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Analysis: Franklin connected to vacancies

James Franklin hoists the Big Ten trophy. -- AP

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — It’s about to be the silly season in college football where coaches get hired and fired like people going through the turnpike on their way home for the holidays.

One name constantly being thrown around has been Penn State’s James Franklin.

“Yeah, first of all, I guess it’s that time of year where all this stuffs happens. It’s that time of year. It’s the crazy, mad time of year, where these type of things happen,” Franklin said.

The praise for Franklin is well-deserved, as he’s led the Nittany Lions to back-to-back 11-win seasons and back-to-back New Years’ Six bowl games, with a third in a row not out of the realm of possibility. He has led Penn State to 44 wins over his five years at the helm and turned the program back into a national power.

This isn’t the first time his name has been thrown around for a job opening. He was linked to the Texas A&M job last season. Now, he’s being mentioned as a top-candidate for the USC head coaching position currently held by Clay Helton, according to a multitude of sources. It’s odd for Franklin to be linked to a job that’s not open, but alas, it’s college football and odd is the new normal.

Franklin has said multiple times Penn State is his “dream job.”

That’s all well and good, but money talks, and although Franklin is making $4.5 million this year, USC would likely up the ante for a coach of Franklin’s caliber. Franklin’s contract will surge to $5.35 million in 2019 with escalators based on performance, such as bowl game appearances, awards and championships.

Former Steelers great Lynn Swann, the athletic director at USC, would have the money and the resources to make Franklin a handsome deal that would far surpass what his contract dictates with the Nittany Lions, but there’s another reason Franklin could field offers and attention from other schools.

The offers are leverage for not only himself but also his assistants. It is no secret Franklin has wanted more money for his assistants and more resources for his program since his arrival at Penn State in 2014. Garnering attention from other schools will not only help Franklin elevate his profile, but he can use it as leverage to get money to keep his assistants and make improvements around the football program.

Last offseason saw the most turnover of any year for Franklin’s staff, as offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead and running backs coach/special teams coordinator Charles Huff went to Mississippi State, while wide receivers coach Josh Gattis went to Alabama.

Franklin got the contract extension he desperately wanted after a Big Ten Championship and Rose Bowl berth at the end of the 2016 season. Penn State put its confidence in him for the future with a buyout plan that, should Franklin leave, would only require he pay the school $1 million.

Now, it’s time for Franklin to take care of his assistants by getting them the money they deserve. They’ve been solid recruiting east of the Mississippi, and while Franklin’s personality would fit in well in Los Angeles, it’s hard to see him being able to have the same sort of recruiting prowess, even at a school such as USC.

Let’s face it, Franklin is going to have a bevy of suitors as long as the Nittany Lions continue to win. As he continues to have success, it will be even more important for Penn State to keep him at the helm. That said, Franklin knows what he’s doing, and he’s going to maximize every bit of leverage he can as he tries to improve resources for his program and money for his assistants.

For now, Franklin’s talk is all about Maryland, his team’s next opponent. It’s no surprise Franklin kept his usual “we’re only focused on the game in front of us” demeanor during his weekly press conference and didn’t dare entertain the questions on job speculation.

“Like always, we’re focused on Maryland completely, 100 percent. I don’t even think it’s fair or right to even be talking about that job, from everything I understand about it, but we’re completely focused on Maryland,” Franklin said.

Until decisions are made, it’s speculation season, and it’s only beginning to heat up.