AP Sports Writer
EVANSTON, Ill. -- If the opener was hardly a work of art, No. 19 Northwestern hopes things look at least look a little better after a touch-up.
The No. 19 Wildcats host Syracuse on Saturday, and coach Pat Fitzgerald saw plenty of room for improvement heading into this game.
"This is far from a Picasso organization right now," coach Pat Fitzgerald said.
What they are, though, is a group with soaring expectations after going 10-3 last season and dropping a big weight from their shoulders by capturing the program's first bowl victory since the 1948 team beat California in the Rose Bowl.
Coincidentally, the Wildcats won at Cal in the opener last week, using some fortunate bounces and taking control late in a 44-30 victory after getting banged up along the way. It was the first step for a team trying to assert itself among the best in the Big Ten, one that will find out exactly where it stands when it opens conference play against Ohio State.
The Wildcats have a good chance to go into that game at 4-0, assuming they get by Syracuse (0-1) and then Western Michigan and Maine.
Northwestern got all it could handle from Syracuse last season, and the Orange are coming off a tight loss to Penn State, spoiling the debuts of coach Scott Shafer and quarterback Drew Allen.
"We're 0-1. It's not that I didn't have a sense of urgency before Game 1," said Allen, who was 16 for 37 for 189 yards last week. "But it's even more so now going into Game 2. Northwestern's 1-0. They're coming off a win, we're coming off a loss. We really need to press our tempo and press our sense of urgency to the best that we can."
Here are some things to know about this game:
1. BRUISED ‘CATS: Banged up in the opener, the Wildcats could be short-handed in this one. Cornerback Daniel Jones suffered a season-ending knee injury, while quarterback Kain Colter (concussion) and running back Venric Mark ( lower body injury) are questionable for this game after getting banged up last week. Colter told a reporter this week that he's planning to play, but if he can't, Trevor Siemian figures to be the lone man behind center. The two usually split time, but with Colter injured early against Cal, Siemian carried the load and went 18 for 29 for 276 yards and a touchdown.
2. SEEKING A LIFT: Syracuse will try again to give Shafer his first win after coming up short against Penn State, losing 23-17 before a hostile crowd at MetLife Stadium. The last thing the Orange want as they transition into the Atlantic Coast Conference is an 0-2 start. "We're where we don't want to be and we feel like we shouldn't be," defensive tackle Jay Bromley said. "We just want to make sure we make the necessary adjustments on offense and defense."
3. TAKING A BACKSEAT: The favorite to start at quarterback for Syracuse, Terrel Hunt saw it slip away after Allen transferred from Oklahoma. Hunt emerged as the favorite to be Syracuse's starting quarterback after a solid spring, getting more first-team snaps than senior Charley Loeb and junior John Kinder. Allen, however, transferred in April for his final year of eligibility after sitting with the Sooners and was tabbed as the starter 10 days before the Penn State game.
4. PICK ‘EM: Collin Ellis had quite a night for Northwestern last week, returning two interceptions for touchdowns on deflected passes. He ran one back 56 yards in the third quarter and put the Wildcats in control with a 40-yard return midway through the fourth to give them a 10-point lead.
5. LOOKING BACK: Last year, Northwestern built a 22-point lead and then rallied in the final minute to beat Syracuse 42-41 at the Carrier Dome with Colter on the sideline. His upper body bruised by some hard hits, he decided the team would be better off without him and told offensive coordinator Mike McCall just that when the Orange went up six in the closing minutes. Siemian led a 75-yard drive that ended with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Demetrius Fields. Mark set a school record with 134 yards on punt returns, running one back 82 yards for a touchdown. He also returned three kickoffs for 49 yards and finished with 82 yards rushing.