CHICAGO (AP) Penn State coach James Franklin sees an improved team in Happy Valley – and a program that can't escape the shadow cast by the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
Franklin made some pointed comments about negative recruiting against the Nittany Lions, saying there are issues that need to be addressed possibly at the conference level.
''I think there's a fine line to that,'' he said at Big Ten Media Days on Monday. ''I think some things need to be addressed. I do think there's a line you do not cross. But I guess in some ways that's the nature of the beast. I think some people are going to look for weaknesses and try to take advantage of those. But to me, there is a line that you do not cross. We'll see how that whole thing plays out. There is a time and a place for everything.''
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Franklin's comments came in the wake of recently disclosed allegations from men who have accused Sandusky of sexual abuse that raised fresh questions about what his fellow Penn State assistant coaches might have seen or known before his November 2011 arrest – and why they have largely kept quiet. The allegations have also raised questions about just how far back late coach Joe Paterno became aware of the situation.
''Negative recruiting happens all over the country. Everyone is dealing with it,'' Franklin said.
But other programs aren't dealing with a situation like this one. Franklin said Nittany Lions coaches ''probably have to answer more tough questions'' than any other staff, particularly on the recruiting trail.
When reports surface, he said he calls recruits as well as their families and coaches to answer questions they might have about the direction of the program.
And he made a point to say Monday that it is headed in the right direction. Now that they are free of sanctions and back to the full 85 scholarships, Franklin insisted the Nittany Lions are ready to make a jump after going 7-6 and making bowl games each of his first two seasons.
''There's very few programs that would have been able to come through what we've come through with the type of success that we've had, two bowl games in a row,'' he said. ''Never had a losing season through the challenges. So there's positives there to build on.''
But can he lead the Nittany Lions back toward the top of a conference with no shortage of big-name coaches.
Michigan in particular has huge expectations after regaining its swagger and going 10-3 in Jim Harbaugh's first season.
''We have big hopes,'' Harbaugh said. ''We've got big dreams. We've got lofty goals. And all those are achievable. And they have to be worked for. You can accomplish anything if the work is realized. And those things have to be earned. So we are in the position right now to work to get the things we want. That's the fact. That's the mentality. That's the attitude.''
Wolverines tight end Jake Butt sees a team with no major weaknesses.
''We've got an experienced offensive line, we've got an experienced run game, we've got a proven run game,'' he said. ''We have a defense that we know we can trust. We've got special teams that we know are going to put us in great positions. They're all little pieces of the puzzle that come together.''
While Ohio State lost 16 starters, J.T. Barrett is returns for his junior season with a 15-2 record and the knowledge that he is the No. 1 quarterback after losing out to Cardale Jones last year and then replacing him.
Barrett and Iowa cornerback Desmond King – the 2015 Thorpe Award winner as the country's top defensive back – highlighted the preseason all-Big Ten selections on Monday.
Barrett was selected to the East Division team along with Michigan defensive back Jabrill Peppers, Michigan State defensive lineman Malik McDowell, Ohio State linebacker Raekwon McMillan and Penn State running back Saquon Barkley by a media panel. Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard and King, Northwestern running back Justin Jackson and linebacker Anthony Walker, and Wisconsin running back Corey Clement were the West picks.