STATE COLLEGE – If James Franklin and his team were disappointed on missing out on the chance to play in its third straight New Year’s Six Bowl game, the Penn State coach didn’t say as much on a conference call Sunday.
The Nittany Lions (9-3, 6-3) learned their bowl destination would be Orlando in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1 against Kentucky (9-3, 5-3).
While the Citrus Bowl is not a New Year’s Six bowl, Franklin said he and his players are just looking forward to the opportunity to play in another game this season.
“I can’t tell you how much we appreciate this opportunity,” Franklin said. “Us coaches and players are really excited. It’s an historic bowl game. We’re looking forward to playing a Kentucky program that we have a tremendous amount of respect for. Have a tremendous amount of respect for (Wildcats coach) Mark Stoops.”
Projections over the past week since Penn State wrapped up its season against Maryland placed the Nittany Lions in either the Citrus Bowl, Outback Bowl or Peach Bowl.
While Franklin said he believed his team did enough to warrant a New Year’s Six invitation, he didn’t dwell on the projections too much since that win over the Terrapins.
“I don’t spend a whole lot of time studying those things,” Franklin said. “I had a lot of people on my staff telling me things like what was like the 37th factor for us to end up there. But I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention on it. Really was out of our control.”
A big reason Penn State missed out on one of those select marquee bowl games was the fact Ohio State, the Big Ten champion, missed out on the College Football Playoff.
It marked the third straight season the Big Ten champion did not qualify for the final four, and the second season in a row where the conference missed out altogether.
Ohio State finished the season at 12-1, but missed out of the Playoff and finished No. 6 in the selection committee’s final top 25 rankings behind No. 4 Oklahoma and No. 5 Georgia.
Franklin believes the conference might need to assess whether steps need to be made to ensure the Big Ten is put in the best possible position it can be to qualify for the playoff.
“As a conference, I think we have to look at what we’re doing. We have to look at our model and see if it works,” Franklin said. “Especially our side of the conference and how tough it is. Other conferences play eight conference games and we play nine … I don’t think there’s any doubt we have to have a conversation and ask ourselves are we doing what’s best to give our schools the best chance to make the playoff?”
A win over Kentucky would give Penn State its third consecutive 10-win season. That would mark the first time the program achieved three 10-win seasons in a row since they joined the Big Ten in 1993.
Expect that to be a feat that Franklin harps on to his players over the course of the next few weeks.
“If you can do something that’s never been done before in the Big Ten era for Penn State, that is a pretty strong statement,” Franklin said. “Something that our senior class can be proud of. Something that our Penn State community and fans can be proud of. Not a lot of schools have been able to accomplish that.”