“Bring on the SEC!”
That’s what many Penn State fans felt like shouting from the rooftop Saturday.
“No.” is what coach James Franklin would say in response.
Penn State’s two-year mini-series with Auburn came to a close Saturday, and Franklin’s team finished it 2-0 with an emphatic 41-12 win at Jordan-Hare Stadium. It was the first time a Big Ten team ever played in Jordan-Hare, and Auburn is now 0-1 lifetime against Big Ten teams in its house.
The last question of Franklin’s postgame press conference, asked by Johnny McGonigal of PennLive, was about whether Franklin would want more SEC games in the future.
“There’s a reason that (Penn State-Auburn) is like one of the only games that’s been scheduled in the history of the Big Ten,” Franklin said. “All the data, all the analytics show you have to do whatever you can to win your conference. To win your conference.”
Penn State doesn’t have an SEC opponent scheduled in the foreseeable future.
It’s unclear if Franklin’s comments were about scheduling tough non-conference opponents in general, but it would make sense if they were.
Franklin knows firsthand what an out-of-conference loss could do to a team’s national championship dreams.
In 2016, Penn State lost to ACC school Pitt, 42-39.
The Nittany Lions ended up winning the Big Ten and finishing the season 11-3 including a Rose Bowl loss to No. 9 USC, but it’s generally believed that the team would have made the college football playoff had it beaten Pitt or had an easier non-conference opponent in Week 2.
Franklin, who used to be an SEC head coach, running Vanderbilt’s program from 2011-13 before taking the Penn State job, sees the Auburn trip as a positive.
But he doesn’t feel the need to go back.
“This is going to help us,” Franklin said. We’re going to build on it. It’s a great experience, not only for this year, for us to move going forward, but also for the freshmen. So, really, any of the freshmen, through their hopefully six years at Penn State, with COVID years, will not have to play in one of these games again. I know you won’t be happy with that.”