It's funny how much talk goes on about preseason rankings in college football these days. These numbers mean absolutely nothing - they're more of a ranking of the previous year's team than anything else.
By the time the first BCS rankings come out after Week 7, some of the pretenders have been filtered out and the contenders have made their name known, but don't let these midseason seeds trick you. They are again nothing but numbers.
Sure it's fun to look at Penn State and see it ranked 19th in the BCS and 21st in the AP poll, but there's still plenty of football to be played and those numbers are guaranteed to change.
The question for Penn State is in which direction those numbers are going to shift? And that's a question only the players can answer.
All these polls and computer rankings don't have meaning until you get to the last week of the regular season, conference championship week and the ensuing bowl selection process. And as recent history shows, the rankings don't even matter much then unless your team is vying for the top two spots.
The true battle that has emerged this season is between Penn State and Wisconsin for the top seed in the Big Ten Leaders Division. Depending on the outcome of the next few weeks, the Nittany Lions' trip to Madison on Nov. 26 could be one of the biggest games during Penn State's membership in the Big Ten.
With a win over Illinois Saturday, the Nittany Lions would give the Illini their third conference loss and all but knock them out of the title-game running. That would be a sour loss for Ron Zook and his team, ranked 16th in the preseason poll.
Wisconsin travels to Ohio State Saturday and a Badger win would serve the same deathly result for the Buckeyes' (ranked 18th preseason) title-game chances.
Keeping my McGloin-inspired positive outlook on the rest of the season, let's go ahead and assume the Nittany Lions win the rest of their games headed into the matchup with Wisconsin. Also assuming the Badgers continue to win, whichever team comes out of the Nov. 26 contest victorious will represent the Leaders Division in the inagural Big Ten title game in Indianapolis.
Even if Penn State loses to either Ohio State or Nebraska and Wisconsin still continues to win, the winner of the Lions-Badgers game will still claim the Leaders Division.
What I thought was impossible at the start of the season is now anything but. All four of Penn State's final opponents have lost at least once. They're facing some good teams, but not unbeatable teams. I said in my first column of the season that Penn State's season will be judged by its performance in the final weeks of the Big Ten schedule. That outlook is proving to be coming true.
As we exit the time machine from our look at the Penn State season that might be, let's peek at the game directly in front of the Lions.
Illinois' schedule has been nothing to write home about up to this point, falling the last two weeks at home to Ohio State and at Purdue. The Illini's biggest wins have been three-point home victories over Arizona State and Northwestern.
When facing the Buckeyes two weeks ago, Illinois gave up 211 rushing yards on 51 attempts. That plays right into Penn State's style to ride Silas Redd as far as he can carry the team.
Illinois quarterback Nate Scheelhaase has thrown three picks in the last two games. His play has steadily declined the past few weeks, which the Penn State defense should feast upon.
Speaking of Redd, he was added to the Maxwell Award watch list recently. The sophomore tailback leads the Big Ten with 869 rushing yards.
Quote of the week: "I'm not where I want to be, the blazing speed I used to have. It's been tough, it's a pain in the neck, let me put it that way." Joe Paterno, on the challenge of overcoming his personal injuries.
Chris McFarland is the news editor of The Sentinel. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org