Penn State has a daunting September schedule to work through this 2012 college football season, but their October schedule could be more manageable.
Northwestern, October 6
Penn State will host Northwestern for a homecoming game to kick off the October portion of the schedule, and they could be in need of a win after a road trip to Illinois in the Big Ten opener.
The Wildcats may not have Dan Persa anymore leading the offense at quarterback, but they replace him with Kain Colter, a player who will continue to bring a a dual-threat approach to the offense. Colter's passing skills resulted in fairly even offensive production compared to Persa last year, and his ability to be used as a receiver or rusher will make Northwestern a pesky team all season long.
But if Penn State's defense is healthy enough and the running game is in good shape, the Nittany Lions should be able to pull away with a home victory and send the homecoming crowd home with a win.
Northwestern's defense was ranked 81st in the nation last season after allowing 409.5 yards per game. The run defense ranked 84th after allowing 177.31 yards per game. Silas Redd rushed for 164 yards last season at Northwestern and 131 yards the season before against the Wildcats.
At Iowa, October 20
Penn State makes a trip to Iowa for a prime-time contest with the Hawkeyes, and they will be looking to pick up their fist win in Iowa City since leaving town with a 31-7 decision in 1999. To put it simply, history has not been kind to the Nittany Lions in the land of the black and yellow.
Penn State has beaten Iowa just two times since the 1999 meeting, including last year's defensive struggle in Happy Valley. Iowa is generally pretty respectable on defense but ranked right in the middle of the nation last season overall (60th).
Iowa also needs to find somebody to hand the ball off to after a being nearly decimated at the position.
Ohio State, October 27
This is the big game of the season for Penn State, at least to this point of the schedule. If Penn State can manage their schedule to this point, then a chance to play for the Big Ten championship could be within sight with a win against the visiting Buckeyes.
Ohio State, of course, is ineligible for the postseason and cannot compete for a Big Ten title, but the expectations for Ohio State seem to be pretty high in the first year of the Urban Meyer era in Columbus.
Quarterback Braxton Miller will be well-seasoned by late October after seeing significant playing time in 2011 and entering this fall as the starter from the beginning.
Last season, Miller completed 54.1 percent of his passes for 1,159 passing yards, 13 touchdowns and four interceptions. He also rushed for 715 yards and seven touchdowns, proving to be a solid dual-threat for opposing defenses. He rushed for 105 yards and passed for 83 yards and one touchdown against Penn State last season.
Upset alert: Iowa
Until Penn State shows they are capable of winning a game at Iowa again, this matchup will always cause fans to be weary of the result.
Penn State's offense has generally struggled against Iowa during this stretch of time in which Iowa has held the upper hand overall, so it will be critical to have a solid game plan capable of doing damage against the Hawkeyes. Penn State will have the benefit of having a bye week prior to this matchup.
After playing six games, Penn State should have a general feel for what is working and what is not on both sides of the football, so a bye week to fine-tune the team could pay off heading to Iowa.
Chalk It up as a Victory: Northwestern
Northwestern will be a team that is ready to play for a full 60 minutes however long Pat Fitzgerald is leading the way.
But what the Wildcats lack is quality depth capable of grinding for a full game against a defense like Penn State's (if healthy). There will be no quit in the team, but a porous run defense will be what holds Northwestern off from scoring an upset in this one.
Potentially Premature Prediction
Going undefeated in October is certainly not impossible to envision, but it will be difficult to go 2-0 against Iowa and Ohio State.
The Buckeyes could end up being the best team in the Big Ten by the end of the year, and Urban Meyer's rival could be a major storyline in college football. But Penn State will be just as amped up for this early-evening home game and could be hitting their stride.
Right now, a 2-1 prediction in October seems like a good starting point, with a loss coming at Iowa or at home against Ohio State. Would that take them out of the Leaders Division hunt? We will just have to wait and see.
Continue reading with a look at the November schedule.
Stats provided by CFBStats.com unless noted otherwise.
Kevin McGuire is the host of the No 2-Minute Warning podcast, managing editor of Nittany Lions Den and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. Follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook and add him to your Google+ circle.