by Chris Johnson (@ChrisDJohnsonn)
Few impartial observers predicted Northwestern's 5-0 start. Both Syracuse and Vanderbilt presented legitimate challenges. NU conquered each foe, one in typical nail-biting Wildcats fashion, the other in an unconventionally staunch defensive performance. The three victories that followed -- Boston College, South Dakota and Indiana -- were not surprising. NU was supposed to win those games. However weak or manageable the path, the Wildcats navigated their first five games in the most favorable way possible. Say what you will about their schedule, NU stands as one of only two undefeated Big Ten teams. Getting to this point is a victory any way you slice it. Still, the general perception of NU's 5-0 start is less than flattering. Most seem to believe (and it's hard to blame them) that NU's hot start is just as much a function of an easy schedule as it is their own performance -- that the Wildcats will probably fall back to earth once they hit the difficult part of the Big Ten schedule. That may or may not be true, but the undeniable power gap at the top levels of Big Ten competition has created opportunity for NU to make a real push for the Big Ten championship. It sounds crazy -- but look at NU's body of work, and compare it with the rest of the Big Ten. It's hard to argue NU hasn't been the most impressive team to date. Maybe not the best team over the course of the entire season, but certainly deserving of national praise. It's been arguably the brightest spot in an otherwise nightmarish Big Ten. While the mighty have fallen -- Michigan, Nebraska, Michigan State, Wisconsin -- the Wildcats remain unblemished.
With one Big Ten win under their belts, the Wildcats face a tall order Saturday in Happy Valley, with Penn State riding a huge emotional high and building all types of positive momentum after winning its last three games. After a disappointing 0-2 start, the Nittany Lions appear to have righted the ship. Bill O'Brien's pro-style system is flourishing, thanks largely to a massively-improved Matt McGloin. The defense is playing to its talent level, which is right up among the Big Ten's best. Despite what happened over the offseason -- not just the enduring emotional anguish of the Sandusky saga, but the nine transfers it indirectly prompted -- this is a good football team that's just now sorting things out. The Wildcats will have their hands full -- you can be sure of that. The moment of truth has arrived for NU. Beat Penn State, and people start jumping on the purple bandwagon.
We hope this post finds you in good temperament as you proceed through whatever gameday routine accompanies these precious fall Saturdays. Hopefully our preview material has you ready for the upcoming matchup, but in case you missed anything, below we’ve compiled a last-minute study guide for any opponent queries that may yet stand unresolved. It never hurts to get some last-minute cramming in before watching your beloved Wildcats in game action. That said, read up, and enjoy the game!
We know the Wildcats worked overtime to prepare for this daunting road test, so we thought we'd do the same. Here are two PSU-centric Q&A's -- The Altoona Mirror's Cory Giger; The Centre Daily Times' Guy Cipriano.
For reasons logical and not, Penn State was arguably the nation's most scrutinized team heading into this season. There was no shortage of informed analysis on this year's Lions. Pour over these PSU links for a diverse range of perspective.