<
>
Insider

5 storylines: Northwestern vs. Penn State

Every week, NittanyNation takes a look at five storylines that stand out: What should fans keep an eye on? What's the bigger picture? What might be on display Saturday?

Here are NittanyNation's Week 6 storylines:

1. Could this be Northwestern's best start in 50 years? Northwestern last started 6-0 in 1962 and could match that record with a win over Penn State. Still, October hasn't been kind to the Wildcats. Pat Fitzgerald's team has been just 10-15 over the last six seasons in that month and dropped four of five last season in October.

2. Matt McGloin could cause trouble. Like Penn State, Northwestern's secondary is the weak point this season. And McGloin has taken the Wildcats to the woodshed the last two seasons. McGloin combined for 417 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions in two victories -- and he's even better this season. If Northwestern loses, McGloin will likely be a big reason why.

3. Mutual respect. It's not often those words are typed during a conference game, but this is a complete reversal from the bad-blood in the PSU-Illinois matchup. Fitzgerald refused to pursue Penn State players after the sanctions, and a mutual respect has always stood between the Nittany Lions and Fitzgerald, a two-time Bednarik Award winner who played for Northwestern in the 1990s. "Pat's done an excellent job there," Bill O'Brien said. Countered Fitzgerald: "You've got to tip your hat and be incredibly impressed with the job [of] the coaching staff."

4. Wildcats' elite rushing offense. The three-headed attack of Venric Mark, Kain Colter and Mike Trumpy has made Northwestern the ninth-best rushing team in the country. They have averaged 256 yards a game and run for nearly five yards a carry, while Penn State's defense has improved greatly in the last three weeks. PSU's defensive line should be the Wildcats' toughest test yet, while the reverse most certainly holds true. Something has to give.

5. Opposite field-goal units. Sam Ficken is statistically the least-accurate kicker in the country, while Northwestern's Jeff Budzien is the most accurate. Ficken is just 2-of-8 and has missed two extra points, and Budzien is 11-of-11 and set a school record by making 70 straight career PATs. Ficken went 1-for-5 against Virginia, and Budzien went 5-for-5 against Boston College. Ficken is 0-for-3 on kicks 40 yards and longer, while Budzien is 4-for-4. ... You get the idea; Northwestern has a big advantage here, and it could decide the game.