STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) James Franklin has crisscrossed the country, recruiting in Alabama through California and Michigan in the last week. Everyone he meets has congratulatory words for the Penn State football coach.
''I've got everybody coming up to me saying, `Wow, Coach, best bowl game I've ever seen,''' Franklin said Saturday. ''I said, 'It wasn't that darned good, you know?' I understand from an entertainment standpoint it was awesome, but we didn't win the game.''
Although their season ended with a 52-49 loss in the highest-scoring Rose Bowl, the Nittany Lions enjoyed a remarkable turnaround in Franklin's third year. Winners of nine straight before the Rose Bowl, the Nittany Lions just missed out on a trip to the College Football Playoff and at No. 7 had their best season-ending ranking in more than a decade.
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They'll enter next season, likely with a high ranking, and definitely with higher expectations. But Franklin, who's made a habit of dismissing rankings and polls, is more concerned with how his team is entering the offseason.
At this time last year, Franklin was breaking in a handful of new coaches and dealing with a bunch of early NFL departures after a 7-6 (4-4 Big Ten) finish. Now, the Nittany Lions appear much more stable, and Franklin believes better prepared.
''We have things that we should be very proud of and they should be confidence-building experiences,'' Franklin said. ''But we also have things that I think should be motivating, that, again, the way I look at it, there's one happy team at the end of the year, and that's Clemson and my boy Dabo. Everybody else is salty and angry and ready to get back to work again.''
Although top wideout Chris Godwin and defensive end Garrett Sickels left early for the NFL draft, Penn State will have most of its pieces back. Six starters are back on defense along with a handful of youngsters who played extended snaps for most of the season. Nine starters return to an offense that was the Big Ten's most explosive, including dynamic running back Saquon Barkley and quarterback Trace McSorley.
Count McSorley among those players who fit well into the ''salty and nasty'' column.
The shifty dual-threat quarterback's final pass was intercepted and returned deep into Penn State territory to set up USC's winning field goal. McSorley led the Big Ten and the country in deep passing plays.
''He's aware of his strengths, he's aware of his weaknesses,'' Franklin said. ''What we're going to do between now and next year is how can we take the amount of times that he maybe made decisions that he would prefer to make differently in the future and how can we limit them?''
McSorley will be taking cues from the same man who helped turned the offense into a juggernaut after it sputtered in Franklin's first two seasons.
Offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, who was hired last December to replace John Donovan, said he is staying at Penn State after multiple FBS schools expressed interest in him. Franklin doesn't anticipate any other coaching changes, another plus after he had to replace three, including both coordinators.
Penn State is expected to begin spring practice in mid-March.
''I think handling success with young people in general is a challenge,'' Franklin said. ''You know, are we going to be as driven? Are we going to be as motivated as we were this year? That's going to be the secret.''