Big Ten awards James Franklin

James Franklin has been asked a few times recently if the Penn State program is ahead of schedule, and he’s responded by saying that, no, things are pretty much right on schedule.

The coach might feel that way, but just about everyone else around college football is in the camp of believing this 10-2 PSU team that has a chance to win the Big Ten title is indeed ahead of even the most optimistic of schedules.

It’s a big reason why Franklin is being talked about for national coach of the year honors.

And it’s the reason why Franklin was named Big Ten Coach of the Year on Tuesday by the league’s media, winning the Dave McLain award. Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst was voted Coach of the Year by the league’s coaches, winning the Hayes-Schembechler award.

“I’m honored and humbled, but this is a team award,” Franklin said on Big Ten Network.

“I think all good teams across the country overachieve,” Franklin said earlier Tuesday. “That’s what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to maximize the opportunities you get, trying to maximize the talent you have. You do that with great chemistry, relationships, trust and love for one another. … You prepare like crazy, so when opportunities come you can take advantage of them.”

Penn State opened the season 2-2, with losses at Pitt (42-39) and at Michigan (49-10). The national media already had Franklin on the hot seat at the beginning of the season, and athletic director Sandy Barbour was put in a position where she had to give Franklin a vote of confidence.

All of that looks rather comical now.

Still, rather than admitting that the season has turned out better than anyone could have imagined after the 2-2 start, Franklin contends, “I think we’re right about where we want to be.”

As he’s pointed out several times, he and his coaches saw the progress every day in practice long before the public was able to get proof of it through results on the field.

“I think all those experiences, the last three years, including this year, have led us to where we are now,” Franklin said. “We wouldn’t be the same type of team without the highs and the lows. I wouldn’t be the same person, the players wouldn’t have the same experiences. You learn from all those things.”

Penn State regrouped after the 2-2 start to win its last eight games, the program’s longest in-season Big Ten winning streak since 1994. The Lions are ranked No. 7 in the College Football Playoff and will take on Wisconsin on Saturday in the Big Ten championship game.

“We stuck to the plan, believed in each other and persevered,” Franklin said on BTN. “We’ve just been slowly but surely getting better each year, each week, and that’s what you’re seeing this season.”

In his third season at PSU, Franklin has won his first Dave McLain coaching award. Bill O’Brien won it in 2012, and Joe Paterno won it three times (1994, 2005, 2008).