I understand why there might be a temptation to pump this game up a bit. After all, College GameDay should be there. The Indiana Hoosiers are 4-0, with a bowl bid a very attainable goal, and there's a lot to like. Nate Sudfeld is healthy and making good decisions. They've picked up where Tevin Coleman left off, as former UAB-Trogdor Jordan Howard leads the entire dang country in rushing yards. There should even be a lot of Indiana fans at the game, a welcome departure from many recent Buckeye trips to Bloomington. Add all of that to the growing belief that Ohio State is mortal this season, and you have a recipe for a tight game, if not an upset. I can see why you might be tempted to think Indiana could even win.
But can they? Nah. Ohio State is still going to beat Indiana. They're probably going to beat Indiana by a lot. They almost always do.
It's not an exaggeration to say that there are few things more consistent in college football than Ohio State beating Indiana. The Hoosiers have not recorded an actual win over the Buckeyes since 1988. They have beaten Ohio State just twice since 1952. Now, Indiana isn't the only Big Ten team to have huge losing streaks against Ohio State. After all, Northwestern and Minnesota have only beaten the Buckeyes once in my lifetime as well. But Indiana, historically, hasn't come close. Since their 27-27 tie back in 1990, Indiana has come within seven points of Ohio State just three times, in 1991, 1993, and the famous 2012 shootout, which Ohio State won 52-49.
Even that game, lest we forget, Ohio State led 52-34 with about six minutes left in the game, and Indiana needed to convert an onside kick and get a little luck in the closing minutes to narrow the margin. It wasn't that close.
Those are a lot of numbers. To help provide some context into just long it has been since Indiana played Ohio State and didn't lose, here are some major milestones that have happened in my life during that time period
- Attended and graduated elementary school
- Started middle school
- Beat Pokemon Red
- Completed middle school
- Beat Pokemon Snap
- Started high school
- Beat Pokemon Stadium
- Got a drivers license
- Graduated from high school
- Graduated from Ohio State University
- Got married
- Beat Pokemon Gold
- Had a daughter
I mean, a lot has happened since 1990! Do you guys even know how many Pokemon there are now? Over 700!
Kevin Wilson's teams may play Ohio State tougher than many of his fellow Hoosier coaches did over the years, but the average Ohio State margin of victory during his tenure is still 15 points. This might be Wilson's best Indiana team, but it also be Ohio State's most talented. A Hoosier victory, or even an especially close game, would be a pretty significant departure.
But hey, some of those games were before players on this roster were even born. There are plenty of reasons to think that this year's team could get blown out by Ohio State as well.
The Hoosiers are the very definition of a soft 4-0 right now. Those wins, which to be fair, still very much count, include a one-point win over 1-2 FCS Southern Illinois, a game the Hoosiers won only because SIU went for 2 in the closing seconds and failed. Indiana gave up 659 yards of offense. It also included a close 31-24 win at Wake Forest, a game where they nearly blew a 31-10 fourth quarter lead, to an offense that would not be described as explosive. In the interest of fairness, the Hoosiers do have a victory over an otherwise impressive Western Kentucky team as well.
Those performances leave the advanced stats pretty lukewarm on Indiana. Despite being 4-0, the Hoosiers rank just 69th (nice) in the S&P+, lower than any other 4-0 team except for Memphis, who sits at 71. Gaudy record aside, the numbers like Middle Tennessee State, Toledo, Vanderbilt, Iowa State and Air Force more than the Hoosiers. A major reason for that skepticism should come as no surprise to those who have even casually followed Indiana football recently. It's the defense.
Right now, the Hoosiers are 100th in the country in preventing explosive plays, a welcome sight for a Buckeye squad loaded with potential playmakers and looking to get back to more consistent offensive explosion. Their S&P+ defensive ratings in the 2nd and 4th quarters? 125 and 103 respectably, suggesting a lack of depth across the unit (they actually have a 27 ranked unit for the 3rd quarter). If that level of depth is showing wear and tear against G5 competition that doesn't even recruit especially well, it doesn't bode well for long battles with Ohio State's offensive line or Ezekiel Elliott.
There's more. Indiana's 3rd down defense? 116 in the country, per S&P+. Standard downs? 110th. Their defensive havoc rating
, or their ability to defend passes, get tackles for loss, and set up big defensive plays? Ranges from below average (77, DL havoc rate) to near the worst in the country (111th, linebacker havoc rate).
Even Indiana's rushing offense, despite eye-popping stats, may be just okay under further review. Only Northwestern's Justin Jackson has had more carries than Indiana's Howard, and Indiana's rushing attack is only ranked 61 in S&P, with low marks for explosiveness. If Ohio State can stiffen the interior of their defensive line from last week, they may be able to force the Hoosiers into regular passing down situations.
There are things to like about Indiana football this season, and they're in great shape to make a bowl game this year for the first time since 2007. But there isn't much reason to think that'll be much of a threat to Ohio State this weekend, and if they are, it will likely have more to do with Ohio State than Indiana.
Ohio State will probably have a Big Ten conference game this season that is much closer than it has a right to be. They might get caught looking ahead to a bigger opponent, or just fail to execute. It just probably won't be this week.