Wednesday, January 26

If you are James Franklin from Penn State, do you choose LSU or USC?

Dear James Franklin,

We know you’re busy trying to go 1-0 this week, but the college football world won’t let you focus solely on Penn State beating Illinois. Sure, you have a top 10 team, you’re in the thick of the Big Ten East career, and there’s a realistic path to the College Football Playoff should quarterback Sean Clifford come back healthy.

But you know how things work today. We are always spinning things forward, forward, forward. We have to look to the future. The next game, the next season, the next job. Speaking of which …

The USC job is open. LSU’s job is open. You are an attractive candidate for both. USC is going to call. LSU will call after Jimbo Fisher turns it down. Anywhere, you can get a big raise, a new honeymoon period with a swooning fan base, and a top 10 consensus job in the profession. So where should you go?

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The LSU case

They do national championships in the Bayou. One of the reasons he took the job at Penn State after leading Vanderbilt to the Top 25 in consecutive seasons was the desire to win a national championship. And that’s fair. Penn State is capable of winning a national championship, although it has not done so in 36 years.

LSU, as has been said ad nauseam, has won national championships with three different coaches this century. (Unfortunately, the Tigers had their own 45-year title drought before Nick Saban’s arrival.) It typically sends loads of players to the NFL and is located in a state where talented players dream of playing in Baton Rouge. In any given year, 10 to 15 four and five stars will sign just because they want to wear purple and gold. Work your recruiting magic on a select few out-of-state prospects you are capable of, and we’re talking about the top five yearly classes.

The competition in the SEC West is strong, but Saban won’t be in Alabama forever, will he? And you’ve faced your own bully in recent years in the state of Ohio. And in his first round in the SEC, he defeated Florida, Georgia and Tennessee in the same season in one of the worst Power 5 shows historically in the nation.

LSU’s first pick is Fisher, but I’d be surprised if you weren’t number 2 on the list, and I’d be surprised if Fisher doesn’t try to stay and keep building what he’s building at Texas A&M. Take the call. You will hear good things.

The USC case

The other school that has almost certainly already contacted their agent (who is not responsible for going 1-0 this week) is USC. The Trojans fired Clay Helton after this season’s second game, a 42-28 loss to Stanford, and have subjected their fans to an agonizing search for coaches for months as they search for the next Pete Carroll. USC is a national championship-level program that has been underperforming for more than a decade. The right man on that sideline could bring the shine back to Tommy Trojan’s battle team.

MORE: SN Midseason All-America Team

After the Helton era, USC yearns for an energetic guy, and there’s no question that you fit into the Energizer Bunny mode. And while there aren’t as many players who grow up in Southern California wanting to be Trojans as there are in Louisiana who want to be Tigers, once USC achieves a few victories together, top talent will flow like it did in Carroll’s days.

And the quarterbacks who grow up there. We know he has the # 1 ranked QB in the nation committed to Penn State in the class of 2022 in Drew Allar. Maybe he will come with you, maybe not. But California produces quarterbacks. From 2018 to 2021, there were 11 consensus five-star quarterbacks, and four were from California. None were from Louisiana. (Yes, the Arch Manning superstud class of 2023 is from Louisiana, but he’s never been a big LSU player.) Want a five-star quarterback? Your chances are much better at USC than at LSU.

Do you want to talk about job security? Helton was 5-4 as the interim coach after Steve Sarkisian left in 2015, which was enough to get him the full-time job. It lasted six years with only two results in the top 20. Ed Orgeron was fired 17 games after winning the national championship at LSU.

With the expansion of the playoffs, USC’s path to being in position to win a national title is considerably more manageable than LSU’s. The last six games of the Pac-12 championship (12 entrants) have featured four Top 10 teams: Stanford, Washington, Colorado and Utah. The last six SEC championship games have featured nine, including the last two national champions. Life is easier on the west coast.

The verdict

James, I know you are smart and hardworking. You don’t start your career at Kutztown University and East Strousburg University and James Madison and end up where you are without being smart and hardworking. And those two traits would get you far at LSU, no doubt. But the smartest thing to do is head to Southern California, pick up all those Los Angeles stallions who are hoping the show is in good hands, and reestablish USC along with Alabama, Clemson and the rest of the sport’s elite.

And after doing that, you won’t get fired 17 games later.

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