Football Bowl Subdivision
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            === Wildcats on prowl in Big Ten ripe for the taking ===
 
 By Frank Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
 
 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
 that fact.
 
 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
 surprised."
 
 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.
 
 
 
 10/05 11:52:34 ET