More prescient words will come at some point, maybe, I don’t know.
This morning I woke up in some boutique Gramercy hotel and stared at the ceiling for some period lasting between several seconds and two hours. I don’t know quite exactly how I, or we, ended up here. I sat in a Greenwich Village bar with strangers that became fast friends, moved somewhere between 2-7 flights to ensure I could watch my historically bad football team beat one of the sport’s more storied programs in front of 90,000 people. These sorts of personality traits are bugs, not features, but whatever. Everything that happened yesterday happened, you can’t take it away, and I could ride this high until Christmastime if I needed to. You should not get this level of personal fulfillment out of watching sports. It’s stupid, none of it matters, but let me clear: I did, and Scott Frost please, well, [making WWE-like SUCK IT gesture].
The Indiana Hoosier football team is 6-2 entering November. Yes, that one. The same one of Sam Wyche, and Gerry DiNardo, and losing to Michigan for thirty years, and not cracking a top-25 poll since I was three, and so on. The one that has tried countless ploys and tricks and bullshit to get you to care. The one that requires the semiannual Ohio State game. The one that has spent the better part of a decade going Full Wile E. Coyote on ABC in every big moment for the past decade or so.
That program — yes, again, that one — has me dancing around the Superfund site that is Newark Terminal A on a Sunday afternoon.
Sport is distraction, sport is about hope. The joy comes not from the championship wins, but rather from the process. If Indiana wins a national championship in football tomorrow, after it all ends, my life goes right back to normal about a week later. The celebration will be great, sure. We’ll write some blogs. We’ll hawk some t-shirts for our friends at Homefield. But at the end of the day, we’ll go right back to the same lives we’re living today.
The fun is in the process. The ask of Indiana football, from me, has always been games that matter. Not dumpy, forgettable late season chances to maybe get to five or six wins. Real November games that matter. A chance to have INDIANA come up on the screen when those CFP rankings come out. And, maybe, who knows, if the cards fell right — a Rose Bowl bid.
Yes, seriously. That’s what’s on the line over the next four games. That’s why you should care 3,000,000 times more about this than where some teen decides to go to college to play basketball.
Eight wins is on the table. #9WINDIANA’s on the table. So’s the Rose Bowl. Here’s how it happens.
Sure, let’s get this out here first: Any Rose Bowl pipe dream involves winning out for Indiana. Northwestern, at Penn State, Michigan, at Purdue. That’s difficult — but SP+ projects Indiana as favored by multiple scores in two of those games, and an underdog by 4 and 14 in the others. Hardly impossible.
Then, you need some help.
Ohio State has to run the table, win the Big Ten, and go to the CFP.
This may be the easiest outcome to project here, by a long shot. That would give Penn State a second loss at 10-2, and drop Michigan to 8-4.
Then, the Big Ten West needs to cannabalize itself, which looks semi-likely.
Three teams have a semi-likely shot at winning the weaker West: Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Good news for Indiana: They all still have to play each other.
Minnesota has three games remaining against ranked opponents — and hasn’t faced one yet year to date despite being 8-0. That means a home game against a better Penn State team, then trips to Wisconsin and Iowa. Let’s assume best case scenario Minnesota comes out of that 10-2.
For extra measure, one of Wisconsin or Iowa could lose to Minnesota, then beat the other — and leave both at 9-3. That would hand the west to Minnesota.
Under that scenario, that might leave three options for Pasadena and it would come down to the CFP ranking to break the tie. Indiana might have a better case than you think.
Minnesota (10-3): Big Ten West champs. Best win: Iowa or Wisconsin
Indiana (10-2): 2nd in East on tiebreak. Best wins: at Penn State, Michigan
Penn State (10-2): 3rd in East on tiebreak. Best wins: at Michigan, at Minnesota
It might not happen. It could happen and Indiana might get snubbed because of a weaker early schedule and brand recognition. But it could. And that’s why you should care about next Saturday’s game at home, at night, in Bloomington, against a Northwestern team that hasn’t scored a touchdown in damn-near a month.
Because it’s a chance to play for something that matters. And it could set up a ranked vs. ranked matchup in Happy Valley with Rose Bowl implications. In mid-November.
That’s all we’ve ever asked for.