Penn State, Utah coaches talk historic meeting, college football changes ahead of Rose Bowl matchup

Story posted December 5, 2022 in

Penn State, Utah coaches talk historic meeting, college football changes ahead of Rose Bowl matchup

Rose Bowl preparations are well underway for both Penn State and Utah.

On Sunday, James Franklin and Utes coach Kyle Whittingham addressed the media following their respective teams’ selections to the January 2 contest in Pasadena, California.

Ahead of the first meeting between the Nittany Lions and the Utes, both coaches discussed details of the matchup, future implications for the Rose Bowl and which players are expected to compete.

Here are the biggest takeaways from Franklin’s and Whittingham’s remarks.

Penn State and Utah meet for the first time

Penn State and Utah’s meeting in the Rose Bowl marks the first between the two programs, an odd feat in 2022, according to Franklin.

The Nittany Lions coach said he watched the Utes capture their second-straight Pac-12 championship on Saturday with a 47-24 victory over USC and saw a “tough, hard-nosed football team that is resilient and can overcome adversity.”

Franklin said the play of quarterback Cameron Rising, particularly the junior’s response to taking a hard hit in the third quarter of Saturday’s title game against the Trojans, embodies the grit of the Utah program.

Combined with Whittingham’s veteran coaching style, Utah presents a “heck of a challenge,” according to Franklin.

“It’s very telling when you watch a guy that gets hit like that and how they respond,” Franklin said. “That has such an impact on your team and program when your quarterback can take a shot like that and bounce right back. I think that’s very telling of who they are as a program.”

Heading into a second-straight Rose Bowl appearance, Whittingham said the Nittany Lions' great defensive play, true freshman running back duo and favorable turnover margin stood out to him with minimal research.

Whittingham noted the deep-rooted tradition Penn State’s program holds as well as the similarities between the blue and white and the Utes.

“They do a lot of things that really good football teams do,” Whittingham said. “[They] remind me of us in the way we approach the game.”

Uncertainty looms large over Rose Bowl future

With the announcement of the College Football Playoff expansion to 12 teams in time for the 2024 and 2025 seasons, the Rose Bowl’s status remained in question.

The Bowl historically holds its game on January 1 at 2 p.m. PT, a spot it doesn’t want to relinquish even if it hosts a playoff semifinal. It placed priority on the timeslot above its longstanding relationship with the Pac-12 and Big Ten.

Both Franklin and Whittingham acknowledged the evolving college football landscape and its effect on the “tradition” of the Rose Bowl and its ties to their respective team’s conferences.

The Nittany Lions come into the Rose Bowl for the second time under Franklin, who said the blue and white are focused on preparing to “play well against a really good opponent,” but didn’t disregard the future playoff implications.

“We’re going to be looking at a very different model here going forward,” Franklin said. “There’s some history when you talk about the traditional Big Ten/Pac-12 matchups and specifically, when it comes to the Rose Bowl and the significance of the Rose Bowl, in both of our conferences for as long as you can remember. We understand the importance and the magnitude of that.”

Minimal opt-outs expected

In recent years, collegiate players with NFL aspirations began opting out of their respective team’s postseason games.

Last season, six Nittany Lions opted out of the team’s appearance in the Outback Bowl against Arkansas, including Washington Commanders wide receiver Jahan Dotson and Chicago Bears safety Jaquan Brisker.

But does the Rose Bowl carry a significant enough reputation to keep players on the fence interested?

One Nittany Lion already declared for the NFL Draft, cornerback Joey Porter Jr but Franklin doesn’t anticipate many of his players following suit.

“We expect almost the entirety of our team will play and compete,” Franklin said. “That’s a challenge across college football right now. The Rose Bowl, whether you’re a coach, fan or player, holds a special place in a lot of people’s perspectives. Playing in that type of game on that type of stage against an opponent like Utah, I think it helps.”

Utah boasted a full roster in last year’s Rose Bowl and expects to do the same in its return to Pasadena, according to Whittingham, who described the Southern California region as “the heart of our recruiting footprint.”

“We have a ton of guys from Southern Cal on our team right now who are really excited to play in front of friends and family,” Whittingham said. “You never say never, but we anticipate everybody playing.”

Alexis Yoder is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact her, email

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Alexis Yoder