I’ve had the privilege of covering Big Ten football for more than a decade. Regardless of whether it is up or down, the Big Ten’s history and its lunch bucket mentality make it one of college football’s most important conferences, with a number of “important” schools to follow. Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, Wisconsin and, most recently, Nebraska are never excluded from the national discussion. And many years Iowa and Northwestern are relevant to the debate.
Something that is also true year after year: Indiana is not part of that debate. It’s a “hopeless basketball school,” with a fanbase said to lack the commitment needed to develop a consistent winner.
It’s not that Indiana does not do all it can to change the mindset; I’ve spoken to Gerry DiNardo, the late Terry Hoeppner, Bill Lynch and current coach Kevin Wilson and they all wanted the attention of media, and they all expected to be the man to build the Hoosiers into a winner. But no coach since Bo McMillin owns a winning record, and his tenure in Bloomington began before World War II.
Hoeppner had tremendous passion. He enhanced tradition and built the team that Lynch took to the 2007 Insight Bowl (Indiana’s ninth and most recent bowl game).
When Wilson assumed the reigns a year ago, I heard many of the same goals, but Wilson never offered an apology for his 1-11 debut season, nor did he accept any of those losses. He has demanded improvement.
Indiana just might get it.
Forget the wins over Indiana State and Massachusetts, the 2012 team’s greatest triumph was last week’s 31-27 loss to Michigan State. The Hoosiers began the game more determined than the Spartans, and gained early momentum. It all fell apart late, but it could serve as a confidence boost for a club still adjusting to Wilson’s style.
The Hoosiers are a long way from joining Ohio State and Michigan atop the Big Ten, but the first five games of this season have provided more hope and encouragement than fans in Bloomington have had in some time. And regardless if your colors are maize and blue, scarlet and grey, or red and black, you should want to see Indiana football work its way into contention.
– Big Ten Notes –
• Indiana may be making progress, but most believe the Leaders Division race will be decided by Saturday’s Wisconsin-Purdue game. A year ago, the Badgers gained 364 yards on the ground to beat Purdue, 62-17. Wisconsin will use this game to try to work through its struggles on the ground – same as it has in recent weeks – and may find success against a Boilermakers defense giving up 145.0 yards on the ground per game.
• Three Big Ten teams have converted at least 50 percent of their third down opportunities up to this point in the season: Purdue (51.3), Northwestern (51.1) and Michigan (50.0). Last year only Wisconsin finished the year at better than 50 percent.
– This week’s schedule –
Saturday, Oct. 13
Iowa at Michigan State, 11 a.m.
Northwestern at Minnesota, 11 a.m.
Wisconsin at Purdue, 11 a.m.
Illinois at Michigan, 2:30 p.m.
Ohio State at Indiana, 7 p.m.
**all times CT
– Spotlight –
RB Mark Weisman, Iowa
The sophomore is one of three Big Ten running backs averaging more than 100 rushing yards a game this season (two quarterbacks – Denard Robinson and Braxton Miller – also average 100 or more). This week, Weisman and Iowa run into a Spartans defense ranked first in the Big Ten against the run. Michigan State is the only conference defense allowing fewer than 100 rushing yards per game (86.0).
– He Said It (quote of the week) –
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald following the Wildcats’ 39-28 loss to Penn State: “Our recipe is exactly what they did for success. We got beat at our own game.”
– Big Ten Mailbag –
Kelly from Ohio: Will Braxton Miller be the conference QB this year?
The first-team quarterback? I think so. Some will argue for Taylor Martinez, but Miller has been the more impressive playmaker, and I’d argue Ohio State has been more impressive than Nebraska. In my opinion, the better challenger is Penn State’s Matt McGloin (12 touchdowns, two interceptions) but I think Miller will be able to sustain his level of success; not sure what will happen when the Nittany Lions face Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin. One thing is for sure – it’s an interesting race.
Tweet your questions to Mike Beacom @mikebeacom, or email him at email@example.com. Each week one question will be selected for this column. Be sure to include your first name and city/state.
Mike Beacom is the Big Ten football editor for Lindy’s. Follow him on Twitter @mikebeacom