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Indiana beat Michigan State because they’re the better football team

It wasn’t a fluke, and it wasn’t really an upset. Now they’ll (technically) get a shot at Ohio State in a game with CFP implications on the line! Seriously!

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Indiana Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Hey, remember when we said not to freak out over the loss to Wake Forest because the stats said Indiana was pretty good and they’re still favored by the numbers to beat Michigan State?

Kermit sipping tea, etc. etc.

It wasn’t a fluke. It wasn’t trick plays. It wasn’t a leaping penalty. It wasn’t any of the other reasons or excuses provided by some members of national media and the Michigan State fan base.

Indiana beat Michigan State because they’re the better football team. They were the better football team before the game. They were a better team during the game. And now, after a win that feels like validation for the progress made during the Kevin Wilson era, Indiana is the better football team.

This isn’t hot-takery, as this is Most Things Are Fine, home of the most lukewarm sports opinions you’ll find across the internet’s hellscape. This is, rather, empirical fact. Indiana was ranked higher than Michigan State in Bill Connelly’s S&P before the matchup -- and was projected by the metric to win by roughly 3.5 points. The Hoosiers didn’t just match this, but ultimately exceeded it with their performance. Consider Bill C’s advanced box score from the matchup:

  • Indiana’s win expectancy was 85%
  • The adjusted scoring margin was around +9 in favor of the Hoosiers.
  • Indiana averaged 5.8 yards per play through the balance of the game.

Those numbers are pretty daggone good, and reflective of what Indiana fans are more used to seeing in a performance against the MAC teams of the world. Take away one big play early in the football game and if Indiana’s able to convert of more redzone opportunties, this game never enters overtime and the Hoosiers take home a multi-touchdown win. Tyler O’Connor is, uh, bad. Indiana’s defense is better. Those two factors together made Indiana the better football team before Saturday, on Saturday, and after Saturday.



i don’t know yet

The cold water to throw on that big win over a ranked team just a handful of months removed from the CFP? Michigan State might be total ass. Bill C’s just projecting Mark Dantonio’s team to reach 5 or so wins -- and only gives them a 44% chance to make any bowl game at all. By comparison, Indiana has a 87% chance to reach 6 wins. They’re bad, fam. Michigan State’s pretty bad.

There’s still plenty of improvement for Indiana, too. Dimitric Camiel’s likely done for the year. Dan Feeney’s now been on the shelf for three weeks with his concussion. The running game isn’t quite as potent without those two. Drives, again, stagnated in the red zone a bit. Michigan State’s first touchdown was the type of Big Mistake Indiana’s secondary can’t avoid if it hopes to contend against possibly the best team in the country in Columbus on Saturday.

But this is the progression the growth from Big Ten’s most god-awful program to contender must take. Lose big. Then lose close. Then win close. Then win big. That next, final step likely won’t come this season -- or maybe not even in the next season or two. But Kevin Wilson’s tenure that had become known for CHAOS BALL and close losses finally got the validating win it needed, even if it came over a team that might be more than a little overrated.

But now, there’s no rest, no celebration. In another parallel football world, Indiana would escape these early season Ohio State matchups and have an opportunity to build momentum with another more beatable conference opponent before getting the Big Ten East’s stiffest test. Instead, Indiana will go to Columbus with a chance to knock off one of the nation’s best two teams the week after beating another in-division, Top-20 team. As 25-point underdogs per S&P, a win would hardly be likely. But if Indiana were to somehow actually win this game, it would vault the Hoosiers into the College Football Playoff and Big Ten title conversation. Please don’t call the police on me for writing that sentence.

Urban Meyer very possibly might have the best team in the country, and his offense looks dang-near-unstoppable when quarterbacked by JT Barrett instead of Cardale Jones. A Hoosier loss, even if it comes by a few scores, shouldn’t dampen your enthusiasm or outlook for this season. But Indiana’s progressed to the point as a program that you shouldn’t walk in to any game expecting an ass-kicking. Indiana just beat a team that was in the Top 10 two weeks ago because they were just better.

And, hey, when the table’s hot, might as well keep hitting.