Man, that was a fun few weeks of getting off our College Football Playoff jokes and memes, wasn’t it? A couple years ago, during the first playoff rankings reveal of the season, I had photoshopped Indiana (4-5) into the No. 1 seed of the CFP graphic, slapped that thing on my snapchat story and watched it spread like wildfire.
Three years later, Indiana was maybe Ty Fryfogle’s first drop of the season, a red-zone fumble and a pick-six away from actually debuting in the top four of the selection committee’s rankings. What a world.
If you stop to say, hey now, isn’t that a little unfair to pick out IU’s worst plays from the game and project how the game would’ve been different if IU didn’t pee down its leg a little in those moments? You’re correct, but doing so is only following the lead of Ohio State’s Ryan Day, who told the local media after the game, “Really, if we don’t give up those big plays, you probably run away this with game.”
Ryan Day gets the Tim Beckman treatment, even in victory.— crimson quarry (@crimsonquarry) November 21, 2020
Those are the rules. pic.twitter.com/8MUcvQewb4
So, sure, if Day is trying to scratch some or all of Michael Penix Jr.’s six completions of at least 30 yards (and four that went for at least 50!) from the record, then I guess there’s a world where Ohio State wins by 21, 24 or 28 points. But when Day’s done talking and its IU’s turn to play that game, there’s a world where IU escapes Columbus with a seven-point upset.
But IU didn’t. And that’s alright.
Disappointing for IU fans, yes, and maybe really upsetting for some, but it’s alright.
Now that IU’s undefeated record has its first blemish, let’s reset the expectations for the IU fan base.
An 8-1 Big Ten record isn’t out of the question
If there was any consolation in the Big Ten’s results on Saturday, it’s that Wisconsin is mortal against non-Ohio State opponents.
Even more so than Ohio State or really any other regular IU opponent in the last decade, the Badgers have been the program that has most consistently and thoroughly dominated the Hoosiers.
Those are the margins of victory for Wisconsin against IU since the 2010 season. We can visualize what a competitive IU-Ohio State game looks like, because, well, we’ve seen it. We saw it on Saturday.
We see it every two or three years, at least through two or three quarters.
However, for Hoosier fans in the last 10 to 15 years, the Badgers experience has been “Oh, Wisconsin’s third-string running back has 83 yards and a touchdown on seven carries. Very cool.”
That projects to be unlikely this year, even in Madison.
Camp Randall Stadium will be empty, running back Jonathan Taylor is gone and new starting quarterback Graham Mertz isn’t the one-incompletion-per-game quarterback that he was in his debut against Illinois.
Northwestern, with a genuinely great defense, needed to force five Wisconsin turnovers and hold the Badgers to 3-of-16 on third down to win 17-7 on Saturday, but IU forced three interceptions from Justin Fields, who had been previously been portrayed by many corners of the national and Columbus-based media as incapable of having any flaws, whether it was driving over the speed limit, choosing the wrong cut of meat at the deli or picking out the wrong class in Call of Duty.
And that segment of the media certainly didn’t think he was capable of committing even one (1) turnover and, well, that was just dumb of them.
So, if IU’s blitz-heavy defense can force Mertz into a couple mistakes and even if IU kicks any notion of a balanced offense to the curb and asks Penix to throw it 50 times, a repeat of IU’s performance on Saturday in Columbus would probably be good enough to win in Madison.
Get ready for a Champions Week game against Iowa
The other possible consolation from Saturday’s Northwestern-Wisconsin result is that IU will most likely not have to play the Wildcats in the Big Ten’s Champions Week. The Big Ten West is Northwestern’s to lose, and it’s most likely going to play for a conference championship.
This isn’t to say that IU should be happy to miss a crossover game against Northwestern, but it would likely be an ugly game where there’d be more to lose than to gain, at least perception-wise for many IU fans, whether that’s a fair and accurate assessment or not.
Depending on what statistic you look at, Northwestern’s defense ranks in the top five, 10 or 15 nationally, and the Wildcats’s offense is no longer dog shit, in part because of Peyton Ramsey transferring from Bloomington to a university with a worse media/journalism school than IU. Ramsey’s completion percentage, yards per attempt and passer rating are the worst of his career so far this season, but at least IU would avoid some sort of possible out-of-body revenge game from Ramsey, even though Tom Allen & Co. clearly made the right decision in making Penix the quarterback of the now and of the future.
Given that the Big Ten has said it wants to avoid rematches in Champions Week, IU will most likely not play Wisconsin (currently in second place in the Big Ten West) or Purdue (fourth place), especially given the late-season timing of those two regular-season matchups. If we assume Northwestern will win the Big Ten West, that leaves Iowa as IU’s most likely crossover opponent. The Hawkeyes are in third place with a 3-2 record, having beaten Michigan State and Penn State, like IU, as well as Minnesota. Their two losses came against Northwestern and Purdue.
So, get ready for a mid-December game that’s like 19-17 or 25-22 or some other weird Iowa-ass score that seems impossible to figure out when you do the mental math. If IU were to win out, finishing in second in the Big Ten East and somewhere in or around the top 10 of the CFP rankings, there’s a case to be made that the Hoosiers should host their Champions Week matchup, if the Big Ten is awarding home-field advantage based on the strength of a team’s regular-season performance.
If you’re going to campaign for an individual award, make it the Biletnikoff
The storyline among some IU fans going into Week 12 that Penix was playing for the Heisman Trophy against Ohio State was silly, and that’s not a shot at Penix by any means.
In IU’s best win, based on the AP rankings at the time of the matchup, Penix was generally pedestrian against Penn State, before having an outstanding final two drives, which culminated in his iconic dive for the pylon in overtime. He was great against Michigan and very good against Rutgers and Michigan State, but outside of a one-hour radius of Bloomington, it’s hard to say there was any real Penix-for-Heisman buzz through Week 11.
Now, putting all that aside, Penix’s 491-yard, five-touchdown performance that received praise on Twitter from LeBron James went a long way in making Penix’s name known nationally, potentially setting the stage for a 2021 Heisman push for IU’s lefty quarterback.
But the award you should be focused on if you’re an IU fan is the Biletnikoff Award, which is awarded to the best wide receiver in the country.
Whop Philyor was named to the award’s watch list in the preseason. Prior to the Ohio State game, Ty Fryfogle joined him on the list. Then, Fryfogle went out and had a seven-reception, 218-yard, three-touchdown day.
Through five games, he has 642 yards and seven touchdowns, which is more yards than he had in 12 games last season and more touchdowns than he had in 25 career games prior to this year.
Against Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State, Fryfogle racked up 560 yards and six touchdowns, so he has the obscene stats and the big-time performances against notable opponents to make a serious run at becoming a finalist for the Biletnikoff.
It’s really a remarkable development given the stats that Philyor put up last season (and Fryfogle’s breakout has probably been at least a partial byproduct of defenses keying in on Philyor early in the season).
Now, Fryfogle is probably IU’s No. 1 receiver, for whatever difference or impact such a distinction makes. With his recent performances and media attention, defenses might start offering extra safety help to Fryfogle’s side of the field (if they haven’t already) and there might be a bit of a correction to the mean for Fryfogle, given how hard it would be to expect him to continue averaging 180-plus yards and multiple touchdowns per game, as he’s done over his last three games.
But he’s shown his ability to win more than his fair share of 50/50 balls, and he’s been a wizard in how he works the sideline with acrobatic catches and his impressive footwork, and he appears to be Penix’s new favorite target.
If Fryfogle continues to receive 10 to 15 targets per game, he’s almost guaranteed to have a 1,000-yard campaign in a shortened season, and that would certainly be worthy of national recognition.
If you’re going to spend time online campaigning for an IU player to win an individual, national award, make it Fryfogle for the Biletnikoff and save up your Heisman energy for next fall.
Can IU make its best bowl game since the 1990 Peach Bowl?
We’re going to cover IU’s potential bowl scenarios in another post but as it stands right now, IU could be in line to get a bid to the third-best bowl for which the Big Ten has a tie-in. The Hoosiers are ranked No. 12 in the AP poll after their loss to Ohio State and if they win out, going 8-1 in the Big Ten, they can probably find a spot in the back half of the top 10, which would come with an invitation to a prestigious bowl – a bowl better than the Gator Bowl, Foster Farms Bowl or Pinstripe Bowl.
Given IU’s on-field results and its trajectory, it has the chance to play in a warm-weather bowl against a good SEC team, which would be an improvement from last season, when it played in a warm-weather bowl against a mediocre SEC team.