Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It's been more than a decade since the
Northwestern Wildcats were crowned Big Ten Conference champions, but they have
come storming out of the gate here in 2012 with the clear intent of rectifying
The Wildcats have topped all comers through the first month and change of this
new season, which includes a 44-29 win over Indiana in their league lidlifter
last week. The victory over the Hoosiers, which improved the team to 5-0 for
the third time in the last five years, and earned it its first Top-25 ranking
since 2008, put the wraps on a four-game home stand.
Northwestern will play only its second road tilt of the campaign this Saturday
at Penn State. Under seven-year head coach Pat Fitzgerald, a former standout
linebacker at NU in the 1990s, the 'Cats have performed well away from home in
recent years, sporting a 15-8 record in true road games since 2008. Their lone
clash outside of Evanston this season took place in the opener at Syracuse,
and that resulted in a wild 42-41 win.
A victory over the Nittany Lions, which would be its first since 2004 and only
its fourth in 16 all-time meetings, will move Northwestern to 6-0 for the
first time since 1962, which was also the last time the team was ranked No. 1
in the country.
Behind a monster day by the extremely versatile Kain Colter, the Wildcats
churned out a school-record 704 yards of total offense in last week's win over
Indiana. Colter ran for 161 yards and four touchdowns, and added another 131
yards on nine receptions. When the dust had settled, NU rolled up 404 yards on
the ground, as RB Venric Mark also got in on the act with 139 yards on 29
carries, marking the first time that the Wildcats had two 100-yard rushers in
the same game since Nov. 22, 2003 against Illinois.
Following the win, Fitzgerald heaped high praise on Colter, "Kain is Kain. He
is unbelievable. He is the most dynamic young man, I think, in this
conference...I'm very proud of the way he's playing, but none of us are
The NU defense, which allowed 425 yards to the Hoosiers, is permitting 20.6
ppg for the season, which is nearly two touchdowns less than the team is
scoring (33.8 ppg). The 'Cats have surrendered just four rushing scores in
five games, and foes are averaging a mere 3.4 yards per carry. They have been
particularly tough to start a game, yielding just 16 points in the first
quarter and 33 combined points in the first half.
The road to conference supremacy won't be an easy one, as in addition to this
week's meeting with Penn State, Legends Division bouts with Nebraska, Michigan
and Michigan State are still to come. On paper, NU appears to be a long shot
to supplant that trio of traditional powers, but this is a pesky collection of
'Cats if ever there was one, so failing to recognize them as a viable threat
to win the division would be a mistake.
In an effort to maintain their focus and not to get too far ahead of
themselves, the Wildcats are taking one game at a time.
"I think no matter who you play in the Big Ten, it's going to be a tough game.
Whether you're playing Indiana, Nebraska, or Ohio State -- all these teams are
tough," Colter said after last week's conference opener.
He continued, "Every week we have to go out there and play like we're playing
the No. 1 team in the nation. That's how we have to play. I think we are
starting to get some momentum and we have to try and keep that momentum. But,
our whole goal this season has been to be 1-0 [each week]. So we're not going
to look ahead to Nebraska or any other teams that we might face. We have Penn
State coming up and that's what we're going to focus on."
Fitzgerald, who in 2011 was given a contract extension which is expected to
keep him at the school until 2020, knows with that kind of personal security
comes even greater expectations.
"I'm humbled and appreciative of the commitment shown by Northwestern, and
with this support from our administration, our coaches and players expect to
compete for championships."
Northwestern has only been to 10 bowl games in its history, nine of which have
come since 1995, and only one has resulted in a victory -- 20-14 over
California in the 1948 Rose Bowl. The team's current nine-game bowl losing
streak is tied for the longest bowl skid of all time.
A win at Penn State would make the Wildcats eligible for a bowl game for the
sixth straight year, but their goals aren't simply to reach the postseason.
No, they have loftier aspirations, and anything short of a berth in the Big
Ten title tilt will be a disappointment.
The Sports Network