Penn State coach James Franklin delivered some good news to fans during his bowl media day Friday morning. He expects Olu Fashanu, Caedan Wallace and Keyvone Lee to play against Utah in the Rose Bowl.
“Right now, we are planning of Olu and Caedan to be available, but that could change,” Franklin said. “We’ll see how this thing goes. We’re not going to rush either of them back at all.”
The bonus update Franklin provided bodes even better for the Nittany Lions offense.
“Keyvone,” Franklin said. “We’re expecting to have all three of those.”
All were big losses for Penn State during the season. The trio missed significant time with injuries and will be welcomed back with open arms, especially up front with Wallace and Fashanu returning to the fold.
Lee’s mysterious injury unfolded during the middle of the season and coincided with Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen emerging as big-time playmakers. Rumors swirled about Lee’s future with the program during that time, but that looks to be solid with his return from the injury for the bowl game.
Fashanu has already announced he’ll be returning to Happy Valley next season for his junior year. Wallace, a redshirt junior, has yet to make a public decision to return or go pro next season.
Although its expected that Lee returns, with a loaded backfield, anything is possible moving forward as the bowl season and offseason play out.
MORE NEWS AND NOTES FROM MEDIA DAY
PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES
Finding a balance between the holidays, work and life is always difficult this time of year. Throw in recruiting and flying all over the country and you’ve got yourself quite a hectic schedule.
So, it’s no surprise the past two weeks have been just that for Franklin and his assistants. They’ve traveled around the country on the recruiting trail trying to finalize this year’s recruiting class and building next year’s.
“All those types of things, just running in 1,000 different directions, making sure our guys are in a good place here, making sure our staff flying all over the country is safe and doing what they need to do and then finishing in recruiting and there’s literally not enough hours in the day,” Franklin said.
The logistics of all that would make even the most prepared and detailed cringe and when something goes wrong or something goes off schedule, it can make a nightmare come to reality. Franklin experienced just that in his travels last week. First, with early flights to and from the College Football Hall of Fame ceremony then the dreaded delayed flight.
“My flight was at 4:10 a.m. I wished it was PM,” Franklin said. “Then I got to the airport and the plane had broke down, so I sat there until 9 a.m.”
Enter an old friend to save the day.
“My old buddy, Dabo Swinney came in and he was going to the Orange Bowl press conference in Fort Lauterdale, so I said ‘Dabo, please let me jump on this plane with you.'” Franklin said. “Me and him flew out to Florida which allowed me to get there.”
DR. DR., GIVE ME THE NEWS
Athletic Director Dr. Patrick Kraft spoke before Franklin and mentioned the university is close to having a plan to renovate Beaver Stadium.
Kraft has traveled with the football team this season and has spent a lot of time with Franklin in the process, something Franklin has been very fond of.
But it’s not just been Kraft doing all of the advocating. New Penn State president Dr. Neeli Bendapudi also has been at the forefront of getting to know the program and helping Franklin gain the tools necessary for continued success.
“I can speak in a lot of ways about Pat and Dr. Bendapudi,” Franklin said. “Both of them, their energy is contagious.”
Bendapudi spoke at last weekend’s football banquet and was a hit right away for the Nittany Lions in attendance.
“She crushed it,” Franklin said. “She’s just so positive, so energetic and she just had the whole room eating out of her hand.”
Kraft has made Franklin’s life much easier now that he and the administration are seeing eye to eye on a lot of topics.
“Pat’s been great,” Franklin said. “We got to change our approach because we’re wasting time in meetings because we’ll go to them a lot of times with things we think we need to do … and we put on our sales hat and we don’t really need to do that. We just talk about what’s going on … and they see it the same way.”
“WHO WE’VE BEEN”
Penn State’s last trip to the Rose Bowl was in 2016, the same year the Nittany Lions won the Big Ten championship. From there the Nittany Lions went to the Fiesta Bowl in 2017, Citrus Bowl in 2018 and Cotton Bowl in 2019.
What followed the Cotton Bowl was a COVID-riddled 2020 campaign and a season full of struggles in 2021 that saw Penn State in the Outback Bowl.
With the Nittany Lions back in the Rose Bowl and sitting at 10 wins, are they back? Well, it’s also possible they never left.
“This is who we really have been. Obviously, the last two years and I know everybody dealt with COVID, I think COVID affected us,” Franklin said. “This is really who we’ve been, it’s been my expectation, our expectation and our players’ expectation.
Opting out of bowl games is commonplace throughout the college football landscape as players prepare for the next level. Penn State is no different, but they’ve been hit far less hard by those decisions under Franklin.
“In my mind, the way we build it at Penn State there’s really no reason to opt-out,” Franklin said.
Players like Saquon Barkley didn’t opt out even with those in his corner suggesting he sit out the 2017 Fiesta Bowl. He went on to rush for 137 yards and two touchdowns in that game before becoming a first round pick by the New York Giants.
Until last year, Penn State hadn’t really had many opt-outs and that’s by design for Franklin and company.
“This is who we’ve been. In my 12 years as a head coach, I’ve never had an opt-out until last year … it goes back to the leadership of our captains this year.”