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COLUMN

IU could crack the top 25

Hoosiers have shown improvement over last season in hot 3-0 start.

Monday, September 21, 2009 - 10:29 am

Are you ready for this? Indiana has a chance to crack into the top-25 polls next week for the first time since Bill Mallory was coaching.

All the unbeaten Hoosiers have to do is whip unbeaten Michigan in Ann Arbor and then hope enough voters are impressed.

How tough could it be?

Sorry. The start of Big Ten action and the fact IU-Michigan will be one of two marquee conference games Saturday can distort perception. The underdog Hoosiers rolled past Akron 38-21 over the weekend, won their first road game in two years, won the battle of the second half for the first time since helmets got face masks and …

Sorry again. Actually, IU did outscore Western Kentucky and Murray State in the second half last year, but had been outscored 223-81 in the last two quarters over its previous 14 games.

Anyway, the Hoosiers' 3-0 start leaves us with plenty of questions and, of course, plenty of answers:

• Are the Hoosiers the new New England Patriots?

Hold the euphoria. Yes, IU did go 5-for-5 in red-zone success with four touchdowns and a field goal against Akron, and it did score its first second-half touchdowns of the season - three, to be exact - after not doing so since November 2008, but it didn't come against a team the quality of the Buffalo Bills and …

Wait. We've seen Buffalo's what-the-heck-are-you-doing, prevent-nothing defense. Maybe the real question is, are the Patriots the new Indiana Hoosiers?

• Have you lost your mind?

Hey, IU won without a cliffhanger ending. Cut us some slack.

• Is this the start of big things for freshman tailback Darius Willis?

Willis' 66 rushing yards and first career touchdown are what Hoosier coaches were looking for when they signed him.

Now that he's over the ankle injury and first career fumble, look for more of the same. Teammate Bryan Payton is.

“I told him to shake it off,” Payton said about Willis' fumble on his first collegiate carry in the season opener against Eastern Kentucky. “You'll be a great back. He'll make mistakes in the future and he'll have to shake those off, too.”

• Did the Hoosiers really convert 10 of 15 third-down plays?

Yes. That's been a point of emphasis, especially considering they had converted just 35 percent (9-for-26) of those situations in the first two games.

• How did IU cut down on all the penalties?

Coach Bill Lynch brought in officials to practice last week, and the result was just four penalties for 45 yards. That's a huge improvement given the Hoosiers had a Big Ten-worst 21 penalties for 149 yards after the first two games.

• When did Austin Thomas become the next Rod Woodson?

Thomas, the senior safety, now has two games with two interceptions. He picked off two against Akron. He also had two last year against Northwestern.

• Is there a better 1-2 defensive end punch than Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton?

Let's see. Kirlew had one sack, 2 1/2 tackles for loss and a forced fumble against Akron. Middleton had six tackles, one sack and one pass breakup. Middleton now has 21 career sacks. Kirlew has 19. They pressured Akron quarterback Matt Rodgers into four interceptions.

Let's just say that no offensive line will enjoy facing these guys.

• Is Ray Fisher the Big Ten's biggest trash talker?

He's in the running if you believe the post-game comments. The Bloomington Herald Times had this Fisher quote - “I bring a lot of energy and intensity to the defense. I run to the ball. I make great hits. It's just my speed and what I bring to the defense has changed the whole defense around.”

Fisher, a wide receiver now converted to cornerback, ran the opening kickoff back 91 yards for a touchdown.

• You vote on the AP poll. If the Hoosiers beat Michigan, will you put them in your top 25?

You ask too many questions.