What a difference a game makes. Before the Penn State game, pessimism permeated throughout the Northwestern football fan base. Now, all of the sudden, NU's emphatic upset of Penn State has given hope to even the most frustrated fan. With optimism building in Evanston, is it too early to start thinking about bowl games?
Some might think that since the Cats can beat Penn State on its turf, they can beat any Big Ten team. This may be true, but realize that Penn State might not be that good. It is easy to overreact to the Penn State win because Penn State has this lasting reputation as a powerful football program with a history of winning, especially against Northwestern.
But remember that the Nittany Lions are in a transition period with a first-year head coach. Sure they were undefeated before Saturday, but they had wins over UCF, Akron, Rutgers and UMASS. Time will tell whether this Penn State team is for real, but as of right now, it's not clear.
What is clear is that Northwestern played exceptionally better in Happy Valley than it had all season. This is definitely cause for optimism. I think it's safe to say the Cats will make a bowl if they play like this the rest of the season. The question is, will they?
The Cats vastly underperformed in three of their four games. While their performance against Penn State was incredible, it's hard to tell if they turned a corner or if the upset was a fluke. It is also hard to forget last year's epic collapse. I still get the sense that this team could implode at any moment and fall into a losing spiral again.
Therefore, I can't help but be cautiously optimistic about Northwestern, knowing the team that showed up the first three games could reappear at any time. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think most of you would agree. Would you be surprised if the Cats returned to their pre-Penn State funk at some point this season? Didn't think so.
While players and coaches use bowl eligibility as motivation throughout the season, they are taught to take one game at a time. Fans should do the same thing. It is perfectly fine to have high hopes for your team, but don't expect Northwestern to make a bowl just because it beat Penn State. The Cats have a long way to go to realize their goal of becoming bowl eligible. But a win over Wisconsin is a good place to start.