COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 5: Quarterback Braxton Miller #5 of the Ohio State Buckeyes scores the second of his two touchdowns against Indiana in the second half as Ryan Phillis #25 of the Indiana Hoosiers and Alexander Webb #27 of the Indiana Hoosiers give chase at Ohio Stadium on November 5, 2011 in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State defeated Indiana 34-20. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
The early portion of IU's Big Ten schedule is pretty rugged. A week after hosting Michigan State, the Hoosiers welcome Ohio State and (depending on your preferred estimate) anywhere from 10,000 to 30,000 people clad in Zubaz and odd necklaces made of tree litter. All IU fans know the scorecard as it pertains to the Buckeyes: IU has only two wins over OSU since the early 1950s, and while Bill Mallory and his teams made a series of it in the late 1980s, whipping OSU in 1987 and 1988, tying in 1990, and playing some other close games in that era, from the mid-1990s forward it has been nothing but pain.
Few could have anticipated in 2010, when Ohio State won 38-10 in Bloomington, that it would be legendary coach Jim Tressel's final appearance at Memorial Stadium. Tressel was ousted in the midst of a scandal that involved free tattoos for several OSU players and some pretty brazen dishonesty by Tressel about the whole affair. The Buckeyes have survived the scandal pretty well, having landed two-time national champion coach Urban Meyer to lead the program, but the Buckeyes are one of two teams (Penn State is the other, of course) ineligible for the Leaders Division crown. Does anyone think that Jim Delany would rethink those ridiculously pompous division names if he had it to do over? Most people thought the names were ridiculous even before it became clear that the most scandalous year in conference history was upon us. Obviously, nothing that happened at Ohio State approaches what happened at Penn State, but the last several years have been a major black eye for the Big Ten's reputation (of course, this includes IU's troubles in basketball).
While the Buckeyes will end their season in November, there's no reason to believe the program will suffer a major dropoff, and likely will improve upon their 6-7 2011 record. Freshman Braxton Miller pretty quickly assumed starting QB duties, and was an excellent runner, gaining 715 yards and scoring 7 touchdowns while averaging 4.5 yards per carry. As a passer, Miller was a bit raw, completing only 54 percent of his passes, but he threw 13 TDs to only 4 interceptions, which says something about his judgment. It also says something about the Buckeyes' unwillingness to let him throw the ball. For much of the season, it wasn't necessary, most notoriously in a 17-7 win at Illinois, a game in which the Buckeyes wound back the clock to the Woody Hayes era and won despite completing only one pass. Presumably under spread offense guru Meyer nothing of the sort will happen again. It is fortunate for the Buckeyes that Miler is such an adept runner, because they are a bit depleted, at least in terms of experience (I'm sure there is an army of five star freshmen waiting in the wings, as always). Dan Herron is gone, and projected starter Jordan Hall cut his foot badly a few weeks ago and isn't expected to be ready until mid or late September. Devin Smith is the returning leading receiver, but that's with 294 yards and 4 TDs. Jake Stoneburner, who led the Buckeyes with 7 TD receptions last year, returns, but has moved from WR to TE. There was some significant turnover on the line.
The Ohio State defense was the strength of the team last year, and the Buckeyes have plenty of returning talent on that side of the ball. Leading tackler CJ Barnett is back, as are DE Jonathan Hankins (11 TFL, 3 sacks), linebacker Ettiene Sabino, DL Johnathan Hankins, LB Ryan Shazier, and so on. Also, as always, presumably some stud five star freshmen will make their impact. Kicker Drew Basil and punter Ben Buchanan return.
It's been 24 years since IU beat Ohio State, and the rebuilding Hoosiers will face a tall order even against an OSU team with a new coach and an inexperienced offense. As with the MSU game, this is a game in which IU's success will be measured by something other than the bottom line.