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Smeltzer: Penn State HC James Franklin has Chance to Become Temporarily, but Nationally Beloved

Photo by Matt Lynch, Nittany Sports Now: James Franklin

I wanted to title this column “Penn State HC James Franklin has a chance to the funniest thing ever.”

I really did.

But the purpose of a column is for a writer to give their opinion, and I don’t believe PSU beating Michigan would be the “funniest thing ever.”

Yes, there would be a comical element to Michigan losing its first non-College Football Playoff game in two years while its in the middle of the most publicized college sports scandal since, well, longer than that. But to say Penn State winning would be the “funniest thing ever” would be selling PSU short. A top 10 team playing at home has a chance against pretty much anyone, especially when home is Beaver Stadium. Penn State isn’t favored to beat Michigan, but its capable.

Now, had then-2-6 Purdue come into Ann Arbor and beaten Michigan under the lights last Saturday, that would have been the “funniest thing ever.” But it didn’t happen.

Penn State’s in rare territory Saturday. For one, it’s an abnormally big game against an abnormally big opponent.

It will also be a rare case were the majority of America’s rooting for Penn State.

Penn State is a borderline college football “blue blood” (that’s a debate for another article). Because of that, the team has one of college football’s biggest followings. A lot of people love Penn State, and a lot of people hate it, too. So when Penn State plays, people who aren’t fans of the program are probably rooting against it, either because they hate PSU or because Penn State’s usually favored, and for neutrals, what fun is rooting for the favorite unless you have money on it?

When Penn State plays Michigan or Ohio State, it has more support from the outside because a lot of people hate those teams, too.

But usually, the added people rooting for Penn State are doing so with a grimace, choosing between what they see as the lesser of two evils.

That won’t be the case Saturday.

People want to see Michigan go down, and although James Franklin being the guy to do it isn’t ideal for PSU haters, they’ll be pulling hard for Franklin’s team nonetheless.

To say Franklin is a polarizing figure would be about as bold as saying Taylor Swift is rich. He’s polarizing to both Penn State’s fanbase and nationally. He gets a lot of love for winning the vast majority of his games, and a lot of hate for losing the most important ones, which Saturday will be one of.

Franklin coaches at a big time program and has a big personality, which, like Penn State in general, is, depending on who you ask, appealing and appalling.

There’s no understating how important this game is for Penn State. A win would make its chances of winning the Big Ten and getting to the College Football Playoff— something the program hasn’t done— very real. Even if none of the Michigan drama was going on and nobody knew who the hell Connor Stalions was, this would be a huge game for Penn State.

But because people do know who Stalions is— and I’m sure more than few signs in Beaver Stadium will reference the now-resigned Michigan staffer said to be at the center of Michigan’s illegal operation— Franklin has a chance to become nationally beloved.

A lot of people hate Michigan anyway, and now, have even more of a reason to.

If Penn State beats Michigan, UM would have to beat Ohio State two days after Thanksgiving to get to College Football Playoff. Certainly not an easy task. Many feel that Michigan should be barred from the Playoff, but it doesn’t sound like that’s going to happen. So at least one of Penn State or Ohio State is going to have to step up.

As polarizing as Franklin is, he has nothing on Jim Harbaugh.

Right now, Michigan’s the most hated team in the country with the most hated coach, and I don’t believe there’s a close second.

In the eyes of many, Penn State will be doing the world a favor by beating Michigan Saturday. In wrestling terms, PSU is the clear “baby face” (good guy) and Michigan is the obvious “heel” (bad guy).

The nation’s love affair with James Franklin would only be temporary. By Monday or so, Penn State fans will go back to worrying about the team winning the Big Ten, and America will go back to feeling however it felt about Franklin.

But for a hot second, James Franklin will be the most beloved coach in America is he beats Michigan.

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