Credit Penn State for raising everybody's expectations through the first half of the season.
Not many figured the Nittany Lions were ready to stand toe-to-toe with Ohio State as a Big Ten title contender, much less become a factor in the national championship picture.
The Buckeyes' one-sided loss to USC, coupled with Penn State's sudden offensive explosion, at least until the Lions arrived at Purdue, changed that.
And now here are the Nittany Lions, 6-0 and ranked No. 6 and poised for one could be one of the great three-game stretches in Penn State history - prime-time trips to Wisconsin and Ohio State sandwiched around a visit from Michigan.
With heigtened expectations come higher stakes and while many, particularly given Michigan's struggles, could be peaking around the corner at Ohio State, the players better not.
For this game holds the key to a great year.
Penn State (6-0)
at Wisconsin (3-2)
Kickoff: 8 p.m.
Line: Penn State is a 5-point favorite.
Updated PSU injury/status report: WR Jordan Norwood (hamstring) is expected to play. TE Mickey Shuler (ankle) is probable, TE Andrew Quarless (ankle) is questionable.
If Penn State can go into Madison, at night, and show the nation it's for real, it will have every reason to believe it's capable of running the table.
If not, the season could start staring at 10-3 pretty quickly.
If the Lions win tonight and lose in Columbus, it can still be a pretty special year. Great by Penn State standards? That depends on your definition. While the Nittany Lions were racking up seven unbeaten regular seasons under Joe Paterno, greatness meant perfection.
But a 12-1, including a prestigious bowl win, still qualifies, especially now that the Lions are in a conference they don't dominate like they did their Eastern brothers.
The national oddsmakers have even more respect for Penn State than they do Ohio State. The Lions are a 5-point favorite tonight. The Buckeyes, in the same venue, were a 2-point favorite just last week.
The fact that Wisconsin was beaten in the last minute by the Buckeyes could make the Badgers more dangerous or vulnerable. That depends on their character, which we'll find out more about tonight.
It will be surprising if Wisconsin doesn't respond. This is a quality program and one that is capable of putting a physical beating on just about anybody.
Penn State should know. It never has an easy time in Wisconsin. It's won there twice since joining the Big Ten, but only by a field goal each time, and three times in the last four meetings at raucous Camp Randall, the Lions have been battered and beaten and checked to a mere three points.
Granted, those PSU teams ('98, '04 and '06) were absent of this year's offense, which must make Wisconsin respect the pass enough to open some running lanes for Evan Royster and Stephfon Green.
Because of the power of Wisconsin's running game, its ball-control capability and its huge offensive line, it's impossible to think Penn State can win this game 13-10. The Lions can not put that much pressure on their defense.
But while citing past history, last year's game - a 38-7 PSU win - has to be noted.
Wisconsin seems no better now than it was a year ago, and Penn State, to this point, has been much improved.
Home-field advantage can't mean that much.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He'll respond to brief comments and questions in Gameday.