Throughout the whole offseason, all indications suggested Persa would be back to full health for his senior season. At Big Ten Media Days, Persa declared—an estimated 90 times—that he is at 100 percent health.
Entering preseason camp, Persa was being limited—as a precautionary, of course. When camp ended and actual practices began, Persa was still being limited.
When Pat Fitzgerald addressed the media for his Monday press conference, the panic set in.
"If he's ready to go, he'll start, if he's not, he won't," Fitzgerald said in his Monday press conference. "Earth-shattering statement right there."
If the statement wasn't earth-shattering, it was pretty close to it for Wildcat fans.
The word throughout the entire offseason was that Persa would be healthy and ready for week one. Suddenly, the head coach is making indications that the starting quarterback may not be ready.
When Persa was injured last season, Evan Watkins and Kain Colter became the starter. For both quarterbacks, it was trial by fire. The results weren't good. Something NU faithful hope they never experience again.
Suddenly, the nightmare scenario showed its ugly face again. What if Persa can't play?
Naturally, Wildcat fans turn their attention to QB 2, or 1A as Fitzgerald claimed last week. That would be sophomore Kain Colter, who is not the guy you remember from last year. He has made improvements and gotten better.
"Night and day," said Fitzgerald of Colter's progress.
Colter showed his blazing speed during the TicketCity Bowl, when he rushed for 105 yards. Since last season, Colter has made great improvements in his passing game, while—believe it or not—becoming more mobile as well.
Those night-and-day improvements have shown throughout camp. Colter is throwing the ball with better accuracy and velocity, and has learned to use his feet when needed. Most importantly, he knows the playbook like the back of his hand—something which was not the case last season.
"He's got a good grasp of the offense," Fitzgerald said of Colter. "He can make all the throws, he's very dynamic with the ball in his hands, and he understands what we're trying to do and trying to accomplish."
Colter has one more thing on his side. Reps.
During the spring when Persa was sidelined, Colter worked with the first-team offense in lieu of the starter. When preseason camp came, Persa was limited in the ones-against-ones drills. Once again, Colter—now solidified as the backup quarterback—stepped into Persa's place.
Colter's biggest improvement made during the offseason wasn't a physical improvement, it was a mental improvement. He is now ready to be a starting quarterback.
"Does he have 25 games of experience? Not really," said Fitzgerald. He's definitely got a ton of reps, and he's poised to go if that's what ends up happening and how the cards play out."
How will the cards play out? For now, that remains a mystery. We'll likely find out sometime after noon on Saturday. Fortunately for Northwestern, there is a backup plan in place. If Persa is unable to play, Kain Colter will be ready to step in.