Wildcats face a crossroads

Northwestern players promise this year will be different than before; that the team will respond to adversity. Following their first loss of the season, the Wildcats must prove they can regroup. If not, NU will face another tailspin.

The sun will rise for another college football Saturday. No, the world didn't end following Northwestern's first loss of the season.

There is plenty to be disappointed about from the loss to Penn State. The Wildcats were out of sync on both sides of the ball and reverted to their old ways in blowing a fourth-quarter lead. It gave NU fans that all-too-familiar gut-wrenching pain.

Then came Sunday, the day after. It was time to regroup and move on.

As the Wildcats met with the media during Monday's news conference, a word in bold lettering stood out on a board listing the program's values.

"Respond." It's a word that will define the team.

The Wildcats' season is at a crossroads. They can maintain focus or let their season spiral out of control.

"Guys are hungry, more than ever, to get back at it and working," senior defensive tackle Brian Arnfelt said.

The rhetoric is reassuring, but whether Arnfelt speaks the truth or just words will be revealed against Minnesota. On Saturday, Northwestern will prove its true character.

In 2011, a heartbreaking 21-14 loss to Army sent Northwestern into a tailspin. In the following contest, NU blew an 18-point second-half lead, falling in a thriller to rival Illinois. The results were similar in the three proceeding games; loss, loss, loss. A five-game skid ruined a promising season.

Will there be a letdown this time around?

"I don't think with this year's group that's going to be an issue," said Arnfelt.

A win over the Golden Gophers would justify the senior captain's words.

The Big Ten Legends Division is wide open. Michigan, presumed to be the division favorite, has underachieved thus far. Nebraska and Michigan State, both highly touted teams, have seen tremendous struggles.

Despite its loss, Northwestern remains a darkhorse in the Big Ten.

Northwestern's goal entering the season was making a trip to Indianapolis. It still remains attainable. The Wildcats can take strides toward the conference title game or pack up their bags on the season.

Arnfelt and his fellow senior leaders must support their strong statement. They must foster a positive mentality into the entire team, keeping each player focused on moving forward, not looking back.

There is still plenty for Northwestern to play for, even despite its first defeat. The Wildcats must respond with a win.

Chris Emma has covered recruiting, college athletics and professional baseball for FOX Sports Next since 2009. Emma covered the Nebraska Cornhuskers for Big Red Report, and currently covers the Northwestern Wildcats and Chicago Cubs. He currently resides on Chicago's north side.
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