It's a smudge on the resume, an ink stain on the pants.
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald has been perfect in August (2-0), strong in September (20-9) and solid in November (13-8). But October brings the first full month of fall -- and a nearly annual fall for the Wildcats.
They're 10-15 in October in Fitzgerald's six previous seasons. Last year the Wildcats lost four straight before saving face at Indiana.
This year? Fitzgerald is determined not to stumble against Penn State, Minnesota, Nebraska and Iowa.
"I'm going to be really demanding on them this month," Fitzgerald said of his players. "I'm not going to tolerate the past."
Northwestern usually thrives in the first four to five weeks because of so-so nonconference schedules and the school's quarter system. Classes didn't start this year until Sept. 27, so players could spend as much time as they wanted watching film and lifting weights. (The NCAA's 20-hour-per-week limit covers games, practices and meetings.)
"A lot more gets thrown on our plates (once school starts), but there's really no excuse," linebacker David Nwabuisi said. "It's our job, as the older guys, to make sure the younger guys understand that football is still a commitment too. And you can't make excuses for missed time in the film room and the weight room."
Said tailback Venric Mark: "This month, you have to make sure you come in early sometimes. Lose a little bit of sleep to watch the film."
Fitzgerald said he and his coaching staff met for hours during their offseason retreat to discuss remedies for the October lull.
"We talked of having a better plan of time managing," he said. "I'm not worried about us academically. We had a 3.04 team GPA last year. We have to play above a 3.0 on Saturday."
If it ain't broke Kain Colter is listed as NU's starting quarterback, but Trevor Siemian could get the call, as he did against Indiana. The result of using Colter mainly as a slot receiver and running quarterback was astounding -- a school-record 704 yards of offense and terrific balance (394 rushing, 310 passing) against the Hoosiers.
Colter shared Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors with Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez after grabbing nine passes for 131 yards and rushing for 164 yards and four touchdowns.
"The game plan dictates how that gets adjusted," Fitzgerald said. "I could put something down here (on the two-deep), and then as the week goes along, it changes. I'm not contractually obligated to give you guys anything after (Monday)."
Extra points: Freshman defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo has been ruled out for the season because of a shoulder injury. Odenigbo, who played a handful of snaps against Vanderbilt, will retain four seasons of eligibility as a medical redshirt. Defensive end Roderick Goodlow (knee) also is done for 2012. He missed all of 2010 and some games last season with injuries. Sean McEvilly, a redshirt sophomore from Yorba Linda, Calif., has supplanted Will Hampton as a starting defensive tackle.
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