STATE COLLEGE, PA - SEPTEMBER 3: Chaz Powell #2 of the Penn State Nittany Lions returns the opening kick off for a touchdown against the Indiana State Sycamores during the game on September 3, 2011 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
The Hoosiers finally have the chance to move beyond a disastrous 1-11 season when they host Indiana State Saturday night. First, a note about the weather. Thanks to what is left of Hurricane Isaac, this game likely will be played in a monsoon. The National Weather Service gives nearly a 100 percent chance of rain at 8 p.m, which is kickoff time. I don't know what the implications will be, but it looks like after a drought-filled summer, IU will be opening the football season on a wet and gloomy day.
As I mentioned a few weeks ago in my pre-preview of the Sycamores, they are led by perhaps the best player in FCS, running back Shakir Bell. Bell was a finalist for the Walter Payton Award last year (the FCS equivalent of the Heisman Trophy), and ran for 1670 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2011 while winning the MVC's player of the year award. At quarterback, Western Michigan transfer Mike Perish won the starting job for the Sycamores. Perish saw limited action at WMU last season, completing 4 of 10 passes for 42 yards and scoring a TD on the ground. He is a sophomore with three years of eligibility remaining as was listed as a "dual threat QB" by Rivals during his recruitment. At receiver, the Sycamores will be breaking in some new guys. Donald Spencer, ISU's second-leading receiver in 2011, returns, but of the eight receivers and tight ends listed on the depth chart, only Spencer, tight end Michael Mardis (10-174-2TD), and Taje High (1-negative 3) caught a pass last season. Last season, the Sycamores were more offensive oriented, ranking #57 in FCS in total offense and #72 in total defense. Defensive end Ben Obaseki is a preseason all-American, and linebackers Aaron Archie and Jacolby Washington are highly regarded as well.
Any time a Big Ten team plays a team from FCS, the Big Ten team should win, and should be disappointed in any loss. Nevertheless, under the leadership of coach Trent Miles, the Sycamores have transformed themselves since IU and ISU last met. In three previous meetings, the Sycamores have scored a total of 10 points against IU. I expect them to exceed that total tomorrow. IU's rush defense will have to improve to contain Bell, a very dangerous player. If IU can stop the run without selling out against the run, then it will put ISU in a tough position with a green quarterback and very little receiving experience. A game in which ISU has to throw the ball a lot probably is good news for IU's defense. When IU has the ball, I don't know what to expect because we haven't seen this offense before, and I'm not sure the weather is optimal for its debut.
Regardless, at least it's time for football. I have a feeling that ISU will be a worthy opponent but that the Hoosiers will eventually put them away. Indiana 38, Indiana State 20.
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