Northwestern wrap-up and the ugly bowl picture.

Here's the box score. In the biggest game of the season so far, the Hoosiers failed in a number of ways. While the defense hung in at time against a potent offense and managed some key interceptions, NU proved much more adept than usual at turning its red zone opportunities into touchdowns and really dictated to the IU defense. Not surprisingly, considering NU's two empty drives that resulted in end zone interceptions, plus James Bailey's KO touchdown in the first quarter, NU's next yards far eclipsed IU's (456 to 298). NU dominated time of possession and punted only once (IU punted five times). IU had a turnover edge (3-2). Yards per offensive play was surprisingly close (5.7 to 5.4) but NU ran 80 plays to IU's 55. Tyrell Sutton had an excellent game, with 33 rushes for 141 yards and a 4.3 average.
This really was a deflating game for IU fans. Well, at least it was for me. I suppose I can't speak for anyone. Kellen Lewis continued to have difficulty hanging on to the ball. To Lewis's credit, he seemed conscious of his need to take better care of the ball. He slid more often than usual, I thought, and was trying to avoid hits, which is good. On the other hand, he fumbled twice (lost one). The lost fumble, on IU's last offensive play, was simply an awful decision. Even had the replay overturned the call on the field and ruled it an incomplete pass, it would have been intentional grounding, which is the same result as a sack (loss of down, spot foul). IU had a timeout, so IU would have had a couple of chances to run sideline routes to get back within Austin Starr's range. Hell, as good as Starr has been this year, I would have let him try it from 60+ yards.
The other play that will stick with IU fans was the play that provided the margin of victory. With IU ahead 14-3, Lewis had to miss a play (he was shaken up after a hard hit) backup Ben Chappell came in for the first meaningful play of his college career, on 3rd and 6. Instead of a run or even a safe screen, IU shot for the first down. Chappell, predictably, looked for James Hardy, and NU picked it off for a game-changing touchdown. IU was in control of the game at that time, and the odds of Chappell succeeding in that situation were quite low. It's simply inexcusable that the coaching staff would have put Chappell in that position. If Bill Lynch isn't the coach in 2008, that play will be in his epitaph.
And now it's on to Purdue, another reeling team. Purdue was handled pretty easily at home by Michigan State, a team that spanked IU on the road. Certainly, I'll look at the Boilers much more as the week continues. Purdue is 3-4 in the Big Ten with wins over Minnesota, Iowa, and Northwestern and losses to Michigan, OSU, Penn State, and MSU. Only the PSU loss was close. Purdue ultimately beat NU comfortably. That makes IU 2-3 against common opponents while Purdue was 3-2. I do not have a good feeling about this game, but unlike my feeling 12 hours ago, I'm now excited about the game again. We have a tough but winnable home game in which to secure a bowl bid. As disappointing as the last month has been, I'm trying not to lose sight of that.
As for the bowl picture, here's what I hoped for a week ago:
  • Beat Northwestern, of course.
  • Root for Ohio State to remain undefeated by beating Illinois (the Michigan-Wisconsin game is irrelevant).
  • Root for Minnesota to salvage a shred of respectability by beating Iowa.
  • If you can stomach it, root for Purdue to hand MSU its sixth loss.

Obviously, nothing went our way. We lost to Northwestern. Ohio State damaged its BCS chances by losing to Illinois (and the ascendancy of our former cellar companion is not good for IU, either). Further, what I said about Michigan last week wasn't really accurate. Until the loss to Wisconsin, Michigan had a shot at a BCS at large bid even if OSU wins the big game. But now, with only eight wins, Michigan will not be eligible for an at-large bid if they lose to OSU. Minnesota competed with Iowa, but did not win, so Iowa now has six wins. Purdue, really surprisingly to me, lost big at home to MSU, which also has six wins. So, the Big Ten now looks like this:

  • Bowl eligible with seven or more wins (6): OSU, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Penn State, Purdue.
  • Conditionally bowl eligible with six wins (4): Iowa, Northwestern, Michigan State, Indiana.

In the order of likelihood of reaching seven wins, I would say: 1) Iowa (Western Michigan); 2) Michigan State (Penn State); 3) Indiana (Purdue); 4) Northwestern (at Illinois). As before, it is now likely that Iowa will get its seventh win and therefore would trump any of the six-win teams. Now that Michigan State has six wins, it is highly unlikely that any other six-win team will get a Big Ten tie-in, as the Motor City Bowl is overwhelmingly likely to select the home-state Spartans (who haven't played in a bowl in four years). Just like last year, IU needs to beat Purdue to go to a bowl. If we lose, we almost certainly will be left out. I'll update the overall standings to be sure. And frankly, at 6-6, we don't deserve it. We currently are tied for ninth in the Big Ten, despite the Big Ten's easiest schedule. We are tied for ninth with MSU, a team that humiliated us. But, if we win the Bucket, all is forgiven, and we likely will end up in some unfilled bowl slot outside the Big Ten's tie-ins. So, the priorities for this week:

  • Win the Bucket;
  • Root for Michigan to upset OSU, which despite a two-game losing streak still would have a chance at a BCS at-large, especially with so many TV-unfriendly teams (Connecticut, Kansas, Missouri, etc.) in the mix;
  • Root for WMU (3-7) to pull an upset at Iowa. Unlikely, but stranger things have happened.
  • Root for Illinois to beat Northwestern, keeping the Wildcats at six wins.
  • Root for Penn State to beat MSU for the same reason.


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