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Penn State begins critical 3-game homestand Saturday

Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire

Penn State enjoys a long history of winning football games and competing for championships. The task now is to prevent it from becoming ancient history.

The Nittany Lions (2-2 overall, 0-1 Big Ten) were outclassed and run over last week playing against another proud program. Michigan embarrassed them 49-10 in Ann Arbor.

Penn State also lost the renewal of its rivalry with Pittsburgh earlier this season. It’s not produced double-digit victories since 2009 and have posted 16-14 overall mark (6-11 Big Ten) in coach James Franklin’s two-plus years as coach.

The Lions desperately need a victory Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, BTN) against visiting Minnesota (3-0, 0-0). The game kicks off a three-game homestead where they also meet Maryland and Ohio State. It’s a chance for them to make a move back into college football relevance.

“There’s a process to this,” Franklin told reporters during his Tuesday press conference in State College.

“There’s a process from the time we arrived to where we’re going. I think I see strides in people that come to practice every single day, see strides in the people that are around our program, in every aspect, the professors that come as the guest coach programs with us, the administration that’s around us, at practice, in meetings, academically, athletically, socially, spiritually, the whole package, there’s progress being made.”

Ultimately, Franklin, who reportedly makes more than $4 million annually, knows that progress needs to show up in wins sooner rather than later. Much of the university’s identity is tied to its football program.

That obviously showed up in a negative light during the Jerry Sandusky/Joe Paterno scandal. Support has remained strong for program, but it’s a bottom-line, big-money business.

“Are there times where we all want the progress to happen a lot faster? No doubt about it,” Franklin said. “But I think that’s also what makes Penn State special is there’s very high expectations here. There’s a tremendous amount of pride. I get email after email after email that talks about people’s pride in this place and how much they care and how much passion and how supportive they are.

“The good thing is I only get the positive emails because my administrative assistant, she screens them. So that’s good.”

Penn State is chasing the Big Ten East Division’s top three teams — Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State. That trio swept the Lions a year ago by a combined score of 121-42.

Ohio State and Michigan State visit Beaver Stadium this season. Defending West Division champion Iowa also comes to State College. Penn State’s remaining road games at Purdue, Indiana and Rutgers are very manageable. That said, the Lions need to pick up their level of play.

Franklin clearly is hearing the angst from fans. He reminds them that their program is rebuilding from the black eye of the scandal and lost scholarships.

“A lot of times is people compare and contrast. Well, it’s hard to compare and contrast because of the situation we were in. Who are you going to compare that to? So I get it, but I think it’s coming from a good place. It’s coming from a place of pride and love of Penn State and wanting to get back to those memories and those experiences that they look back so fondly on.”

Franklin says he embraces the pressure and the challenge. He believes his players do, too.

“I want everybody to take a deep breath,” Franklin said. “We’re going to continue loving these kids. We’re going to continue supporting these kids. We’re going to continue developing these kids, and I believe in my 22 years of experience that we’re heading in the right direction and good things are going to happen if people let the process play out.”

The next three contests in State College could go a long way in determining whether Franklin is the man overseeing that process in the future.

Penn State begins critical 3-game homestand Saturday

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