When Penn State started its 2015 season with a 27-10 road loss against cross-city foe Temple -- which only made the jump to the FBS a few seasons ago -- it felt as if the Nittany Lions were in for a long season. Former top recruit Christian Hackenberg -- who some thought could be a future NFL first round pick after his freshman year -- completed less than half of his games in that game with 103 yards and an interception. All signs pointed to a repeat of the somewhat disappointing 7-6 record Penn State posted in 2014.
However, since that surprising defeat, Penn State has been one of the top teams in the Big Ten, winning seven of its last eight games, with the only loss coming at then-No. 1 Ohio State. Granted, the Nittany Lions haven't beaten anyone much better than Army or Illinois, but they've destroyed teams, looking dominant and explosive in the process. Hackenberg has thrown just one interception since that Temple game (has 13 touchdowns and two picks on the year) while running back Saquon Barkley and wide receiver Chris Godwin have established themselves as stars. Penn State is back on the map.
That's why the Nittany Lions will proof to be a tough matchup for Northwestern on Parents' Weekend. But, with a win, the Wildcats could keep their Big Ten West title hopes up and, at the very least, gain some momentum heading into the season's stretch run.
Here are some last-minute notes and links on the Wildcats' next conference foe:
- Carl Nassib, Penn State's star defensive end and younger brother of former Syracuse and current New York Giants quarterback, is 6-7 and one of the best ends in the country. Our PSU SB Nation teammate, Black Shoe Diaries, waxes poetically on Nassib, who was just named as a Lombardi Award semifinalist as one of the country's top defensive linemen or linebackers.
- Black Shoe Diaries also did some nice film review from last year's Penn State-Northwestern meeting, which the Wildcats won 29-6.
- Playing in Ryan Field, the smallest and arguably quietest stadium in the Big Ten, will represent an adjustment the Nittany Lions, who play in Beaver Stadium (capacity over 107,000), need to make this Saturday.
- Speaking of Beaver Stadium, Penn State Athletic Director Sandy Barbour led a meeting last night to discuss the historic stadium's future. It's one of the older Big Ten facilities and is about as bare bones as it gets, thanks to multiple expansions without any real renovations.
- Penn State may have a bunch of athletic and tough-to-defend skill position guys, but James Franklin's team's resurgence can mainly be attributed to Christian Hackenberg, who has had a huge bounceback season.
- Clayton Thorson's ability to run as a quarterback is something the Nittany Lions admittedly have been preparing a lot for this week. Penn State's defense has struggled both times it has faced a dual-threat signal-caller this season.
- Penn State coach James Franklin talked a few days ago about preparing for Thorson and what challenges Northwestern may give his team.
- In some off-field news, the Jerry Sandusky scandal from a few years that rocked Penn State football is back in court as Sandusky is appealing his sentence for various crimes that will have him in jail until 2045.