James Franklin-USC speculation heats up with Dan Patrick reporting 'mutual interest'

Centre Daily Times (TNS)
Penn State head football coach James Franklin.

It didn't take long following the firing of USC head coach Clay Helton on Monday for Penn State head coach James Franklin's name to get mentioned in the conversation as a potential replacement.

Franklin was linked to the job by several national college football reporters, including Pete Thamel, of Yahoo Sports, Bruce Feldman, of The Athletic and Adam Rittenberg, of ESPN.

Franklin addressed the speculation in his weekly press conference on Tuesday, saying that he could not "stand any form of distraction" regarding the rumors and said he'd meet with the leadership council later that day to discuss the situation.

But regardless of whether or not Franklin wants the "distraction," it doesn't appear that it's going away anytime soon. The speculation heated up on Wednesday when Dan Patrick reported on the "Dan Patrick Show" that there's "mutual interest" between USC and Franklin.

"James Franklin was at Vanderbilt, escaped Vanderbilt, then got to Penn State, and by all I accounts I think he's done a pretty good job there," Patrick said. "You know, it's the next challenge. A lot of these coaches look at is as 'oh, done with this, next challenge.' Maybe that's the case, I don't know, but there's going to be a lot of names you're going to hear."

Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford also weighed in during Wednesday's media availability over Zoom.

"Coach Franklin talked to us yesterday to address the topic," Clifford said. "I don't think that it's anything that we need to worry about. It's kind of out of our hands. So, we're just going to focus on Auburn and then go from there. We're really excited about what we have on the table this week. We're not going to let outside sources change our game plan or our thought process on the game."

Since being hired at Penn State, Franklin owns a 62-28 overall record (68.8% winning percentage) and a 39-23 (62.9%) record in Big Ten play. His teams have spent nine weeks in the top-5 of polls and 28 weeks in the top-10. The No. 10 Nittany Lions also boast the highest-rated 2022 recruiting class, per 247Sports.

The Lions will take on No. 22 ranked Auburn at 7:30 p.m. Saturday on ABC. ESPN's "College GameDay" will be located on the lawn of Penn State's Old Main earlier that day.

How serious this "mutual interest" is between Franklin and USC is remains to be seen. But one thing is for certain, as Ralph Russo wrote Tuesday for The Associated Press, the USC coaching search is going to cast a shadow over the entire 2021 college football season —and that certainly includes at Penn State.