Neil Rudel on PSU: Penn State vs. Michigan State – the Extension Bowl
This game at Spartan Stadium could be billed as the Extension Bowl, and there’s only one choice as honorary captain: agent Jimmy Sexton.
Sexton represents both James Franklin and Mel Tucker, and if you thought Franklin’s 10-year, $85 million contract announced Tuesday was over the top, consider Tucker’s contract that was confirmed one day later.
It’s also for 10 years, but Tucker’s deal is worth $95 million.
News actually broke a week ago that Michigan State and Tucker were close to signing the deal that will make Tucker the second-highest paid coach in college football behind only the great Nick Saban.
You can be sure — cough, cough — that Sexton didn’t play both Penn State and Michigan State and everybody else (LSU, Florida, USC) against each other in this game of chicken.
And, as we saw, Penn State and Michigan State both blinked.
Maybe the school presidents can have a brunch prior to the game in commiseration.
Whether any college coach not named Saban is worth this kind of money won’t be fully determined for another half-decade, but this much is safe: Franklin’s track record is way better than Tucker’s.
Tucker has been a coach less than three seasons.
He took the Colorado job for one year, went 5-7, and bolted to Michigan State.
Last year, his first in East Lansing, he went 2-5 in the pandemic.
This year, he’s 9-2. His team earned a win over rival Michigan, overcoming a 30-14 second-half deficit in part because Jim Harbaugh suddenly decided to try his backup quarterback.
Rising in the polls to the edge of the College Football Playoff conversation, Sparty promptly turned around and was whacked at Purdue, 40-29, before heading into Columbus last week and trailing 49-0 at halftime and losing 56-7.
Tucker’s three-year record as a head coach is 16-14. He’s won nothing.
Franklin has at least been a coach 11 seasons (for some reason, he’s been saying 12 lately). He’s won a Big Ten title, two New Year’s Six bowls, had three 11-win seasons and only his first year at Vanderbilt (6-7) and during the pandemic (4-5) did he suffer a losing season.
So for the many Penn State fans who don’t like the fact that the Nittany Lion brass backed up the Brinks for Franklin, just take a peek up north.
Now, to the game at hand.
Well, the pressure is off each coach. That’s for sure.
Keep an eye on Sean Clifford. He’s expected to start, having recovered from the flu, but he’s been banged around all year and hasn’t been throwing deep like he did early in the season, particularly to Jahan Dotson.
Christian Veilleux played well in relief last week, albeit against Rutgers, and should be an option if Clifford is not 100 percent.
Maybe Michigan State’s porous pass defense will be inviting for the Lions, who have scored 30 or more points just once (31 vs. Maryland) in eight Big Ten games this year.
• The Big Ten awards will be out early next week and I’m expecting the winner of Ohio State-Michigan to produce the coach of the year.
• As for Penn State’s honorees, the leading candidates are safety Jaquan Brisker and punter-kicker Jordan Stout. As good as Dotson has been, he’ll have to contend with Ohio State’s Chris Olave and Purdue’s David Bell, and he was already left off the semifinalist list for the Biletnikoff Award.
• At this point, most bowl projections have the Lions in a pre-Jan. 1 game, possibly the Music City Bowl (Nashville) or Las Vegas Bowl (Vegas.) Both are on Dec. 30. We’ll see if a win vs. Sparty coupled with other results this weekend can upgrade that.
Neil Rudel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.