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Indiana football needs to be in win-now mode

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With a favorable upcoming schedule, electrifying quarterback, and solid advanced stats, it’s now or never for the Hoosiers.

NCAA Football: Indiana at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

You’d be forgiven if you thought Indiana’s 40-31 loss against Michigan State two Saturdays ago was a rerun.

Whether it’s been under Bill Lynch, Kevin Wilson, or now Tom Allen, this Close Indiana Loss has become commonplace over the past decade-plus. You can consult The Thread for more details of IU football’s recent history if you want to really see something spooky this October.

The MSU game had all the qualities of a classic Indiana football loss:

  • Against a top-25 team? Check.
  • A lead or tie during the fourth quarter? Check.
  • An incredible individual performance by an IU player? Check.
  • A series of unfortunate, inexplicable mishaps that turns a close game into a loss? Check.
  • Enough excitement and positivity to think hey, maybe this team has something going for it? Check.

But let’s turn to that final bullet point above for a second. The MSU loss may have been a brutal reminder of every other bad IU loss in recent memory. But there was definitely a lot to build on as well. Michael Penix Jr.’s passes looked crisp, and he completed 20 of them in a row, with three passing TDs and one on the ground. Whop Philyor has that big-play ability and came so close to a huge grab in the fourth quarter (right after having an amazing punt return called back for a penalty). Freshman Matthew Bedford has filled in smoothly for the injured Coy Cronk at left tackle. Tiawan Mullen looks to be a star in the making at cornerback.

Indiana’s advanced stats measure up as well. The Hoosiers are currently ranked 28th in SP+ after five games. The ratings are evenly split on both sides of the ball too, as they’re ranked 27th in offense, and 39th in defense. So unlike past Hoosier seasons, one side of the ball isn’t dragging the other down.

Furthermore, for maybe the first time since the B1G East-West realignment in 2014, Indiana actually has a favorable conference schedule in the coming weeks. IU gets to avoid the three best teams in the West in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota. Already, the Hoosiers have played half of their Big Ten East Amen Corner in OSU and MSU. The other half, Penn State and Michigan, aren’t until Nov. 16 and 23, respectively. The Bucket Game ends the season, and though the Boilermakers are very banged-up right now, that game can never be counted on as a surefire victory.

In the interim, Indiana has four very winnable games — rutger, Maryland, Nebraska, and Northwestern — that could help us get to our #9WINDIANA dream. Let’s take a look at what each opponent holds for the Hoosiers coming up:

rutger

October 12, Noon, Bloomington

rutger has mercifully fired recent program caretaker Chris Ash, and the interim head coach (before Greg Schiano almost assuredly comes back next season) is named Nunzio Campanile. Under Campanile’s first game, things didn’t go much better for the Scarlet Knights as they lost 48-7 to Maryland. The Hoosiers are favored by 26 points this weekend, which might be the most they’ve ever been favored against a Big Ten team. However, the thoughts of that horrific 2015 rutger game still haven’t left my head, and Homecoming is often rough for Indiana, so I’m not taking anything for granted.

Don’t blow this one, guys.

Maryland

October 19, 3:30, College Park

The Terps jumped out to a fiery start and top-25 ranking after demolishing Howard and Syracuse in their first two games. But then a close loss to Temple and a 59-0 loss at home to Penn State tempered the expectations of first-year head coach Mike Locksley. This team has a lot of talent and IU will be facing them in College Park, but this one might come down to who is able to string a full game together the best.

The past few IU/Maryland games have been wild, high-scoring affairs, and I don’t expect this one to be different.

Nebraska

October 26, TBD, Lincoln

This game’s in Lincoln which ups the difficulty a bit, but Scott Frost is still trying to put it all together in his second season back home. The Huskers have been injury-prone and barely survived games against Illinois and Northwestern, and got the same 41-point beatdown from OSU that Indiana also received.

The Huskers may be down for the moment, but this is a golden opportunity for Indiana to steal a victory on the road from a historic program.

Northwestern

November 2, TBD, Bloomington

The Wildcats have a crazy SP+ split — 125th in offense, 8th in defense. New transfer QB Hunter Johnson has been a disappointment, and teams have figured out OC Mick McCall’s schemes in his 10th season in Evanston. But despite being 1-4, that defense has still shut teams down. If this game turns into an ugly, sloppy one, that could play right into the hands of the Wildcats.


The urgency of this season for Indiana is especially important when looking at future schedules. In 2020, the Hoosiers open their season at Wisconsin, then later get MSU/PSU/OSU in consecutive weeks. In 2021, they open at Iowa and two weeks later play Cincinnati, who’s become one of the top AAC teams.

The Hoosiers may be a young team, but the time for them to win is now. Indiana may not have as favorable of a schedule stretch any time in the near future.