Penn State’s season truly begins this week when it heads to Iowa.

James Franklin’s Nittany Lions have raced out to a 5-0 start after their win on Saturday against Purdue at Beaver Stadium, outscoring opponents a whopping 235-37 and heightening expectations that they can be a serious threat to Ohio State in the Big Ten East division.

But business is about to pick up, because it’s Iowa week. And the Nittany Lions know all too well how difficult of a test the Hawkeyes pose, especially under the lights in Iowa City.

We have seen dominant play from Penn State in all three phases, but consistency has been an issue as we approach the second Saturday in October. Now is the time for the Nittany Lions to put forth a complete effort with a stretch coming up that includes a home game against Michigan and a game versus Michigan State on the road following the Iowa matchup.

Against a Purdue team that had several key injuries, the Nittany Lions recorded a 28-point win and gave up a meager 104 total yards. But there was plenty of sloppiness to clean up ahead of a tilt against an Iowa squad that will be salty coming off of a road loss to Michigan.

Still, it’s a luxury to be able to lean on a defense that is coming off of a 10-sack effort — the most for the program since 1999 — along with 13 tackles for loss and an opponent’s third-down conversion line that read 1-of-14. Franklin has been very pleased with the defensive play he’s seen thus far, and the unit will be prepping this week for a Hawkeyes squad that had just one rushing yard against the Wolverines in a 10-3 loss.

The contest against the Hawkeyes could very well play out like the Nittany Lions’ clash against Pittsburgh last month. Of course, that was the game in which the Panthers had the ball at the PSU 1-yard line with less than 5 minutes on the clock but failed to get any points in a 17-10 Lions win. Panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett threw for a career-high 372 yards in that one, while Nittany Lions signal-caller Sean Clifford was just 14-of-30 passing as he spent a lot of the day under pressure from Pat Narduzzi’s defense.

Clifford accounted for four touchdowns in the win over the Boilermakers, and his play will be vital to helping the Lions extend their win streak against Big Ten West opponents to 12 games.

Expect freshman running back Noah Cain, who recorded his first career 100-yard rushing game against the Boilermakers, to have his role increased as Franklin looks to move to 4-0 against the Hawkeyes. Franklin employs a back-by-committee approach, and the depth will continue to be showcased. But if Kirk Ferentz’s defense clamps down on Clifford and the passing game, Cain will become a key figure.

These teams are used to playing tight contests. Last season in State College, a late Hawkeyes scoring attempt was ruined by a Nate Stanley interception near the goal line. The year before in Iowa City, the Nittany Lions survived a scare when Juwan Johnson caught a seven-yard pass from Trace McSorley as time expired to give PSU the victory.

This season, both teams have been stingy defensively. Penn State has allowed only four touchdowns through five games, while Iowa has given up just five over that same span. The difference could be the play of Stanley, who tossed three interceptions last week against Michigan. His play was the difference when these teams met last year at Beaver Stadium, as he completed only 18 of his 49 passes and threw two picks. His performances in big spots have not been consistently good, which doesn’t bode well for the Hawkeyes against this Lions defense.

This Penn State team isn’t perfect, but it’s a very talented squad that has yet to really be tested. We can nitpick the team’s play, such as mistakes on special teams against the Boilermakers, as well as sporadic lulls on offense. Certainly, the Lions need to be sharper if they want to compete for a Big Ten East crown — and possibly more.

Overall, Franklin has to feel good heading into Kinnick Stadium. Knowing Ferentz and the Hawkeyes, they will be well-prepared and intent on forgetting about Michigan. The problem is that we may not have seen the best yet from this Nittany Lions squad. And that’s a scary thought for the Hawkeyes and the rest of the opposition remaining on the Lions’ schedule.