Big Ten

Penn State Can Take Control of Big Ten Leaders Division with Win vs. Northwestern

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

If this were a normal football season – like most of the previous 30 or so – we all would’ve pointed to schedule in August and circled the back-to-back weeks against Iowa and Ohio State in late October as “big” games.

Well, this, of course, is not just another Penn State football season. It’s anything but that.

However, with a win over Northwestern Saturday, guess what?

The Nittany Lions would sit atop the Leaders Division of the Big 10 and have an off week to get ready for a night game at Iowa followed by a home night game against Ohio State.

Despite everything that has happened over the last 11 months, we’re not that far off from seeing the Penn State football team in a fairly familiar situation.

Now, that’s all with the presumption that Penn State beats Northwestern like it has six of the seven times the Wildcats have visited Beaver Stadium. That, however, is no lock.

Northwestern is 5-0 and ranked No. 22 in the country and is playing as well as any team in the conference.

The Wildcats have an explosive offense led by quarterback/receiver Kane Coulter. Coulter has made a lot of big plays running the ball from the quarterback spot, but also has had production outside at receiver.

“So here is a guy that they are doing a great job with, putting him in position to make plays,” coach Bill O’Brien said of Coulter. “Obviously a quarterback, but then when they move him to wide receiver, with his skill set, he’s quick. He’s got good ball skills and a very bright guy obviously. In order to play quarterback and receiver in the same game, you have to be a very smart, instinctive football player.”

Northwestern has wins over Syracuse, Boston College, Vanderbilt, South Dakota and Indiana. Not exactly murderers row, but wins nonetheless.

Wildcat fans could say the same about Navy, Temple and Illinois.

In addition to Northwestern’s offense, Penn State needs to guard against a let down. While it’s easy to say there shouldn’t be any letdown facing an undefeated team at home on Homecoming, it would also be ignoring the emotion the team put into last week’s Tim Beckman Bowl at Illinois. It was a game this team had been pointing to since early August.

By all accounts, the players were more fired up than usual.

O’Brien has downplayed all season the possibility that team would let down after so many emotional weeks. However, he did make a plea in his weekly press for the students to be in the student section before kickoff, saying the team needed their support and energy.

In fact, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald addressed the student support Penn State gets, “what do they have 60,000 students – and they all go to the football games.”

This is a fan base (the students in particular) that is doing everything possible to support this football team and this group of players. It’s hard to imagine that the crowd will be anything but nuts Saturday and that should certainly help offset any possible let down.

So there was a horrible Jerry Sandusky scandal, there was a change of coaching staffs, Joe Paterno passed away, the NCAA levied ridiculous sanctions, names are on the back of the jerseys and still… with a win over Northwestern, it sets up two huge games against Iowa and Ohio State to end the month of October.

As different as things are, good things are still possible for this football team at this point in the season. And, really, that’s not that different at all.

Marty Valania covers football for nittanylionsden.com. Follow him @EastRecruiting on Twitter.

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