Penn State football coach James Franklin once again refrained from calling the Nittany Lions' series with Pittsburgh a rivalry Tuesday.

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He did say it was a "big game" and a "huge game," but only because it's this week.

"Last week the Akron game was the most important game in the universe for us," Franklin said. "This week the Pitt game is the most important game in the universe. It's the only thing that exists for us.

"This is the Super Bowl for us because it's the game we play Saturday. Last week our Super Bowl was Akron."

Franklin has received criticism, mostly from the western part of the state, for not publicly elevating the importance of Penn State's series with the Panthers.

The fourth-ranked Nittany Lions (1-0) are three-touchdown favorites against Pitt (1-0) going into the second game of the current four-game installment Saturday at 3:30 at Beaver Stadium.

Last year, in their first meeting since 2000, the Panthers built a 21-point lead in the second quarter before holding off Penn State 42-39 before a capacity crowd at Heinz Field.

"It was early in the season," Franklin said. "We still hadn't kind of gotten our identity. It was a hostile environment, and they were a talented team. You look at their roster last year, they were very talented.

"They were obviously able to get a win against the national championship team (Clemson). They played well. Got to give them all the credit in the world."

Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi has made it very clear that he considers the Penn State series a rivalry. For the second straight year, he banned assistant coaches and players from giving interviews this week so that he could keep the Panthers "tight."

In contrast, Franklin, offensive line coach Matt Limegrover and seven Penn State players are scheduled for media availability this week, as usual.

"I think you guys know we're not going to change our approach week in and week out," Franklin said. "I'm not going to talk about one game differently than another. I'm not going to exclude the media.

"Everybody has the ability to run their organization or their program the way they see best. But with us, it's just not going to change week to week."

Pitt is quite a different team than it was last year when the Panthers had James Conner at running back, Nathan Peterman at quarterback and 16 returning starters overall.

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This year, the Panthers have just 10 starters back from last year and are without Conner, Peterman, offensive linemen Dorian Johnson and Adam Bisnowaty and defensive lineman Ejuan Price, who were all drafted by NFL teams.

The Lions are expected to win Saturday's game, but that doesn't mean Franklin will prepare any differently.

"Are we supposed to prepare harder this week than we did last week?" he asked. "What if we didn't play well, and I said, 'Well, we didn't prepare as hard this week because we've got this big game next week?' I don't get it. It never makes sense to me.

"I think you focus on the things that you can control. Outside noise is not one of them. Expectations are not one of them. That's why we don't change our approach."

This article is written by Rich Scarcella from Reading Eagle, Pa. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.