Penn State football’s season-opener against West Virginia is naturally most important to James Franklin and his staff right now.
The game is still more than three months away, but it’s still the next one on the schedule, and thus the most important one.
But Franklin is already preparing ahead, and talked about it “The Hard Count” with On3Sports’ J.D. Pickell.
James Franklin says the main thing is the main thing for Week 1… but they've started some prep for Ohio State and Michigan too 👀
Full conversation tomorrow 11 AM ET 📺: https://t.co/BWjHdqHXrI | @PennStateOn3 pic.twitter.com/twcINM6l9H
— J.D. PicKell (@jdpickell) May 24, 2023
“West Virginia, West Virginia, West Virginia, West Virginia, West Virginia,” Franklin told Pickell. “It’s who we open with. But, I’ll be honest. I won’t give you total ‘coach speak’ here. We are getting ready for West Virginia, we have done (prep) on our first four opponents (WVU, Delaware, Illinois and Iowa). We literally just finished those breakdowns. But then, we will get a head start on Michigan. We’ll get a head start on Ohio State.
“Obviously, we understand the importance of those two games, specifically on our side of the conference.
Penn State plays Ohio State Oct. 21 and Michigan at home three weeks later. All three teams are projected to be in the preseason top 10, and Ohi State and Michigan are expected to be in the top five.
”I think, we’re anywhere, in most publications, (ranked number) five or six in the country preseason. But the challenge is, Michigan and Ohio State I think are two and three or two and four. So our side of the conference, whether it’s the Big Ten East or the SEC West. You could make the argument, best two divisions in college football.”
Ohio State and Michigan were responsible for Penn State’s only two losses last season. Michigan whooped Penn State 41-17 in Ann Arbor this past October, and Ohio State beat Penn State in Happy Valley later that month. Penn State ended up finishing 11-2 and beating Utah in the Rose Bowl, but the hurdle of making the College Football Playoff lingers.
Ohio State’s made the College Football Playoff five times since its inception in 2014. Michigan’s made it twice, both coming the past two seasons. Last season was the first year where both teams made the playoff. Both lost in the semifinals to Georgia and TCU, respectively.
Historically, Franklin’s teams have had more success against Michigan than Ohio State, although he has losing records against both. Penn State is 1-8 against Ohio State under Franklin and 3-6 against Michigan. Penn State’s last win against Michigan came in the pandemic-themed 2020 season at Michigan Stadium.
If Penn State is to make the playoff, it will likely have to beat one of Ohio State or Michigan, if not both.