As we all know, the main portion of IU's non-conference scheduled ended with a whimper. After a fantastic comeback to take a last-minute lead against Ball State, an improbable and controversial field goal set up BSU's winning field goal. Now, after two weeks to regroup, IU plays three Big Ten games before a final non-conference game at Navy on October 20. The Hoosiers travel to Northwestern on September 29 before returning home to face Michigan State and Ohio State.
At Northwestern. As this week's opponent, we have discussed and will discuss them quite a bit. The Wildcats are 4-0 and are one of only two bowl-eligible Big Ten teams to get to that point so far. As I mentioned earlier today, the Wildcats have become a fixture in the postseason and are almost always good for an upset or two of an upper tier program. For all of that success, however, at least as compared to Northwestern's past, attendance has not necessarily followed. Here's what Sippin on Purple says:
Attendance was a solid 28,641, the highest NU has drawn for an FCS foe. Remember when we drew 16,199 against Northeastern in 2007? Yeah, hopefully those days are long over. We've had good crowds against Boston College and Vanderbilt so far this season. Will we break 35k against Indiana in our Big Ten opener? Here's where being ranked might have helped with the marketing.
It's long been fashionable to bag on IU fans for their lack of support, and those who attended the Ball State game did head for the parking lots fairly early. On the other hand, IU's average of 45,034 is very encouraging, even if it is a bit inflated by coupon deals and students who buy tickets for the loyalty points. In a climate in which a respectable team has to fight for attendance, IU appears to be in a great position if, if, if we can find a way to win some games. Just as SoP hopes that being ranked will help with marketing, a strong IU performance in Evanston could lead to strong attendance at IU's upcoming homestand.
Michigan State: After Evanston, IU comes home to host Michigan State. This game is homecoming, so there should be a lot of people on campus. How that translates to game attendance varies greatly depending on the weather and IU's record (and actual turnstile attendance can depend on the weather). Before the season, most of us were in agreement that Michigan State and Wisconsin presented IU's most hopeless games of the season. Now, four weeks into the season, that's anything but clear. Michigan State opened the season with a resilient comeback against Boise State, but since then, the Spartans, while typically excellent on defense, have struggled to score. The Notre Dame defense completely stopped LeVeon Bell and MSU. Against an Eastern Michigan team that looked entirely awful against Ball State, Purdue, and Illinois State, Michigan State trailed 7-3 at halftime, didn't take its final lead until the final two minutes of the third quarter, and didn't score a touchdown until 7:19 remained in the game. The bad news for IU is that the Spartan defense is as tough as ever, but is it crazy to think that IU could be in this one at home? Let's see how IU fares against NU and MSU does against OSU. The Only Colors puts it succinctly:
This is a one-and-a-half-dimensional offense--and it took until the second half to even reveal the half dimension. Playing against an opponent that ranks in the bottom five nationally in total defense, you shouldn't have to run the ball for a full two quarters before your play action to the tight end starts working.
Ohio State: After the Spartans, IU hosts OSU in a prime time game on BTN. The Buckeyes appear to be the best Big Ten team by far, but are under a bowl ban this season because of sanctions committed during Jim Tressel's tenure in what seemed like a really big scandal at the time. Still, it may be damning with faint praise to call a team that let Cal back in the game and struggled to put away UAB is the conference's best. Here's how Land Grant Holy Land describes it:
Saturday afternoon's tilt against the University of Alabama-Birmingham wasn't the cake walk that most pundits (and LGHL writers) thought it would be. The Buckeyes had to deal with a Blazer passing attack that dinked and dunked the Silver Bullets all afternoon, and an offense that continued to show signs of brilliance among long stretches of ineptitude. But when all was said and done, the Scarlet and Gray walked out of their non conference schedule a two touchdown winner.
According to the oddsmakers, IU almost certainly will be heading to Annapolis with a 2-4 record and desperate for a win. Yet, all of IU's first three conference opponents have shown some vulnerability. Neither I nor most IU fans had high win-loss expectations for this season, but the relative weakness of the conference makes the chance of an upset seem a bit higher.