EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Penn State coach James Franklin has preached about the dangers of distraction for most of the past two seasons. After his team lost its second game against a ranked opponent in as many weeks, Franklin said his group hasn't figured out how to handle the heat of the spotlight.
"I would describe us as a young program," Franklin said after a 27-24 loss to No. 24 Michigan State on Saturday in East Lansing. "We haven't been a part of these conversations for a long time. We haven't handled it well, and that's on me."
Penn State was ranked seventh in the first College Football Playoff poll of the year this past Tuesday. The Lions were ranked as high as No. 2 in the AP poll during a 7-0 start to the season before another close loss against Ohio State last week. The Nittany Lions held fourth-quarter leads in both games but lost in the final three minutes to the Buckeyes and on a last-second field goal to Michigan State.
"When things are going well, there's a lot of noise, a lot of positivity, a lot of patting on the back," Franklin said. "Then when you lose the game, it's the complete opposite. It couldn't be more negative. For us in the past, we haven't worried about all those things. There's playoff rankings coming out. There's this. There's that. Stuff that doesn't matter."
Franklin has previously tried to combat those types of swings in perception by refusing to accept the premise than any game is bigger than another and by keeping his team focused on its next opponent. Most notably, he has developed a habit of repeating ad nauseam the name of the school that is next on Penn State's schedule whenever bigger-picture issues invade the conversation about his team.
He said after Saturday's loss that he plans to double down on that plan moving forward.
"That won't happen again because the formula that I know works, we're getting back to," he said. "We're not talking about anything else. Goal-setting, I don't believe in it. We're not goal-setting. We're focusing on the task at hand."
Franklin said he'll tell his players this week to "turn off the phone, turn off the internet, don't buy the newspaper. Excuse me, I apologize media. Turn off ESPN. Turn off the Big Ten Network, and focus on the things in our locker room."
Penn State (7-2) faces Rutgers at home next week. With two divisional losses, the Nittany Lions will need both Ohio State and Michigan State to lose games in November in order to get back in the running to win the Big Ten East Division. It's a safe bet that Franklin won't be willing to discuss those scenarios in the coming week.