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December 4, 2016

James Franklin

Clay Helton

Pasadena, California

KAREN LINHART: Hello, everyone. Welcome to today's teleconference for the Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual.

The Tournament of Roses is thrilled to be hosting teams from our partner conferences in this year's Rose Bowl Game. The Big Ten team in this year's game will be the Penn State Nittany Lions, and the USC Trojans will represent the Pac-12 conference. I'm joined today by Penn State head coach James Franklin and USC head coach Clay Helton.

I'd like to start by asking both coaches to give an opening remark. Coach Franklin will go first, followed by Coach Helton.

JAMES FRANKLIN: Well, first of all, just want to let everybody know how humbled and honored we are to have this opportunity to present the Big Ten as the Big Ten champs and to have this opportunity to play in the Rose Bowl. I think this is a game and a bowl that players and coaches grow up dreaming about having an opportunity to play in and be a part of one day. And I know when our team found out today that we were going to have this opportunity, they were fired up.

One of our players grew up within probably a throwing a rock's distance from the stadium, so he's excited to be able to come back home and show his teammates and friends where he's from. So there's a lot of reasons why this is special, but we're just very thankful. We're very appreciative, and we're honored and humbled for this opportunity.

CLAY HELTON: Yes, we are very excited for our University, our football team, and the Trojan family to be invited to the Rose Bowl presented by Northwestern Mutual.

This is a great honor for our team to have an opportunity to participate in this prestigious bowl game, you know, the granddaddy of them all, and we're extremely thankful for the invitation. The Rose Bowl is part of our history, and to be back for the first time since 2009 is truly special for our team, especially our seniors. I can't think of a better reward for a football team after a very strong finish to this football season.

We congratulate Coach Franklin and the Penn State football team on a great season, a Big Ten Championship, and look forward to what we think is going to be an exceptional bowl matchup.

Can't wait to see our Trojan family on January 2nd for what is going to make a very exciting football game.

Q. James, I'm wondering, when you and Joe Moorhead decided to start Trace McSorley, how you feel things have worked out and if there was a point in the season where you really think he made a specific leap?
JAMES FRANKLIN: You know, early on, it was a battle. It was a tough decision in terms of naming a starter. Tommy Stevens is another quarterback that we have here that we feel really good about, and it was literally a heated, neck and neck competition. It was one of those that you could have made a decision in either direction, really, and justified it.

At the end of the day, we kind of trusted our gut and went with Trace. He's done an excellent job. We're really, really excited about his future as well as Tommy's.

You know, I think as the season went on and he just continued to have opportunities and continued to trust the scheme and trust the guys around him, that he had playmakers around him, and just became more comfortable, became more comfortable in handling the crowd, became more comfortable in understanding situational football and started to make plays and started to put the ball in positions where our wide receivers and tight ends could make plays for him and get the ball out of his hands early.

He's always had the ability to create. He's got mobility, and whether he's extending plays or creating plays and making plays with his feet, that was an element that we needed, and I think really got our whole team going.

I don't know if there was one specific moment or not, but it was pretty much just an evolution as the season went on.

Q. Clay, with Max Browne leaving, who's going to be the backup quarterback for the Rose Bowl?
CLAY HELTON: Definitely. We'll have a couple of kids that will be working that. Obviously we'll have Matt Fink that is here. We'll also have two others that are with him in Thomas Fitts and Holden Thomas. And then we'll have Jalen Greene, also, who has trained at the quarterback position in the past and is prepared to do that if needed.

You know, we have the capability of having four kids at our disposal behind Sam.

Q. James, I'm curious what you attribute your success after halftime. So many games you guys came out and played in the second half so much better than you had in the first. How did those adjustments come to manifest themselves throughout the year, and why do you think you guys were so good after halftime?
JAMES FRANKLIN: We cut up the orange slices like little league -- no. I think a lot of it is we're a young team. I think depending on which metrics you use, we're the sixth youngest team in college football. We only have five starting seniors, I think, on our team, one on offense, three on defense, and our long snapper.

A lot of times we just had to get the guys in the locker room and settle them down and say, look, these are the things that we're seeing, this is what we need to do to make the corrections and get the guys settled down as much as anything.

Obviously the coaches communicating with each other and really being able to spend some time on what we've struggled with or have been challenged by in the first half and get some adjustments, we've got to do a better job of making those adjustments and cleaning things up earlier throughout the game in between series, but again, a lot of that is just our youth and guys seeing things for the first time.

Q. Clay, I'm wondering with the 0-2 start in the conference, at what point do you remember you started thinking about the Rose Bowl as a realistic possibility?
CLAY HELTON: You know, when we started 0-2, we have talked about, we kind of went into playoff football mode. We understood that being able to do something special throughout the season that we were going to have to go on a run and go on a run in conference. And to be able to win seven straight conference games, eight total for the season in a row, along with that Notre Dame game, put us in this position to play in a very, very special game.

And credit to our players and credit to what they've accomplished. These are the things that you dream about as a little kid, and to be back in the Rose Bowl since 2009, these kids were 10,12 years old and grew up watching this game and wanted to be a part of it. And to do what they've accomplished this year and be a part of the Rose Bowl is what dreams are made of.

Q. Clay, you have a wide receiver in Smith-Schuster who's one of the best wide receivers in the country. What is it that makes him so special and difficult for secondaries to deal with on a regular basis?
CLAY HELTON: He's one of the most competitive young men I've ever been around. There's no difference between practice and the game to him. I think every day is a game. The way he approaches preparation, the way he approaches the game and how he carries his practice over to the game I think is what makes him special. You know, he's been a young man that has played through injury this entire season and has been a warrior for us, and he's one of the reasons we're in the position we are today.

Q. Have you been able to pay attention to one another in terms of how much both seasons kind of look like one another, the September start, you're 17-0 together since then, coming back from the NCAA stuff and fewer scholarships than everybody else had for a couple years and everything like that? Have you paid attention to, wow, these guys kind of look like we look?
JAMES FRANKLIN: I wouldn't necessarily say that, but I will say that I was following USC and it was exciting to watch them get better. I have some people that I have in common with Clay, Brent Pry, our defensive coordinator, thinks of world of him, and always spoke very, very highly. So it was interesting to get a chance to watch them as the whole thing played out.

Obviously feel like USC is a very, very talented team, and once the quarterback started clicking for them, then distributing the ball, the whole team just kind of -- they developed around him. So it's been fun to watch. It's exciting to watch. They're a dangerous team. I've heard a lot of people say on the radio as well as on TV that they may be the most dangerous team in the country right now, and I know there's a lot of people that were hoping that they wouldn't make the playoffs because they're very, very talented and they're playing with a lot of confidence right now.

CLAY HELTON: Yeah, I think you're dealing with two of the hotter teams in the country right now if you look at Penn State on a nine-game win streak, us on an eight-game win streak. I think it makes for fabulous TV, that's for sure. It makes for a great bowl experience, and that's what this time is all about.

You've got -- I've just had the opportunity to watch Penn State really on TV and culminating in last night's exceptional win, and the one thing that jumps out at you right off the bat is offensively how talented they are with Barkley and McSorley and the points they're putting up.

You know, I'm happy for the Rose Bowl, happy for both teams, because this is what the Rose Bowl should be is two excellent teams coming together to compete against one another.

Q. Clay, in the time between when you named Max the starter and then when you went to Sam, what have you seen out of Sam maybe that you hadn't seen before or encouraged you to sort of make that move to him?
CLAY HELTON: Yeah, I just had not had the opportunity to see him play in games. We had a young man in Max Browne who was an exceptional talent that had been a redshirt junior, had been a captain of our football team, a young man that everybody respected and a very good player, and had to make a full-speed decision in training camp.

I had seen Max play prior. I had seen how he reacted in games, how efficient he was, and we made that decision, what we felt was the best decision for our football team at the time.

We went through the first three games and had the opportunity to see Sam play at the Alabama game, at Stanford, at Utah State, and saw the things that he was doing in practice were exactly correlating to the games, that the stage wasn't too big for him, and would have loved to have been 3-0 at the time, but we were 1-2, and we had not scored a lot of points. We had scored one touchdown against Alabama and Stanford and felt at that moment we had to do what was best for our team and make a change at the position and allow Sam to try to create a spark for our offense.

He has done that very successfully. He's one of the big reasons we are where we are today.

Q. This is for Clay. Clay, did you guys watch the announcement today, or did you guys meet as a team, and if so, what was that like?
CLAY HELTON: Well, we've got a lot going on. We're right in the middle of getting ready for finals, and plus you're doing recruiting weekends. You have two weeks of recruiting going on right now. It was a normal workday for us and crossing our fingers to have the opportunity to play in a Rose Bowl. As you can figure, it was a lot of excitement that we had here in the office.

You dream about this. When you're at USC, this is what you live for is to play in this football game, and I've had, I think, the entire football team text or tweet or do all reaching out, they're so excited to have this opportunity.

Q. I was wondering if you did one of those watch parties like you see on TV.
CLAY HELTON: No, we were all either recruiting or working.

Q. I was wondering if you expected this after finishing behind Colorado in the division standings. Like when you woke up today, were you expecting to be in the Rose Bowl?
CLAY HELTON: No. As a coach you're just trying to put your best foot forward and produce and to win games. You know, you know it's another man's group, another group's job to decide where you fall, and you hope that you've done enough to put yourself in a good light and put your team in a good light and have the opportunity at a Rose Bowl.

We're very thankful to both the committee and the Rose Bowl for this opportunity. It's one that we don't take lightly. It's very special to us.

Q. Coach Franklin, Coach Helton has kind of talked to those of us here in LA about people questioning his job security early on in the season. Both of you have put those kinds of questions to rest. I was wondering what your response was to those same kind of job security questions early in the season.
JAMES FRANKLIN: We've been kind of dealing with those really since our first year. I think when you're at a place like Penn State, and I don't want to speak for USC, but I think it's probably similar, the expectations are huge. I think that's why you come to a place like Penn State, because you want to be at a place where the standards are really high, standards of excellence in everything you do, and want to be competing on a national level consistently.

That kind of comes with the territory. If you're not playing for conference and National Championships, people get a little bit uneasy. We understand that. We embrace it, and again, ultimately we're focused on just making sure that these guys have an opportunity to be successful and put them in position to be successful and make sure they're doing a great job academically and socially, as well. But yeah, that's just kind of part of it.

Our profession has gotten a little bit out of whack and gotten a little bit crazy because I think if it was just about the winning and the losing, we'd go coach in the NFL. It's about education. It's about leadership. It's about obviously developing these guys as football players, but really as human beings, as well.

We've just got to be careful with our profession and with these games that we don't get out of whack and go too far in one direction.

Q. The other similarity between these two programs is just the NCAA sanctions within a couple years of each other. I was wondering in what ways they affected the makeup of your team and how you might still be feeling those effects.
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think they really affected us. My first year we were at 65 scholarships, my second year we were at 75 scholarships. On top of that, we had a bunch of guys transfer out, so we just were really, really thin at a number of positions and really had a hard time practicing.

Even now, I think depending on how you look at it, which analytics calculator you use, we're like the sixth youngest team in the country. Last year we didn't have many seniors, this year we don't have many seniors. It's just kind of the position we were in.

We're back to 85, which is great, and we're able to practice like a normal football program, but we're still just really young at a lot of positions. We've had some injuries this year at linebacker. At one point we lost seven linebackers during the year and we were playing with our fifth team middle linebacker, and then we kind of went through a similar thing on the offensive line, at the offensive tackle position.

I'm just proud of our guys, how they've persevered, our coaches as well as players, and didn't allow any of those things to be excuses and just battled through it.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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