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Posted By Ben Chiswick On Nov 3 2010 @ 10:36 am In Northwestern | 2 Comments

You’ve gotta love the Big 10.

Every week means a great match-up, and this Saturday will be no different when the Northwestern Wildcats (6-2, 2-2) travel to Beaver Stadium for the first time in 2006 to take on a Penn State Nittany Lions (5-3, 2-2).

Both teams are 2-2 in the Big 10, meaning that the winner will push into the top half of the conference standings while the loser will fall into the bottom half. With four teams ranked among the top 16 teams in the BCS standings, the Big 10 has surprised some people by proving it is as strong top-to-bottom as it has been in years.

The Wildcats, now bowl eligible for a fourth consecutive season, will try to continue their success away from Ryan Field and are looking for a seventh consecutive road victory dating back to last season. If they accomplish that feat, it will tie a school record established a few years back… from 1929-1931!

That will not be the most striking historical mark at stake on Saturday, however, as legendary Penn St. coach Joe Paterno seeks his 400th career win. If he accomplishes the feat he will be the first FBS coach ever – and third in all NCAA divisions – to reach that lofty plateau. With a career record of 399-132-3, Paterno is in his 45th season as the Nittany Lions’ head coach. Amazing.

This Penn St. team is coming off consecutive wins against Minnesota and Michigan, led by senior running back Evan Royster. After rushing for 150 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s 41-31 win over Michigan, Royster established himself as the school’s all-time leading rusher with 3,518 yards. That is quite a feat considering the Nittany Lions’ long line of blue chip running backs that includes the likes of Larry Johnson, Curtis Enis and Ki-Jana Carter. While some of those names fizzled out in the pros, all were top tier collegiate stars and Heisman Trophy candidates.

Meanwhile, the quarterbacks in Happy Valley have been riddled with injuries this year.

True freshman Rob Bolden started the first seven games before a concussion thrust redshirt sophomore Matt McGloin into action for the last game-and-a-half. Paterno has not yet named a starter for Saturday, but suggested at a press conference that he may even use both quarterbacks against Northwestern. According to Wildcats’ coach Pat Fitzgerald, however, the Nittany Lions run their offense pretty much the same regardless of who is under center, with the possible exception of some additional running plays if sophomore Kevin Newsome finds his way onto the field.

Regardless of who is taking the snaps, the primary target will be junior Derek Moye, an explosive 6-foot-5 receiver who leads Penn St. with 28 catches, 530 yards, and 18.9 yards-per-catch. His three receiving touchdowns are tied for the team lead.

The Nittany Lions’ pass defense is better than their ability to stop the ground game, so look for Northwestern to try and run Mike Trumpy to see if he can put together another big game. Of course, the offense will still run through Dan Persa, so we will see first-hand how well he bounces back from the concussion he suffered late in the Indiana game.

One thing is for sure. It should be a highly competitive showdown between a pair of evenly matched teams on Saturday.

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