CHICAGO — On Saturday, James Franklin stayed out of the spotlight. The Penn State coach stuck to the side of the room at Beaver Stadium as the school’s new athletic director, Sandy Barbour, was introduced up front.
Today? It’s showtime.
Franklin will take the stage at the Hilton Chicago for the first time at Big Ten media days, which begin this morning.
After spending the last three seasons at Vanderbilt, Franklin has been used to the more carnival-like atmosphere that permeates SEC media days. No doubt he’ll try to use the platform provided today to make a memorable first impression on the Big Ten.
He takes the podium at 2 p.m. today, with the Big Ten Network and ESPNU providing coverage.
Here’s a look at some storylines for Penn State and the rest of the conference heading into the unofficial start of football season.
For the first time since the Jerry Sandusky scandal tore the school apart, Penn State now has three fixtures in their most visible positions on campus. Franklin and new president Eric Barron were joined this weekend by Barbour, who was officially hired Saturday.
Barbour is expected to join Franklin in Chicago to take part in the athletic directors meetings that coincide with media days. It will be a chance for football coach and athletic director to begin building a working relationship.
“Well, I’m probably the last person to ask about integrating into the (Penn State) community because I know three restaurants and the airport,” Franklin joked to reporters in State College on Saturday. “But I hope to be a resource moving forward.
“I’ll do whatever I can to help anybody move forward and get adjusted. Because we don’t really have a year to waste of building that relationship and rapport. We’ve got to hit the ground running. So I know that we’ll spend as much time as we need to so that we can start building.”
Think of this week — and preseason camp, which opens in another seven days, Aug. 4 — as the true start to Penn State’s new era.
Not just for the football program, but for the athletic department as a whole.
“I don’t want to put words in all the coaches’ mouths, but I feel like that is what we have wanted — some clear direction,” said men’s tennis coach Jeff Zinn, one of the many new hires made during the upheaval of the last few years. “Now is the beginning of that.”
BIG TEN EAST
Yes, that’s right. Today is everyone’s reminder that the uh, creative, Leaders and Legends monikers are officially gone. Penn State is officially a member of the East Division for football, and it’s the East that will be getting the most attention today.
Not only does it contain three of the conference’s top four programs in terms of historical prestige (Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State) and the defending league champ (Michigan State), but it also is now home to the league’s two newest members.
Maryland and Rutgers became full Big Ten members on July 1, and plenty will be made about their transitions to the conference.
Both are former mainstays on Penn State’s schedule from when the Nittany Lions were still an independent. And both aren’t necessarily thrilled with some of Franklin’s showmanship as the Lions continue to score significant recruiting victories in their respective home states.
Franklin has referred to “a six-hour radius of campus, that’s what we’re going to treat as in-state (in regards to recruiting)” during his public appearances, something that has riled up a few of his peers.
“We’re not gonna boast and brag. We’re more about substance at Maryland,” Terrapins coach Randy Edsall, a York County native, told the York Dispatch this summer. “We’re gonna find guys that fit the profile we’re looking for. We’re gonna worry about ourselves and not worry about anything else.
“Talk is cheap.”
BIG TEN WEST
Penn State loses Wisconsin, Illinois and Purdue as divisional foes from the old alignment, though the Illini will be on the 2014 schedule as one of two crossover games along with Northwestern.
With both of last season’s Big Ten title game participants — Ohio State and Michigan State — now in the East Division, the West looks particularly wide open.
Bo Pelini practically dared Nebraska officials to fire him after he was ejected from a game last November, preceding another season without a major bowl berth.
Wisconsin’s upset loss to Penn State in the 2013 regular season finale took some shine off a solid start for Gary Andersen in Madison.
Northwestern’s promising season fell off a cliff, leading to a stunning 1-7 conference record.
Iowa fans are uneasy after another inconsistent season under long-time coach Kirk Ferentz.
Minnesota looks to be on the upswing, but concerns still linger about the health of coach Jerry Kill, who was forced to step away from the team during last season.
Illinois and Purdue both had miserable 2013 campaigns with coaches Tim Beckman and Darrell Hazell, respectively, not inspiring much confidence.