Indiana travels to Evanston Saturday and seeks its first Big Ten win since 2010 and its first win at Northwestern since 1993.
2012 record: 4-0 (0-0)
2011 record: 6-7 (3-5), lost to Texas A&M in the Texas Bowl
2011 Sagarin: 58 (IU was #139)
2012 Sagarin: 40 (IU is #99)
Coach: Pat Fitzgerald (7th season, 44-36)
Series: Northwestern leads 45-34-1
Last Northwestern win: 10/29/2011 (59-38 in Bloomington)
Last Indiana win: 10/25/2008 (21-19 in Bloomington)
Last IU win in Evanston: 10/23/93 (24-0)
Gametime: noon Saturday, BTN
TV: BTN (Kevin Kugler, Chris Martin)
Radio: IU Radio Network (Don Fischer, Buck Suhr, Joe Smith)
Line: Northwestern by 14.5
Blog: Sippin on Purple, Lake the Posts
Game notes: Indiana, Northwestern (n/a)
Two weeks after a bitter loss to Ball State, IU finally resumes play when the Hoosiers travel to Ryan Field in Evanston to play 4-0 Northwestern, one of only three undefeated Big Ten teams. Feeling old has become routine for me, but it's very difficult for me to believe that it has been 19 years since IU last won at Ryan Field. I was there on October 23, 1993 as an IU sophomore. For those who don't remember the Mallory era, it may be worthwhile to set the stage. IU's shutout in Evanston improved the Hoosiers' record to 6-1 and resulted in IU's first AP poll appearance of the season. It was the first of two consecutive shutouts for IU. The next week, IU knocked off #22 Michigan State 10-0, which meant IU entered November with its Rose Bowl destiny in its own hands. It was IU's ninth consecutive win over the Wildcats, including five in Evanston, and none of those games had been closer than 17 points. IU went to a bowl game for the sixth time in eight years; Northwestern finished with a losing record for the 21st consecutive year. It's tough to overstate what a depressing spectacle Ryan Field, then known as Dyche Stadium, was. The place looked like it hadn't been touched in decades. The artifical turf was so old that it was nearly yellow. It wasn't a large crowd, and there may have been as many IU fans as Northwestern fans. It would have been a depressing atmopshere if it hadn't been for the beautiful weather and a fine IU performance.
The idea that Northwestern would be in the Rose Bowl two years later would have been literally laughable that day. Yet, the series quickly turned around. NU whipped IU in Bloomington in 1994, beginning an 11-3 run in the series between then and now. The Wildcats have been to nine bowl games since then; only one for IU. Northwestern hasn't dominated every game--from 2002 through 2010 all seven games were decided by a single possession or in overtime--but the Wildcats have almost always come out on top.
As someone whose intense Big Ten fandom began when Bill Mallory was at IU and when Northwestern had been awful for a generation makes it difficult to process just how well Northwestern has done. After Gary Barnett moved on, the Wildcats replaced him with the late Randy Walker, mentor to both Kevin Wilson and Terry Hoeppner. Walker, aided by Wilson's offense, won a share of the Big Ten title in 2000 (and no, Wildcats, I still haven't forgiven you for choking against Iowa and sending Purdue to the Rose Bowl), and when Walker died suddenly in 2006, the underexperienced Pat Fitzgerald, hero of the 1995 team, took the job and has done very well. Fitz has produced some head-scratching losses, but his record in close games has been phenomenal. NU has become a program that finds a way to win. Every objective measure says that they tide should turn against them at some point, but it just never does. The Wildcats have three major conference wins already this season, over Vanderbilt, Boston College, and Syracuse.
We'll have much more on this game as the week continues, but it's fair to expect a high scoring game. Northwestern's offense has outranked its defense in each of the past four seasons, and we all know where IU's strengths and weaknesses lie. Let's hope that progress begins this week.