Only three Big Ten East teams have zeros in the loss column.
One is Ohio State, the unanimous national title favorites, a program with an endless abyss of talent, a hydra of Heisman contenders, and the nation's best coach.
One is Michigan State, the other team in Michigan for so long that has now remade itself into a national brand and perennial top ten program.
One is Indiana. And I have no clue what to think about that.
Indiana football seasons all often begin the same way. Moderate expecations, promising first game, MAC loss. Rinse, repeat. Any Indiana football fan can list these from memory. It needn't be explained. These expectations are tempered by such losses -- and they're often the difference between Indiana staying at home or heading south during the holiday season.
For Indiana football, the non-conference schedule is not the opportunity to make an impression -- but rather a minefield. Work out the kinks, accumulate wins, improve each week. This sounds like some coach-speak jargon coming right out of a Kevin Wilson press conference, but it's true. It's the only way to fairly appraise the progress of a program that has been to exactly *one* bowl game since the early 90s. This team, this program, is not a national title contender, I do not give one single shred of shit about Indiana's margin of victory or nonconference strength of schedule. Schedule games. Win those games. Apologize for nothing. This has been a hard enough equation to put together for Indiana football over the life of the program.
The flaws of this Indiana football team are clear and evident. The defense might not be great. The vertical passing attack might not be what it's been in previous seasons. But strides were made as the Hoosiers managed to grit out a 36-22 win over an FIU team that has the defensive talent necessary be a contender in Conference USA. Kevin Wilson was open about his involvement with the defense in previous week of practice during the postgame presser -- the side of the ball where improvement was most noticeable from Week 1 to Week 2. Young defensive backs Andre Brown and Jameel Cook looked like young defensive backs early in the game. Late in the game? Brown looked like a star, and Cook, well, did this:
Sure, this team might not be Kevin Wilson's best or most talented team. But through two weeks, they're doing the one thing against inferior opponents that many other Big Ten teams haven't been able to do -- win. The opening two weeks of the season shouldn't -- and won't -- have anyone in the Hoosiers locker room intimidated. Maryland was properly inducted into the B1G with a MAC beatdown at the hands of Bowling Green. Rutgers just lost to a team that lost to Portland State the week prior. Penn State couldn't score on Temple and looked hapless at times against Buffalo. Michigan is, at best, okay. Indiana's crossover games are Iowa and Purdue. Anything scare you there?
To build a program from nothing at Indiana, you need good breaks. Sometimes, it's more important for the scheduling stars to align, rather than the recruiting stars on the depth chart. This Indiana roster might not be perfect -- but it has a perfect opportunity to succeed in a Big Ten East that is wide open after Ohio State and Michigan State. And hey, even then, those are two programs Indiana led in the second half last season. It's college football. Weirder things have happened.
The next two weeks will dictate the course of Indiana's season. The Western Kentucky game that many had highlighted as that game looks to be a bit less stress-provoking after the Tops lost star running back Leon Allen for the season to a leg injury in Friday's win over Louisiana Tech. A trip to Winston-Salem to take on ACC foe Wake Forest will follow -- and the Deacs are already coming off a loss to a not-very-good Syracuse team on Saturday. These will be stiffer tests than the first two the Hoosiers have faced this season, and will continued require week-to-week improvement -- but they're exactly the type of games Indiana football has to win if the program wants to continue growing on the foundation Kevin Wilson has laid so far in Bloomington.
We're halfway through the minefield.
What waits on the other side? Only a possible matchup between undefeated Indiana and top, ranked undefeated Ohio State in Bloomington on October 3. The same Ohio State team that Indiana led in Columbus in the fourth quarter a season ago.
Reminder: College football is weird. Things happen that should not happen.
Indiana football might not have looked perfect through the first two games of the season -- but they've stumbled into wins where past Hoosier teams might not have done that. If they can keep that up, the table is set for what could be one of college football's surprise stories of 2015.