandish things in the press conference after the game, the best way to shut him up is to beat him if you’re Pitt.
But because he won, Franklin chose to say what he did. And because he won, he earned the right to.
Does he believe his words? Heck no. No way.
But I know this: He made himself a polarizing figure even more so than he was before. Penn State fans are most likely patting him on the back and getting a good chuckle from his words while Pitt fans are a little steamed at the lack of respect.
His words hit the mark then.
They infused a little more juice into this rivalry. And that’s never a bad thing. Again, good rivalries have to have villains.
Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weekdays from 5:40 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his bio here.