BOZICH | For Indiana football, Iowa, not Ohio State, is next step
By Rick Bozich
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The University of Louisville bulled its way into the Atlantic Coast Conference and proved it belonged from the opening snap:
Louisville 31, Miami 13. Sept. 1, 2014.
Toss in double-digit victories over North Carolina State, Syracuse and Boston College during that ACC debut season, and there was never a minute when critics questioned the Cardinals’ credentials.
(We’ll have plenty of opportunities to return to the autopsy of the current season in future columns. Promise.)
Kentucky has absorbed its share of noogies and knuckle sandwiches in the Southeastern Conference. But the Wildcats have squeezed the swagger out of South Carolina, won three straight over Missouri and toppled Tennessee.
I’d also like to remind voters in the Associated Press writers’ and USA Today coaches’ polls that the Wildcats have achieved something that Louisiana State failed to achieve this season: Win at Florida.
Even though, strangely, neither poll currently reflects that information.
That brings me to Indiana football.
That brings me to the Indiana’s home game Saturday against Iowa.
That brings me to the only storyline for the Hoosiers vs. the Hawkeyes that matters:
This is a credibility game for Indiana.
This is a change-the-narrative game for Indiana. This is a shape-the-season game for Indiana. This is a take-the-next-step game for Indiana.
Win, and the Hoosiers will beat a team they were not supposed to beat for the first time this season.
Lose, and the Hoosiers will remain locked on the flight path of the last three seasons: Needing a victory over Purdue on the season’s final weekend to earn an invitation to a third-tier bowl game.
They’d have an opportunity to eclipse last season but 2018 would seem like a replay of 2015 and 2016.
You can argue this Iowa game is the most important game Indiana will play in 2018.
Coach Tom Allen’s team is 4-2. The Hoosiers appear to have more talented and athletic freshmen and sophomores than the program has flashed in years. Peyton Ramsey is a solid quarterback, who showed he can stretch the field at Ohio State last Saturday. He's got receivers. As usual, it's the defensive front where IU needs better players.
They have handled the teams they were supposed to handle -- Florida International, Virginia, Ball State and Rutgers.
They have lost by multiple touchdowns to the teams they were supposed to lose to by multiple touchdowns -- Michigan State and Ohio State.
They do not figure to defeat Penn State (home) or Michigan (road).
They’ll be favored to beat Maryland (home) and perhaps Purdue (also home).
There’s a road trip to Minnesota, where the Hoosiers have lost their last five trips, failing to beat the Gophers in Minneapolis since 1993.
That leaves Iowa.
With the once-beaten Hawkeyes currently sitting at Number 26 in the AP poll as well as a 5-point pick against the Hoosiers.
This will not be like trying to overcome Ohio State, Michigan or Penn State.
Iowa is a program parked in the mid-level of the Big Ten, the kind of program that Indiana must start beating at the 50 percent or better clip before the Hoosiers can consider challenging Urban Meyer, Jim Harbaugh, James Franklin or the Big Ten East titans.
I checked the numbers from the last 10 seasons. Not counting 2018, Indiana’s record against Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State is 2-32. There’s work to do.
Against Maryland, Rutgers and Purdue, Indiana has split 18 games.
What about the Big Ten West teams that rotate on and off the Hoosiers’ schedule?
Over the last decade, IU is 6-24 against those West programs. But it’s a misleading 6-24 because four wins were against Illinois.
Against Iowa, Indiana has lost six of seven.
The sole victory was by three points in 2012. The six defeats have been by an average of 17 points.
Iowa is a solid program, led by Kirk Ferentz, Mr. Dependable in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes are rarely terrible but also rarely extraordinary. They simply grind their way to seven, eight, nine or 10 wins, without the benefit of terrific in-state recruiting base.
There is little reason that Indiana football should not aspire to be as solid as Iowa football.
They can start to deliver on those aspirations by winning Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
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