It was the moment we had all been waiting for, as Indiana fans. A chance for the perennial B1G football underdogs to knock off Michigan, one of the conference's elite, late in the year, and prevent the Wolverines from any possibility of making the Rose Bowl or even the CFB Playoff.
Welcome to another week in the life of Indiana football, known to the Internet over the past few years as #CHAOSTEAM. The Hoosiers had just struck fear in the hearts of the maize and blue only a couple minutes earlier, as Jordan Howard ran for 61 of 69 yards on a drive that eventually resulted in him scoring both a touchdown and a two-point conversion to give Indiana a 34-27 lead with under three minutes to go in a rollicking, back-and-forth game.
After even more chaos, with five seconds left, Michigan had a fourth-and-goal at the Indiana five yard-line. One stop and the Hoosiers win it. No problem right?
Haha, not a chance. You're in the alternate space-time continuum of #CHAOSTEAM, where nothing goes as planned for either IU or its opponent most Saturdays.
And so of course, Jake Rudock found Jehu Chesson in the end zone in the closing seconds to tie up the game and send it into overtime, as if Buffalo Wild Wings had moved their dang headquarters into Memorial Stadium. Indiana took the lead in the first overtime but Michigan tied it back up; in the second overtime, Michigan scored on the first play from scrimmage, giving IU one last chance.
With two chances to win inside the five yard-line, you have to give the ball to Jordan Howard here, right?
Alas, #CHAOSTEAM strikes again, and the last two plays are a failed QB sneak and an incomplete pass.
I don't pretend to know more about this offense than Kevin Wilson or Kevin Johns do, but I also don't understand these playcalls. With a gassed Michigan defense, and the way Howard was running the ball, I think you want to get it to him on at least one of third or fourth down. Alas, that was it for Indiana, and after over four hours of even play against the Wolverines, all Indiana has to show for it is another tally in the loss column.
Saturday demonstrated that #CHAOSTEAM is a fun moniker, but ultimately a failed one that always seems to end in a series of heartbreaks and what-ifs.
I'm sick of it.
I've always enjoyed high-powered offenses in college football, and normally will enjoy a mid-afternoon Big 12 game much more than the SEC game that is airing on CBS at the same time. And Pac-12 offense powerhouses such as Oregon and Washington State and Cal make staying up late to watch college football worthwhile most Saturday nights. So naturally, Indiana's style of play fits in with what I'd like to see from a high-powered offense in football. I think if I weren't a fan and an alum, I'd still really enjoy watching the Hoosiers.
Ultimately, despite the close calls, this type of chaos isn't winning Indiana games. Whether it's a now bowl-ineligible Rutgers team or a top-ranked Ohio State team or top-15 teams like Michigan, Iowa, or Michigan State, the chaos brand never works out for Indiana. Which make me wonder: would we want to sacrifice this craziness and entertainment for 2-3 more wins each season?
Right now, I'm leaning toward yes.
College football, more than any other sport, makes judgments on a team's win-loss record. In college hoops, a team has over 30 games in a regular season to prove their merit. College football has 12. That's it. And it pains me to want victories above all else, especially as someone who owns Bill Connelly's book and loves what he does with advanced stats each week. But for a team like Indiana that is trying to get its footing in a division where they'll never be picked above 5th place, they need to win above everything else right now. And the #CHAOSTEAM mantra is unfortunately not getting the Hoosiers there.
The problem is, I don't know what strategy gets us to that point. Are we perpetually snakebitten? Doomed to be losers in the high-powered B1G East until the next wave of B1G expansion rolls in?
But what if Indiana was a run-of-the-mill team with not much identity that gets a solid 6-7 wins most seasons, like a Minnesota or an N.C. State, instead of a chaotic, heartbreaking one that only gets 4-5 but has a great brand? On paper, that win amount guarantees our fans will actually get to travel somewhere during bowl season. At the same time, however, maybe the Hoosiers don't get that 3:30 ABC time slot against top teams, and don't get the respect from opposing team fans ahead of time that Indiana has earned this season (until after the game, of course, when a double-OT victory apparently gives you grounds for pointing out how many times you've beaten us in a row).
The thing about #CHAOSTEAM right now, however, is that the ending is always the same. Maybe a more apt name for Indiana should be #HEARTBREAKTEAM, because that's all that Big Ten play has been so far. As fun as the team is to watch, the heartbreak is tough to take, so many dang times in a row. The idea that "Oh we had (insert top-15 B1G team here) on the ropes" is fun and all, until you never actually do get that big win. Poor Kevin Wilson is Sisyphus dragging the giant rock up the hill right now, and I guarantee he was much more frustrated than all of us put together on Saturday night.
So here's my suggestion to Wilson: Maybe it's time for a new strategy at IU, something less crazy and less chaotic. The entertainment factor might be gone, but our sanity would be more in tact.