It has already started. Before I hit “publish” on this very post the storylines of the Northwestern visit to Penn State are already playing out. As a writer, I’ve got to believe weeks like this are the ones you crave as the amount of material you need to create is minimal. It writes itself. Let’s dive in to the key storylines of the week, but first check out Teddy Greenstein’s article today which encapsulates much of what I’m about to write – you can get to it here.
- Persa’s Health – Today at noon we expect to get the official word on what happened to Dan Persa. We’re all holding our breath in hopes that a)he is healthy and b) can play this week. We all know that if there is any way for him to play he will. Because….
- Persa’s Penn State Storyline – Saturday will be the only chance Dan Persa has to show his home state team what they missed in person. The Bethlehem, PA native’s mom and sister are both Nittany Lion alums. The “Persa was too small” to get serious looks from JoePa will setup a nice storyline as well.
- Deja Vu All Over Again – Dan Persa got thrown in to the fire last Halloween when Mike Kafka went down in the 2nd quarter. Persa had the ‘Cats entering the 4th tied when the house fell in and Penn State ripped off 21 unanswered points. I’m hoping Evan Watkins is not going to get his chance replacing Dan Persa against the same team making a circular storyline. Nothing against Evan – I just want Dan healthy.
- #400 – Obviously the biggest storyline in the national media will be Joe Paterno’s attempt to win number 400. This is the primary reason this game is getting the ABC time slot so the national media and national audience can turn the game in to a 3-hour tribute to JoePa. Let’s hope the refs miss the memo.
- JoePa-Fitz Comparisons – It happens all the time. “Fitz has a chance to be the next JoePa” is a phrase often thrown in reference to the fact that it is set up for Pat Fitzgerald to be a rare lifer as a head coach at Northwestern. He has no interest in going anywhere nor do the fans hope he ever leaves. In an era where Joe Paternos are dinosaurs, Fitz has the potential to be a once-in-a-generation type of icon associated with one school. Obviously based on JoePa’s accomplishments Fitz would tell you he doesn’t belong in the same sentence – yet.
- The Rudy Factor – Penn State QB Matt McGloin replaced starter Rob Bolden who sat because of a concussion and led Penn State to a primetime 41-31 win with 250 yards and some beautiful passing against the worst D in the Big Ten. McGloin took on Kirk Herbstreit in his on-field postgame interview as Herby apparently picked Michigan in part because of the fact this untested former walk-on was stepping in at QB. Let’s hope we don’t have a mirror trend of untested Evan Watkins stepping in to replace Dan Persa because of the same concussion issue.
Those are the no-brainer storylines. Here are a few we’ll be tracking on LTP all week:
- The big game jinx – NU has not performed all that well on ABC late afternoon games in general. It’s unfair to say we haven’t performed well in big games – see Iowa, Wisconsin past two seasons – but when the lights get brighter we definitely haven’t played our best. This game is huge for NU and the foregone conclusion by the national media that this JoePa infomercial will be all Penn State is just the type of underdog status we relish.
- Champions Are Crowned In November – Northwestern enters November arguably as the nation’s softest 6-2 team. A couple plays away from 8-0 and a few away from 3-5 which has become the norm in the past couple of seasons. Northwestern has been downright dominant in November going 9-4 in Fitz’s tenure and an amazing 6-1 in the past two seasons in November with the lone loss being a home game against #12 Ohio State. We can’t even say the “task has never been tougher” as last year was a pretty stiff challenge with undefeated #4 Iowa on the road, #17 Wisconsin at home and the Illini.
- Program Turning Month – We can all agree any combination ranging from 4-0 and a possible Big Ten Co-Championship to 0-4 is completely conceivable. I’m fairly certain we’d all take the certainty (if somehow we could) of a 2-2 November right now and call that a solid season. The next 4 games will go a long way to cementing (or not) the consistency of the program as we’re building on a critical 2-years of 8+ wins and big time bowl games.
- Road Warriors – The much documented road success of NU (6 game win streak) will again be put to the test and under the scope as we continue to put up eye-popping road wins since the start of 2008
- Milestone Madness – NU always seems to find themselves in the cross-hairs of milestone wins. How have we fared and when have we played the spoiler? I’m bummed about #400 as it will get so much attention on our game and I had hoped for Penn State to be eyeing Ohio State who is right behind us.
- The Vanderlinden Connection - It’s an old one by now, but former ‘Cats DC Ron Vanderlinden must be mentioned as he was Fitz’s coach and led the nation’s premiere “D” in Evanston. Vanderlinden appears to be a lifer now at Penn State and it offers a lay-up storyline.
Some other thoughts from the weekend:
- If we can somehow win on Saturday and Illinois wins as well, let’s hope the network and NU revisit the ESPNU distribution for the Wrigley game. That game is going to be better than the best bowl atmosphere we could imagine. It may deserve to get the ABC slot. I’m getting pretty psyched for that game.
- RichRod is gone. Barring a miracle I see Michigan sputtering to the end of the season and RichRod getting the final nail in the coffin when Ohio State beats him by double digits. And then as if there wasn’t enough spice in the ‘Cats life moving forward – here comes Jim Harbaugh who will be lured away by Stanford.
- Iowa plays angry. Corbin Bryant made some noise last week saying how angry the “D” was and was going to take it out on Indiana. While holding them to 17 points is solid, giving up 300 in the air isn’t exactly shutdown “D”. Holding them to 65 yards rushing is fantastic, but if you want to see what playing angry looks like, good God, replay that Iowa game. Thankfully they have Indiana the week before us (this week) so barring the upset of the season, they should be slightly less angry coming to Ryan Field.
- Illinois’ “D” is scary good. Illini DC Vic Koenning should be up for coach of the year even though he isn’t a head coach. The Illini continue to just lockdown team after team and now their offense is gaining steam. An amazing turnaround in Champaign and the only saving grace I have is that we’ll be playing them the week after the best defense in the conference – Iowa.
- NO ONE Gives the Cats Love – Every Big Ten team of note that was playing would at some point have their upcoming schedule shown. Every time Northwestern was on the schedule not one announcer referenced our game as a danger game (including Iowa). When talking about the conference in general and showing the standings NU wasn’t mentioned once. Got ‘em right where we want them right?
Cross your fingers – I likely won’t be right on the announcement so feel free to post.