Junior linebacker Glenn Carson will be a primary team leader next season, but Penn State fans hope his confidence right now is an indicator of things to come this season.
The last time Penn State linebacker Glenn Carson said something moderately bold and arguably controversial right before a big early conference game against a team riding a long winning streak - something that was largely irrefutable truth and seemingly innocuous but cut a little too close to some people's sensitive spot and created a small dustbowl of manufactured media controversy - what happened?
Penn State won.
The Lions can only hope the same thing happens again on Saturday vs. mighty-mite Northwestern and its hybrid, two-QB super-offense, averaging 34 points and 467 yards a game.
Last season, Carson exercised his vocal cords prior to the Iowa game (which also was the second Big Ten game of the season and first at home, just like Northwestern this week), expressing the frustrations of every Penn State fan from here to Bora Bora over the Hawkeyes' recent domination of the series:
"Iowa's a wrestling school and Penn State's a football school, so we have to take it to them," Carson said.
Reportedly the former New Jersey prep standout wrestler said it semi-tongue in cheek, but no matter. It instantly roused the bulletin-board police, because ... well, it's not clear exactly why.
It was just one of those comments that generates a minor kerfuffle. True or not. (Of note: PSU's wrestling program is reigning two-time NCAA champion, while Iowa is the all-time standard bearer with 23 national titles.)
Carson possibly shouldn't have said it, just because if things had gone poorly vs. Iowa, his loose lips might have taken some of the blame in the media, rightly or wrongly.
The larger point, though: Carson had the self-assurance to say it - he was feeling it - and his teammates had his back. The Lions sort-of dominated in a 13-3 win over Iowa.
It was the fourth straight in what would become a seven-game winning streak for PSU.
(We all know what happened after that. Fast-forward to this week.)
So, is Carson getting the same vibe from this Penn State team right now? Do the Lions have the goods to make a run, do they have Carson's back again?
This week, Carson called the Northwestern game "a must-win."
As bold statements go, this one barely registers. But it is meaningful: A relatively routine mid-season game, and Carson is calling it "a must-win"?
How can that be?
Because, it is a must-win if you have bigger goals, and if you are feeling good about yourself, and if you are feeling good about your team.
Carson must be feeling that way right now. Which is a good sign for the Lions.
And why shouldn't he be feeling good? Winners of three straight, it is a must-win for PSU if it hopes to shock the pundits and make this a truly special season, if it hopes to make a run at the Leaders Division title.
Carson's mindset, again, is in a good place.
Last year, it was about what Iowa was doing every time it played Penn State, which was defeat the Lions, in 8 of the past 9 meetings up to that point, to be exact.
Carson's Iowa comment was his way of saying "we've had enough of this #!%@&, and it's high time we beat these guys.'"
And they did.
This time, it's about what Northwestern is doing, what it has done every game this season, which is win - 5-0 this season to crack the national rankings (and 9 of its past 10 regular season games).
And while the Wildcats haven't exactly slayed a murderer's row - Syracuse, Vanderbilt, Boston College, South Dakota and Indiana - their conquests stack up just fine against Penn State's three victims: Navy, Temple and free-falling Illinois.
Carson's "must-win" comment is his way of saying, "Yeah, they might be embarking on their own little dream season, but it's not going to come at the expense of our season, not this week, not on our field."
Carson again has put the onus squarely on himself and his defensive mates. And that is a great sign, a great indicator: He thinks they're ready.
Northwestern may have racked up more than 700 yards last week and is averaging 256 rushing yards a game, but Carson is saying he knows the Lions have what it takes to win this game.
Most importantly, it means he has confidence in the defense under new coordinator Ted Roof, confidence that has developed in recent weeks as the team has taken a little step forward each game, and as the defense has corrected its gaping third-down deficiencies from the first two games.
Carson had his finger on the pulse of the team last season. If he does again, the Lions could be in the midst of a very impressive turnaround, and a run at the division title.
If Carson is confident, perhaps we should be confident.
We'll see on Saturday.