Few people outside of Bloomington believe the Indiana University Hoosiers can win their opener tonight against football factory Ohio State.
I'm here to say they can win, even if they lose.
First of all, if everything falls into place – and we're talking maybe a half-dozen factors – IU can win on the scoreboard, logging the biggest upset to start a season since…ever?
Ohio State at IU kicks off at 8 tonight in Memorial Stadium, Bloomington (ESPN).
The Hoosier have 16 starters back, including nine on defense, led by a legitimate defensive player of the year in linebacker Tegray Scales, and everyone knows Coaches Cliché No. 1 states: Good teams start with defense.
Offensively, the Hoosiers return their quarterback Richard Lagow, strong running backs and a deep receiving corps. Ohio State's weakness, if it has one, lies in a young, relatively inexperienced secondary.
So, on both sides of the ball, IU is in its best shape to start a season in a decade. Ohio State, while ranked No. 2 in the country in the preseason, has areas where it needs to prove its power again. There are vulnerabilities.
Now, let's add some real talk: At this point, Ohio State has better football players than IU. That's a fact, forged through the history of the programs, and the bottom line always says the team with the better players is more likely to win. I know coaches want to make it more complicated than that, but it's really not. Sometimes the talent level is close enough that a coach, a game plan or a scheme determines the outcome, but that has not been the case with Ohio State and IU.
IU last beat Ohio State in 1988. That fact tells us, more than anything else, the difference in the programs. That's three decades.
So, no one outside of Bloomington expects IU to win.
IU can win if it plays error-free football, it rides the enthusiasm and confidence of new coach Tom Allen, and Ohio State turns in a subpar, flawed performance. A couple unexpected breaks will be necessary, along with a pinch of luck. OK, a bucket full of luck.
“It's a tremendous challenge and a tremendous opportunity wrapped into one,” Allen said.
The other factor that seems to give Ohio State an edge beyond talent is Ohio State employing former IU coach Kevin Wilson as its offensive coordinator. Wilson knows Indiana's defensive players, and Allen's defensive scheme, more intimately than a usual opponent would.
Wilson and Allen have, in fact, worked together in game planning and trying to beat Ohio State. There's probably nothing Allen can do that Wilson and, by extension, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, won't anticipate.
On the other hand, Wilson's offense probably can't deliver too many surprises in terms of plays or schemes since Wilson and Allen spent last season together.
“I have to say this is a very unique situation,” Allen said. “I've never been part of anything like this. Yes, we did watch previous clips of Coach Allen calling our own offense here, and looked at years' past. …I have much respect for Coach Wilson and what he did here and we're looking forward to the opportunity to match up against him.”
Allen has had success everywhere he's coached and he appears to have energized the Hoosiers' program since ascending to the head coach's role after Wilson was fired.
He's an astute X's and O's coach, but also an inspirational leader. It's his “Breakthrough” theme that flows through the program. It's his other catch acronyms, such as LEO (Love Each Other) that encourages a solid team concept. His enthusiasm for the job is infectious and the players reflect that. That's easier to do when your record is 0-0, but it's there nonetheless. A first game is the best time to exceed expectations. Both teams enter with the same clean slate.
If, as we all expect, Ohio State prevails through its simple superiority in talent, IU can still win.
If the Hoosiers make this a real game, on ESPN's multiple platform, it wins in the court of public opinion. That spreads to energizing potential recruits. Earlier this week, IU landed Virginia running back Ronnie Walker, the program's highest rated recruit since 2014.
If the Hoosiers make this a real game, it catapults them in terms of morale and confidence. The schedule is more favorable after this week, with a trip to Virginia and home games against Florida International and Georgia Southern before the Hoosiers jump back in the Big Ten schedule at Penn State.
If the Hoosiers make this a real game, they become a contender for that second tier of Big Ten teams, a program that can shoot for eight or nine wins and a nice bowl trip.
If the Hoosiers make this a real game, the performance will be a win, even in defeat.
But, of course, they aren't thinking that way.
They believe, courtesy of Allen's positive vibes, this is the year for an upset. I'm not going that far. But I do believe this IU team is good enough to win, even if it loses.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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