Last updated: July 29. 2014 12:09AM - 1330 Views
By - dlevarse@timesleader.com

Penn State head coach James Franklin talks to the media during the Big Ten Football Media Day in Chicago on Monday.
Penn State head coach James Franklin talks to the media during the Big Ten Football Media Day in Chicago on Monday.
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Penn State linebacker Mike Hull shares memories of Joe Paterno.

Mike Hull jokes about topping OT Donovan Smith in the bench press.

CHICAGO — The nation’s lukewarm reception to the Big Ten’s two newest members — Maryland and Rutgers — hasn’t exactly heated up yet.

And while the addition of two Eastern “rivals” affects Penn State more than most, it’s still going to take some time to rekindle any old fires between the programs as they met up at Big Ten media days on Monday.

Penn State running back Bill Belton more or less shrugged when asked if the two new foes added some spice to the Nittany Lions schedule this year.

“Man, football’s football,” Belton said.

A native of New Jersey himself, Belton never strongly considered playing for Rutgers, initially committing to Pitt before switching up and signing with Penn State.

New coach James Franklin has made some waves with the fanbases of both teams thanks to the Lions’ recruiting success in their backyards.

Both Maryland’s Randy Edsall and Rutgers’ Kyle Flood were diplomatic on Monday when asked about recruiting against Franklin and the Lions.

The closest thing to an incendiary comment was Flood referring to Penn State only as “our neighbor to the west.”

Yeah, not exactly Ohio State-Michigan levels of invective.

“We know that we’re in an area where there’s going to be a lot of schools that come in and recruit where we’re at,” Edsall said. “And recruiting is a very competitive, very competitive game, and we’re going to go other places into people’s states and recruit people from there.”

Penn State’s upcoming 2015 recruiting class already has six verbal commitments from players from New Jersey and three from Maryland, which accounts for half of the class.

Because of that, Penn State linebacker Mike Hull thinks that the on-field competition between the three schools will pick up quickly.

“Yeah, definitely. As long as it’s competitive, which I’m sure it will be,” Hull said. “They’re tough programs. Whenever we’re taking recruits out of New Jersey every year and they’re taking recruits out of Pennsylvania, it’s a hot topic.

“I think it’ll be really good. We were rivals previously, before joining the Big Ten. So some people still view it that way.”

Hull has a better perspective on it than most. His father, Tom Hull, was a linebacker in the early 1970s at Penn State and faced off against the Terrapins each year.

Of course, the Lions have a whopping combined record of 57-3-1 against the Terps and Knights historically. But this season especially could see some tight contests as the Lions fight to rebuild from scholarship restrictions.

“I definitely think (the games) are good for the program,” Hull said. “I think it’s good for ours and theirs. It makes sense geographically, and I think it’s going to be real big in the next few years.”

Dublin logistics

Franklin said that Penn State’s trip to Dublin for the Croke Park Classic opener against UCF will begin the Tuesday before the game.

“We’ll leave Tuesday night. Go to class on Tuesday, practice on Tuesday and leave Tuesday night, and we’ll get there on Wednesday,” Franklin said. “We’re going to have to force them to stay up that entire day and try to get adjusted and acclimated as quick as we possibly can, but no doubt it’s a challenge.”

Franklin said the program has reached out to both Notre Dame and Navy for suggestions. The Fighting Irish and Midshipmen played in Ireland to open the 2012 season. Penn State women’s soccer coach Erica Walsh also has experience with international competition and has helped out, Franklin said.

Buckeyes laud Johnson

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer wasn’t afraid to discuss his team’s weaknesses on Monday, voicing his concern with the Buckeyes’ offensive line and pass defense.

One area that isn’t an issue for him is on the defensive line, where long-time Penn State assistant Larry Johnson is now leading the unit.

Ironically, the spot on Meyer’s staff came open because former Pro Bowler Mike Vrabel left Columbus to accept a job offer with the Houston Texans — and former Lions coach Bill O’Brien.

“We replaced Mike with a top-shelf coach,” Meyer said of Johnson. “A guy that has great respect, a very good recruiter, a very good coach. The players love him already.

“There’s an incredible trust and esprit de corps in the D-line room right now. He walked into a good situation.”

An early switch

Franklin confirmed that true freshman Troy Apke will begin his college career at safety after initially being recruited as a wide receiver.

Blue White Illustrated first reported the switch last week.

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