Iowa and Penn State both have the same goal as they enter Saturday night's Big Ten contest at Beaver Stadium.
Both schools want it to be a November to remember.
No. 12 Penn State (6-2, 4-1 Big Ten) has won four straight games, including a benchmark 24-21 upset of mighty Ohio State, and is still in the hunt for the East Division title. The Nittany Lions trail Michigan (8-0, 5-0), which still has difficult games at Iowa and Ohio State remaining.
Iowa (5-3, 3-2), which has won a school-record nine straight road games, needs a strong finish just to become bowl-eligible after a disappointing October that saw the Hawkeyes lose at home to Northwestern, 38-31, and Wisconsin, 17-9.
Projected as the favorite to win the Big Ten West Division before the season, the Hawkeyes trail Nebraska and Wisconsin by one game in the standings. But they face a challenging schedule down the stretch, starting Saturday with the trip to Penn State. They return home to take on No. 2 Michigan, then go to Illinois before finishing against Nebraska.
At this point, Iowa's bigger concern might be securing bowl eligibility. The only game the Hawkeyes likely will be favored to win during the final month is at Illinois. A win there would leave them with a 6-6 record -- a far cry from last season's 12-0 season.
"Our goal is going to win these next four games," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "It may not be realistic. We'll know that at the end of the season. But that's going to be our goal. Just like last year, our goal is to win every game."
A win at Penn State on Saturday would certainly change Iowa's outlook. That won't be easy, but it's not unprecedented.
Iowa is 7-5 at Penn State and knocked off the third-ranked Nittany Lions in 2008 in Iowa City and the No. 5 Lions in 2009 in State College.
These Hawkeyes are not that far away from being undefeated. Their three losses are by two, seven and eight points -- and they had their chances to win all three.
Last year, Iowa won the close ones. This year, the tight games have gone the other way.
"It's a fine line," Ferentz said. "Typically, I believe that."
Ferentz pointed out that Iowa scored 10 points last year at Wisconsin and beat the Badgers. This season, the Hawkeyes scored one fewer point and lost. That's the razor's edge between winning and losing.
"As we move forward, our goal is pretty simple," Ferentz said. "We need to come up with a better plan. We've got to play better. Those are the two things that are paramount which gets down to improvement."
More than anything, the offense appears to be what's holding the Hawkeyes back. In three of their five Big Ten games, they have scored 14 points twice and nine points once.
Quarterback C.J. Beathard is not putting up the numbers he did a year ago in his first season as the starter, but that's more a function of inexperienced receivers and injuries. The senior is completing 59.7 percent of his passes but is averaging only 172.5 yards per game.
Penn State comes in off a 62-24 blowout of Purdue, which enabled coach James Franklin to empty his bench early in the fourth quarter for the first time in recent memory.
"I thought that was significant," Franklin said. "To have that type of game where you're able to get some guys experience, especially when we were at 65 scholarships, 75 scholarships, with a lot of wear and tear on those guys."
It was a luxury the Nittany Lions didn't have when Franklin took over a team lacking depth that was forced to play its starters throughout as the team clawed for wins. Now, the team is riding its longest wave of momentum since the 2011 season and will try to win its fifth straight conference game for the first time since Joe Paterno last coached.
Running back Saquon Barkley played a key role in the blowout, shredding Purdue's defense with 207 rushing yards and added 70 more receiving yards. Quarterback Trace McSorley threw three touchdowns in the win; he causes defenses fits with his scrambling and hasn't thrown an interception in 106 passes.
But Franklin believes the game will be decided in the trenches.
"It's going to be our D-line against their O-line," Franklin said. "I think it's going to be our O-line against their front seven. That's an area that we've been improving on since the beginning of the season. They're a veteran developmental program that does a great job year in and year out."