Thursday, December 31, 2009

Defense leads to a big win

Defense wins championships and for the Hoosiers, it won their first conference game of the season. IU defeated Michigan 71-65 -- sealing the nip-and-tuck game with 10 seconds left.

Michigan was a poor shooting team coming into the game, but Indiana had one of its best defensive outings of the season. After the Wolverines started the game hot behind the 3-point line, coach Tom Crean extended his defensive pressure. It was a great move and changed the game in the first few minutes. Michigan shot 39 percent for the game and the Hoosiers had 10 steals, two blocks, and forced 12 turnovers. They also held star DeShawn Sims to 12 points and three rebounds and forced him to foul out of the game.

The Hoosiers did not have any extended scoring droughts in this game as in previous losses. And they used their defensive pressure to create easy shots. The team played like they should win the game. They competed the entire 40 minutes.

Christian Watford also stepped into a role as primary offensive option with 19 points. Verdell Jones scored 20 and Jeremiah Rivers came up with some huge plays late in the game, including a double-pump three-point play.

Michigan seemed beaten as the second half wound down, but made some big shots late to get back in the game. The Hoosiers carved out a 4-point lead with 40 seconds left, but Michigan kept fighting, scoring a couple layups to keep it a one-possession game. The Wolverines immediately fouled each time and the Hoosiers made the free throws when they had to. Freshman Jordan Hulls made four big ones with less than 10 seconds left to end it.

This is a big win for the IU program. It gives the young team some confidence and, hopefully, gives Crean a clearer formula for success.

By the way, did you ever think IU fans could say this in 2010: Indiana is tied for first in the Big Ten.

Next up: at Ohio State, Jan. 6.

Time for Big Ten play

I'm a little nervous this morning as I wait for the noon tip off between Indiana and Michigan.

At times this season, the baby Hoosiers have appeared ready to take that next step in the rebuilding process. The team got its biggest win in the last two years on the game's biggest regular-season stage this month -- over Pittsburgh -- only later to play an absolute clunker first half against Loyola of Maryland and more resemble last season's team. The Hoosiers came back from 20 points down to take the lead late in that game, but could not finish.

Now they face another hurdle: the loss of Maurice Creek, the team's leading scorer through 12 games. Which team will emerge? I'm hoping the high effort this team is known produces positive results, because once again it's going to take a near perfect performance for this team to win. They are unlikely to recover from long scoring droughts or poor shooting halves against Michigan State, Ohio State and Purdue.

The Hoosiers are 6-6, equaling the win total from last year. Ideally, the record would have been 8-4. I don't think anyone expected the team to lose all three games in Puerto Rico and Loyola showed in the second half they were not as unbeatable as they appeared. Still, Crean seems to be making progress. I think moving beyond 10 or 12 wins certainly should be a goal. The Hoosiers should get three or more of those wins in Bloomington. Could this team approach .500 by the end of the season?

Enjoy the game. It's on ESPN2.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Illinois Hoosier National Championship

Welcome to the national championship game. We're at the Orange Bowl in Miami for the finals of the 8-team Illinois Hoosier college football playoff. Florida, the 8 seed, faces Oregon, the 4 seed.

The Gators reached the finals by upsetting Alabama in the quarterfinals and TCU in the semifinal round. It is not a complete surprise the lowest-seeded team reached the finals. Florida was undefeated and ranked No. 1 the entire season, until Alabama pulled the upset to gain the No. 1 seed in the tournament.

Oregon may be somewhat of a surprise in the finals, but in reality the Ducks are a product of the draw. Oregon beat Ohio State at first round, then Cincinnati in the semifinals. Both teams were not considered real championship contenders.

Florida has to enter the game as the favorite, given its two huge wins since losing the SEC Championship and the location of the game. But don't discount Oregon's chances. The Ducks knocked off USC, Utah, California and Oregon State, all of which are ranked. They also score an average of nearly 38 points per game.

Unfortunately, Florida has nearly as powerful an offense, averaging more than 34 points per game. The Gators also have a defense that can win games by itself. They give up less than 12 points per game. The Oregon defense allows nearly 24 points per game.

Defense is the difference in this game. The two teams play to a 14-14 tie in the first half, but Florida makes an adjustment at halftime and in the third quarter, Oregon has trouble moving the ball. The Ducks can manage only 35 yards of total offense in the third quarter and two first downs. Meanwhile, Florida quarterback Tim Tebow takes over, throwing for a touchdown and rushing for another in the period.

Florida tries to sit on the lead in the fourth quarter, but Oregon makes it interesting. Jeremiah Masoli throws a 55-yard touchdown after a Florida defender falls down in coverage to cut the lead to seven, then leads the Ducks on another long drive that results in a field goal.

The Gators' lead 28-24 with 5 minutes to go. Oregon pulls out all the stops on defense and gets the ball back with 2 minutes left. Masoli gets the team across midfield with 10 seconds to go, but the hail Mary pass falls incomplete.

Florida wins its fourth national championship since 1996 and Tebow graduates among the most decorated college football players ever. TV ratings are off the charts, beating the best figures for any BCS championship game. There is talk in the future it could rival the Super Bowl in popularity and viewership.

The revenue generated by the tournament is unprecedented in college football. And bowl committees find the traditional bowl games, many of which were still played, still drew more than enough fans. There is general agreement the new idea was a success and college presidents begin to talk about whether the playoff can be expanded to 16 teams.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Let the College Football Playoff begin

The only way major college football will ever move to a playoff is to continue applying pressure. If enough fans and others demand it, the powers that be may change their minds. It is with that objective that I present 2009 Illinois Hoosier National Championship.

My rules are simple:

1. The big six conference champions automatically qualify: Alabama (SEC), Texas (Big 12), Ohio State (Big Ten), Oregon (Pac 10), Cincinnati (Big East), and Georgia Tech (ACC).
2. Two "wild card" teams complete the eight-team bracket. They are the two highest-ranked teams in the Bowl Championship Series rankings without an automatic bid. This year, those two teams are: TCU (No. 4) and Florida (No. 5). Boise State, which completed another undefeated season, is edged out.
3. All eight teams are seeded based on BCS rankings, but conference champions will be seeded higher than wild cards. Alabama is the top seed, followed by Texas, Cincinnati, Oregon, Ohio State, Georgia Tech, TCU, and Florida.
4. Quarterfinal games are played at the higher seeds' home field. The semifinals and finals are played at BCS bowl stadiums. The Rose Bowl continues to insist on the Big Ten-Pac 10 match-up on New Year's Day, but once every four years it will host the national championship game.


1. Florida at Alabama: Can you imagine the hype around this game? Florida gets a second chance to beat the Crimson Tide after a thumping in the SEC Championship game. This time the game is not on a neutral field, however, which should give the Tide some advantage.

Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram of Alabama has another big game, rushing for 110 yards and a touchdown, but Florida quarterback Tim Tebow does not turn the ball over this time. He throws for 250 yards and a TD again, but also rushes for a TD. The Gators pull the upset with a late field goal, 31-28.

2. TCU at Texas: Wow! Another huge match-up. The Longhorns are looking to prove their clunker in the Big 12 Championship was a fluke, while TCU is looking to prove they deserve to be among the elite teams. Oh, and by the way, the game is between two teams in the state of Texas.

Texas has holes in its game and TCU exposes them in this game. The Horned Frogs score a late touchdown to win it 24-21.

3. Georgia Tech at Cincinnati: This game carries a bunch of questions. How will Cincinnati respond to the departure of its coach to Notre Dame? Can the Bearcats' defense handle the triple-option offense? Is Georgia Tech, the lowest-ranked team in the tournament, a deserving participant over Boise State?

The game is played on a snowy December day in southern Ohio. As with their game against Pittsburgh, the Bearcats struggle early and by halftime the team is trailing by two touchdowns. But the team rallies, taking the lead in the fourth quarter. Georgia Tech is stopped inside the Cincinnati 20 on its final drive, securing the win. Cincinnati escapes, 34-28.

4. Ohio State at Oregon: This would have been the traditional Rose Bowl game. Instead the Buckeyes travel to Eugene, Ore. It is a match-up of two big-time quarterbacks, Terrelle Pryor and Jeremiah Masoli. The Ducks speed and spread offense was too much for USC and is too much for Ohio State, too. The crowd also hands Oregon a touchdown. OSU falls 35-17.


1. Florida v. TCU at the Sugar Bowl: There is no true home field advantage in this game, because it is close to both schools. TCU is flying high after its upset of Texas, but Florida is a different animal. The Gators don't suffer the same let-down and pound TCU 28-10. Florida scores on its first two possessions and does not allow a touchdown in the first half. TCU scores its only TD late in the fourth quarter after it has been decided.

2. Cincinnati v. Oregon at the Fiesta Bowl: Cincinnati is another newbie to the big stage, but in a way so is Oregon. Both teams find themselves playing for a chance to reach the biggest of stages. The Bearcats already find themselves in the biggest game in school history, while Oregon has played in Rose Bowls before.

Without the coach that got them there, Cincinnati was playing with house money. This game it is time to pay up. Oregon wins, but never takes full control of the game. Final score: 31-21.

That sets up the national championship game, to be played at the Orange Bowl in Miami. Florida will face Oregon the first week of the new year. The game will come a few days after the other bowl games.

Who will be my national champion? Stay tuned...

By the way, here is a link to my 2007 Illinois Hoosier National Championship.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Big Ten Expansion: Great idea, but who to take?

I don't think there's any doubt out there that the Big Ten needs a 12th school. The most obvious reason is for football, but it will benefit the other sports as well.

If we only consider football, a Big Ten with 12 teams will allow for two divisions and a championship game, extending the season into December and creating more media buzz during the final push for the national championship. The question now is which school should be the 12th team?

Speculation is all over the place, but there are some common names: Pitt, Cincinnati and Missouri have been mentioned many times. I think Pitt and Missouri are strong candidates, if they are interested. Missouri would have to be convinced to leave the Big 12 conference, where it has played second fiddle to Texas, Oklahoma and Nebraska in football for years. There's no guarantee the Tigers will quickly rise into the upper division in the Big Ten, but athletic department officials may be willing to consider a change.

Cincinnati is not as strong a candidate. The Bearcats just joined the Big East four years ago and I don't think they would be ready to switch affiliations again. And with the moving of coach Brian Kelly to Notre Dame, the quality of their football team has become suspect.

Cincinnati as an institution also does not fit the profile of the Big Ten. Conference officials may say that's not a factor, I think it will be a consideration if it comes to a vote. Both Pitt and Cincinnati are city schools, but Pitt has a long tradition as a research center, with one of the most prestigious medical schools in the world. No disrespect to Cincinnati, but the school does not have that reputation.

Syracuse or Rutgers would be interesting choices because they would extend the conference's reach to the east coast. But they could find opposition from the western schools like Minnesota and Iowa because of the travel issue. It may not pose a problem for football, but non-revenue-driving sports like field hockey and wrestling would have either long bus trips or expensive plane rides to matches on those campuses.

Iowa State is a possibility, but I'm not sure the Big Ten would want to expand in a state where they already have a presence. Granted, there already is a Big Ten presence in Pennsylvania, but Pitt and Penn State are on different parts of a large state and are in different geographic regions of the country. Pittsburgh is a more Midwestern city, while State College, Pa. is likely more split between the Midwest and east coast ties. Iowa is solidly Midwestern.

Nebraska will not leave the Big 12 and the rivalry with Oklahoma. Kansas or Kansas State may be interested and would be bring football and basketball power to the conference, but will those schools give up their rivalry game?

My money would be on Missouri or Pitt, assuming the conference decides expansion is a good idea and the schools are interested.

The divisions for football would fall into place relatively easily with either school. Missouri would join the Big Ten West along with Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and Northwestern. The Big Ten East would include Indiana, Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State.

If Pitt is selected, the Big Ten East also would include Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Northwestern. Indiana, Purdue, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa would compose the Big Ten West.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Who's the best BCS National Champion

I have posted this on Hub Pages, but I thought I also would share it on this site as well.

I ranked the first 11 BCS national championship teams here, and as we approach the contest for the 12th, I suggested where either Alabama or Texas would appear on the list.

Did I get it right? Let me know...

Monday, December 14, 2009

IU-UK: A look to the future

The Hoosiers took it on the chin in the second half against Kentucky on Saturday. Indiana was outscored 48-32 and allowed a 18-0 run early in the final period that sealed their fate.

After the win over Pitt earlier in the week, I was a little optimistic the Hoosiers would play better against the No. 4 Wildcats. But as the game unfolded, I realized the huge gap IU will have to bridge to become a national championship contender once again. It's not scoring, it's defense and rebounding.

The Wildcats destroyed the much smaller Hoosiers on the boards. All five players on the floor were crashing the boards. UK grabbed 49 rebounds, more than double IU's 24. Their 21 offensive rebounds led to 30 second-chance points. It's a tough stat to consider given IU lost by 17. If half of those second chance points are converted to IU defensive rebounds, the Hoosiers have a chance to win late.

The Hoosiers have some size, but it was nowhere near enough to defend Kentucky. The Wildcats were getting rebounds off missed free throws and three-pointers. Even when there were four IU players under the basket, it seemed Kentucky's players came up with the ball.

This type of play is what I hope coach Tom Crean is building toward. It is the kind of play that typifies Michigan State basketball, which has dominated the Big Ten over the last decade. It's also the type of play that wins games in March and early April. The more chances the Hoosiers can generate for themselves, the more likely they are to win. And on the defensive side, the team that holds its opponent to one shot per possession has the advantage.

I think these Hoosiers can get there after watching this game. They had Kentucky on its heals in the first half, shooting 63 percent, and even though they were down 20 in the second half, the team made a couple runs to get within 12 and try to get back in the game.

Crean had his team playing with confidence, unafraid of the highly-ranked Wildcats. The fact that it took Kentucky more than an entire half to gain control of the game is impressive, given their size advantage.

The Hoosiers also won the turnover battle, but only had one player score more than 10 points. The Wildcats had five players in double figures.

Crean has a long way to go, but it is clear he is making progress. On Saturday I saw the players beginning to play like they belong. They played like they legitimately could beat Kentucky, something we didn't see at all last year. The trick will be for Crean to keep the team's energy level up through the Christmas season and into conference play.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Reflections on the IU opener

I'm watching the Hoosiers football team take on Penn State (the Hoosiers are up 10-0 early), but I'm more excited to talk about the IU basketball team.

Tom Crean's "Baby Hoosiers" beat Howard convincingly on Friday, 83-60. The game was close early, but IU made a run late in the first half and led by 17 at the break. While it's difficult to really determine how good this team will be, there are signs it could be special.

Christian Watford, the highly-touted freshman forward, has a lot of potential. He is a little lanky and probably will struggle against teams like Michigan State and Purdue, but I like his athleticism and his speed. He reminds me a little of Jared Jefferies. Last night he scored 14 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Not bad for playing only 24 minutes.

Last year, IU's post play was lacking and it showed. It already appears much improved. Freshman Derek Elston also played well underneath as did sophomore Tom Pritchard.

I really liked junior Jeremiah Rivers at point guard. He brings a lot of speed to the game that the Hoosiers did not have last year and was looking to distribute the ball all night. He also made a spectacular reverse layup that wowed the crowd.

Crean appeared to be using the game to help determine his regular starting lineup and did not play anyone longer than 26 minutes. I think Watford, Pritchard, and Rivers played like starters. The other two guard spots should rotate between Devan Dumes, Verdell Jones, Maurice Creek.

I know they are only freshmen, but I think Crean could end up starting three or four freshmen going forward this season. I could definitely see Elston and Creek starting a few games this year, and both should see a lot of playing time.

As you might expect, the Hoosiers need to improve their rebounding. They only got two more boards than Howard last night. To complete in the Big Ten, that stat will have to improve. The Hoosiers also had 16 turnovers, which can't happen against better teams.

Overall, this team already appears much improved from last year. If they continue improving throughout the year, IU will scare a lot of opponents.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Hall of Fame weekend in Bloomington

The Hoosiers honored Bob Knight, Jerry Yeagley and the rest of the IU Hall of Fame class of 2009 last night. Knight was not there. The more pressing business now is the football game against Wisconsin this afternoon.

Indianapolis Star IU writer Terry Hutchens wrote about IU's second half offensive struggles this week. I'm glad someone finally asked that question. I had been waiting all season for an answer.

The Badgers present a different problem for the IU defense. Wisconsin runs first and often. They average nearly 195 yards rushing per game, less than four yards per game than they average passing. This comes after spending the last two weeks dealing with pass-happy Northwestern and Iowa, which won the game on two big pass plays.

The more conservative Badger attack likely will equate to long drives, leaving the IU defense on the field for huge chunks at a time. It also means the Hoosiers' offense will be on the bench for long periods, unable to score.

The key to this game will be the IU defense's ability to force three-and-outs to stay in the game. Unfortunately, this sets up for a second half collapse. IU's defensive players will no doubt wear down late, letting Wisconsin have those long drives for touchdowns.

IU has had Wisconsin's number in recent games in Bloomington. I think the Hoosiers keep it close and may even have the lead at halftime, but can't sustain it late. It's another 30-minute victory. Wisconsin wins 24-13.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Oh my

I am speechless...

I didn't think it could get worse than last week's loss to Northwestern. Before that I didn't think it could get any worse than the loss to Virgina. And before that I didn't it could get worse than the loss to Michigan.

But apparently it can get worse.

Despite forcing six turnovers, the Hoosiers blew a 10 point lead in the fourth quarter and lost to Iowa 42-24. The IU defense got four turnovers in the third quarter. Yet, they still allowed the Hawkeyes to score two touchdowns on one-play drives in the fourth. It was part of a collapse that included giving up 28 unanswered points in the quarter.

Bill Lynch received the support of Athletic Director Fred Glass earlier this week, with Glass saying he would honor the remainder of Lynch's contract. But I still feel he has to be on the hot seat, at least with the fans an alumni.

This wasn't a last-second loss. This wasn't a loss because of a tough call on the road. This was a flat-out collapse. A big-time choke. It was as if the switch was flipped when the fourth quarter started and IU said it was time to blow it. The final score doesn't even indicate that Iowa trailed for more than three quarters. The Hoosiers were outscored 35-3 in the second half.

I am just a fan and I don't much about football. But I can't see how there is any reason this should have happened. This game was shaping up as the greatest IU football win in more than 40 years. Instead it's just another embarrassing loss. Are the Hoosiers just the most unlucky college football team ever? There's no way Iowa is that lucky.

As I said, I am speechless.

Are you read for a beat down?

It's hard to get excited about IU's noon kick-off today at No. 4 Iowa. The Hawkeyes are undefeated and looking to continue a run to the Rose Bowl or National Championship. Meanwhile, the Hoosiers are in the midst of their (now traditional) conference season slide.

Iowa is a 17 1/2-point favorite. The only real question is whether the team will be completely focused after the literally last-second win at Michigan State last week. Next week Iowa plays Northwestern and then on Nov. 14 travels to Columbus, Ohio for the unofficial Big Ten title game.

Are the Hawkeyes going to be looking ahead this week? Probably not. The Hawkeyes are a little banged up -- they're without leading rusher Adam Robinson and will be starting some freshman at key positions. But head coach Kirk Ferentz is among the best coaches in the country. He will have his team ready.

The key to this game will be defense. Iowa allows less than 15 points per game, while the Hoosiers allow more than 26. If the Hoosiers can put Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi on the ground and keep the running game under control, they may be able to hang around.

But IU's offense will have to score points in both halves if they want to pull the upset. Scoring 21 points in the first quarter and expecting the defense to hold the lead the rest of the game is not going to cut it. It certainly didn't work last week.

I think the Hoosier defense plays well, but the offense never gets on track. Iowa wins 17-3.

By the way, I'll be updating on Twitter, at least until the game gets out of control.

Friday, October 30, 2009

A more pleasant subject

While I continue to lament the symbolic end of football season, the good news is there are only five days until the men's basketball team begins its season.

The first game is Wednesday: an exhibition against Grace College. Ironically, Grace is in Winona Lake, about an 45 minutes west of Fort Wayne. Unfortunately, that game, as well as the other exhibition against St. Joseph's College of Indiana will be nothing more than lay-ups.

I do not expect to learn much about this team until later in the month, when the Hoosiers head to Puerto Rico for the O'Reilly Auto Parts Puerto Rico Tip Off. The Hoosiers take on Ole Miss Nov. 19 in the first round of the tournament.

The Rebels were 16-15 last year, after suffering several injuries. This year, the team is expected to be much better and is picked to finish second in the SEC West division. This game will be an important measuring stick for the development of IU's now veteran sophomores and junior college transfers, as well as its heralded recruiting class.

The big test before the conference season begins will come in early December. Three games in two weeks: versus Maryland in Bloomington, versus Pittsburgh in New York, and versus Kentucky in Bloomington.

The Maryland game will be on ESPN2 as part of the ACC-Big Ten challenge. The Pitt game is on ESPN as part of the Jimmy V Classic and the UK game is a rivalry game on CBS. All three are national TV games, all three against top-tier programs. I'll find out how good they are after these three games. An upset of any of these teams would be a big step forward.

Big Ten play begins New Year's Eve and that road will be anything but smooth.

After I saw the pre-season AP and coaches' polls, I was surprised to find six Big Ten teams in the AP and five in the coaches' poll. And Michigan State and Purdue were both ranked in the top 10. If the voters are correct, this could be one of the toughest Big Ten seasons ever.

That doesn't lend a whole lot of confidence in the Hoosiers rebounding for a 20-win season this year. But I still think the team could finish better than .500 and possible get into the NIT. If they get a few breaks and the freshmen play better than expected, who knows, the Hoosiers could be dancing in March.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Football season over

This loss hurts more than the blow-out at Virginia. The Hoosiers were up 28-3 half way through the second quarter, but still managed to lose to Northwestern, 29-28.

The Hoosiers gave up 14 points in the final 4 minutes of the first half to give the Wildcats hope, then did not score a point in the second half. The offense was stopped on 4th and goal from the 1 yard line in the third quarter, which likely sealed the loss. Northwestern had turned the ball over for a second time in the quarter and still were down 28-19 after IU had a punt blocked for a safety.

An IU touchdown would have put the game out of reach and a field goal would have increased the lead to 12. Instead the Hoosiers got no points and Northwestern converted the turnover into a touchdown, which cut the deficit to two.

The winning score came on a Northwestern field goal with 21 seconds left. Unfortunately, I can't fault the IU defense for its inability to stop the Wildcats when the game was on the line. The Hoosiers forced three turnovers in the second half, which the IU offense could not convert into points. Northwestern gave the Hoosiers opportunities to put the game away, but IU refused to finish.

I think the story of the 2009 Hoosiers is they are a 30-minute team. The Hoosiers were able to play well in the first half, but consistently fell apart in the second. An inability to finish caused losses to Northwestern and Michigan and made several other games closer than they should have been.

Barring two miracle wins in the next four games, the IU season is essentially over. The Hoosiers play Iowa, Wisconsin and Penn State before finishing the year at home against Purdue. Now that the Boilers are playing better these past two weeks, it is entirely possible the Hoosiers could lose out. Fortunately for me, that would mean my season prediction (4-8) would be correct.

Maybe that's not such a bad thing. I think the coaching staff needs to be changed and head coach Bill Lynch is in the last year of his deal. Lynch and his staff always seem to have great game plans at kick-off. But when opponents make adjustments, the IU coaches don't seem to be able to counter. Northwestern clearly made an offensive and defensive adjustment when IU took the early lead. Throughout the second half, IU seemed to play right into Wildcats' hands.

Throughout the season, it has not been superior opponents like Ohio State that have stymied the Hoosiers. Eastern Kentucky and Northwestern did not allow any IU points in the second half. IU was 1-1 in those games and both games were decided by a touchdown or less.

Western Michigan, Michigan, Ohio State, and Virginia also outscored IU in the second half. The Hoosiers were 1-3 in those games, including two that were decided by four points or less.

It is an alarming statistic, especially given the talent IU has on both sides of the ball this year. To me, it means someone is unwilling or unable to change when the other team figures out the game plan. It is not coaching that long-term will help rebuild the IU football program.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Two wins to go and the Wildcat QB

The Hoosiers improved to 4-3 with a somewhat convincing win over Illinois, moving two wins from bowl eligibility.

Once again, the Hoosier defense set up the clinching scores in the second half. Illini QB Juice Williams fumbled twice, including one deep in IU territory, which the Hoosiers converted to touchdowns. The IU offense also looked much better, with Hoosier QB Ben Chappell throwing for 333 yards and three touchdowns. Running back Darius Willis also returned to the lineup, rushing for 58 yards.

The Hoosiers this week travel to Northwestern, where they will have to prove they can beat a team on the road that is better than Akron. A loss next week, and fans can fully shift their focus to basketball season.

An interesting side note on Saturday night's win. Yes, Chappell played likely the best game of his college career last night. But Mitchell Evans also impressed when he moved into the quarterback spot in Wildcat formations.

Evans did not complete a pass in two attempts, but ran for 84 yards on nine rushes. He is clearly faster than Chappell and a big asset in the pistol offense the Hoosiers run, which is a version of the spread attack in use around college football.

I'm wondering if Evans would be a better regular quarterback in the Hoosier system than Chappell. No question, Chappell can make all the necessary throws. He made a really pretty 44-yard pass to Tandon Doss in the fourth quarter that put the game away. But Chappell cannot run effectively if the pocket closes. The IU coaches also can't call the designed QB runs that are a staple of most spread offenses with Chappell in the game.

Just look at Illinois: Williams ran for 54 yards against the Hoosiers last night, the second most on the team. Florida QB Tim Tebow does almost all the offensive work for the Gators and Michigan QB Tate Forcier is as much a threat to run as he is to pass.

Evans, a junior, began last season as a quarterback, but moved to wide receiver. He came to IU having played QB and safety in high school.

At this point, Evans has only six pass attempts for the season with two completions. But he also has 125 yards rushing and is averaging more than six yards a carry. Am I suggesting Chappell should be benched as the starting QB? No. But I just wonder if Evans could be a better and more complete QB in the pistol system if he took more snaps.

I don't think any changes will be made at this point. It's just something to think about.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Clean slate

It's homecoming in Bloomington and the Hoosiers will take on Illinois at 7 p.m.

Many fans likely are more interested in the men's basketball practice underway at the time of this post that is open to the public. But after the last week's debacle at Virginia, the Hoosier football team has a clean slate with six games to go. The team is 3-3 and while the team has looked downright awful at times, and we would like to think the season is over, there still is something to play for.

The Hoosiers could regain some confidence against an Illinois team that has played just as bad this year. The Illini are 1-4 on the season and 0-3 in the Big Ten. Quarterback Juice Williams was benched two weeks ago because of poor play and the team has been in a general disarray. The Illinois offense, its strength coming into the season, has scored more than 17 points in a game only once all year.

Of course, the IU defense has been the cure for many teams' offensive problems. That includes Virginia, which had not done much of anything offensively all season before beating the Hoosiers to a pulp. If the IU team that played Michigan shows up this weekend, they should beat Illinois. If the team that played last week is on the field, it will be another drubbing.

After this weekend, there may be only two winnable games left: at Northwestern next week and against Purdue Nov. 21. That would get the Hoosiers to .500 for the season and at least bowl eligible. Unfortunately, a win at home against Purdue became somewhat less likely this week with the Boilers' win over Ohio State.

Side note: More than 13,000 fans attended the Hoosier Hysteria basketball practice last night. Photos and other information here.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Total, complete breakdown

The IU athletic department may be wishing it didn't have to pay the travel expenses to Charlottesville, Va. The Hoosiers didn't play like they deserved the trip, losing 44-0 to Virginia heading into the fourth quarter.

I look like an idiot for predicting a convincing IU win. The Hoosiers lost the game on the first drive, when, after five plays, they turned the ball over. Virginia turned it into a touchdown four plays later. Virginia rolled up 337 yards 30 points in the first half.

Indiana never appeared a part of this game. And the defense appeared totally unprepared or unable to handle the UVA offense. Every Virginia receiver caught a pass with no defenders in the area and every running back had wide holes to run through. Simple plays went for big yards every time.

Meanwhile, every IU receiver caught a pass with five defenders ready to tackle him and every running back struggled to gain more than a yard. Quarterback Ben Chappell did not have much time to throw because on nearly every play defenders were running at him untouched.

This was a clunker at a time when the Hoosiers could not afford one. I'm afraid the Hoosiers may already have peaked this year and now are declining to the finish. This level of play will not win another game this season.

Maybe the talent levels are finally settling out for the season. IU was playing above their level the first five weeks, while Virginia was playing below it.

Next game: against Illinois 7 p.m. Oct. 17.

Update: Final score: UVA wins 47-7. Total yards: UVA-536, IU-267.

Unfamiliar territory: Indiana-Virginia pre-game

The Hoosiers, and their fans, find themselves in an awkward position awaiting the 3:30 p.m. kick-off against Virginia. This match-up has become a must-win.

It's awkward because the Hoosiers haven't been in too many must-win games in the last 15 years. The last one came in 2007, when IU had to beat Purdue to secure a bowl bid.

This game became important when the Hoosiers won their first three games and nearly beat Michigan in week 4. All the sudden, the talk of post-season berth began, which just about everyone laughed about before the season started.

IU has been dismissed as irrelevant week after week despite its decent play. Again this week, they find themselves a road underdog. The spread is seven points, which astonishes me. Virginia lost to William and Mary and then No. 16 TCU at home, and Southern Mississippi on the road. They upset North Carolina on the road last week to get their first win, but I think IU again is underrated.

If home-field advantage is worth a field goal, I don't think Virginia is four points better than Indiana. Virginia has been outscored 78-96 on the season, while IU has outscored its opponents 127-122. The Cavaliers offense also has passed for 717 yards and rushed for 372 through four games, an average of 179 and 93 yards passing and rushing, respectively, per game.

The Hoosiers offense has been much more productive, averaging 233 and 131 yards passing and rushing, respectively, per game. And that has been against arguably better competition.

ESPN's Lee Corso, a former IU football coach, said Virginia should be on upset alert this week. I think IU will open some more eyes and show this win should not be considered an upset. They don't blow out Virginia, but remain in control of the game throughout.

Quarterback Ben Chappell and wide receiver Tandon Doss put points on the board and running back Demetrius McCray grinds out the clock. IU overcomes the Cavaliers' new confidence and their quarterback Jameel Sewell.

The Hoosiers move to 4-2 and complete a perfect non-conference season. IU wins 31-17.

The game is not on TV, but is available on I'm going to try to watch it on my computer, but absent that, I will be listening to the radio call and giving updates on Twitter.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Back to reality

After watching Ohio State beat the Hoosiers thanks to only one player, I have mixed emotions.

Quarterback Terrell Pryor accounted for four touchdowns, three throwing and one rushing, which was more than enough to stop the Hoosiers. IU lost 33-14, but did not close to within 19 points until the last few seconds, when the offense scored a meaningless touchdown.

IU had to play a near-perfect game to upset the No. 9 Buckeyes and did not. Far from it. Two interceptions and a fumble killed three drives. IU was hanging around in the first half, thanks to OSU mistakes. The Buckeyes were up 10-0 quickly, but missed two field goals, which would have put the game out of reach. IU put together an impressive touchdown drive to close to within 10-7, but Ohio State scored a TD three plays later to push the lead back to 10. A Buckeye touchdown late in the second quarter off an interception probably was the knock-out blow.

I wish the team that pushed Michigan to the brink last week had showed up for this game. Last week's Hoosiers made 1.5 mistakes -- a missed field goal and the questionable interception late in the fourth quarter -- and proved their best game was good enough to win. I think if IU played OSU the same way, with few mistakes, the game would have been a lot closer.

I was eager to see what the Hoosiers' best game could do against Ohio State. And while an upset was unlikely, the Buckeye offense was not overpowering, at least not at first. Who knows what would have happened if IU had not committed the turnovers in the first half.

The good news is the toughest part of the schedule is over. IU travels to Virginia Oct. 10 for its final non-conference game of the year. The Cavaliers upset North Carolina on the road last week, but have several problems. The Hoosiers still have a good chance to win and move to 4-2.

The 3:30 p.m. game will be broadcast on It's probably safe to call the game a must-win if IU expects to play in a bowl game. The team that played against Michigan will have to make the trip east. The team that played Ohio State will lose.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

IU-Ohio State Pre-game

I still am smarting over last week's loss to Michigan. For a brief minute late in the second half, I thought the Hoosiers would pull it out. My hopes and those of Hoosier nation were not answered that afternoon, but I am hoping the loss doesn't linger.

The IU gauntlet continues at 7 p.m. tonight in Bloomington when Ohio State arrives. It appears the only two advantages the Hoosiers have in this game are their home field, which will be filled with students (it was a sell-out) and the possibility of their opponent underestimating the Hoosiers.

The later is not likely, unless the Ohio State coaching staff decided not to use film of last week's game in their game-planning session. I suspect the Buckeyes are ready for Ben Chappell and the pistol offense. But the Buckeyes have struggled defending spread offenses in the past. Two years ago in Columbus, Illinois' spread offense controlled the game and knocked off the No. 1 team in the country.

Chappell and his receivers must play well and put pressure on the Ohio State defense. Running back Darius Willis will have to produce again this week.

It is the OSU offense that will play the biggest role. Can defensive ends Greg Middleton and Jammie Kirlew put Buckeye QB Terrelle Pryor down on the turf? Or better yet, can they keep him in the pocket and take away his speed in the open field? Pryor is much more vulnerable throwing from the pocket, which is not his strength.

Ohio State is an 18-point favorite. I can't predict an IU upset, which likely would be the biggest win in school history. I suspect this game will mirror the 1996 game, one I witnessed. The Hoosiers stayed in the game for more than three quarters, but ultimately lost. The Buckeyes will win this game, but not by 18.

Score: 28-17

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Prediction adjustments Part II: Hoosiers may go bowling

After three weeks, the Hoosiers prospects for this season appear to be getting better. At 3-0, Indiana will face their toughest opponent so far: undefeated Michigan at the Big House.

The next two weeks don't appear promising. After heading to Ann Arbor, Mich., Ohio State comes to Bloomington. But after those two games, there may be another three or four wins out there. Dare I say it: Indiana may play in a bowl game this year. A far cry from my opinion heading into the season.

In week six, the Hoosiers play at Virginia, which I thought would be a sure loss. But Virginia has been awful so far this season. The Cavaliers are 0-3, including an opening week loss at home to William and Mary. After a bye this week, Virginia should lose at North Carolina and be 0-4 when they play IU. While I don't like the Hoosiers coming to town with Virginia still looking for that first win, the Cavs certainly are beatable.

The Hoosiers then get Illinois at home. Before the season began, experts thought the Illini may be a dark horse conference title contender, but after another beating by Missouri and an injury to quarterback Juice Williams, Illinois looks a lot more human.

Then Indiana travels to Evanston, Ill. to take on Northwestern, which lost to Syracuse on Saturday. I thought this was a sure loss as well, but the Wildcats have been anything but impressive since their blow-out of FCS school Townson.

The Bucket Game once again may hold the key to the post-season. Purdue will come to Bloomington and did not look good the last two weeks in losses at Oregon and to Northern Illinois.

That's four more potential wins, another 7-5 season, and almost surely a bowl bid.

None of those four games are locks, especially if the games against Michigan and Ohio State go badly. If IU can maintain some confidence after that difficult two weeks, wins will come. I think it's more likely IU wins three of these four games and finishes 6-6. Then a bowl game is not assured, but it would create some momentum for next year.

Could IU fans actually have expectations heading into the 2010 season?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Are the Hoosiers a defensive team?

After by far the most impressive performance of the season, the Hoosiers are 3-0 and heading to Ann Arbor, Mich. to open Big Ten play.

Through three non-conference games, it is clear the IU defense has carried the load. But can we call the 2009 Hoosiers a defensive team? It's something that hasn't been said in a long time, if ever.

IU forced four turnovers in its win over Akron, all interceptions. They were stout against the run again, allowing 106 yards, with a big chunk coming with the game well in hand. It appeared throughout the game that except for one big mistake the IU defense was in control. Whenever Akron began mounting a drive, IU forced a turnover. Akron was short-handed at quarterback, but that shouldn't take away from the IU performance.

The big question heading to next week will be whether the Hoosiers' defense can stop the run against a quality Big Ten foe. Michigan is clearly much improved and has a lot of speed on offense. The IU defense will have problems with Tate Forcier and the spread offense. But if they can keep the run game under control, I think they may have a chance to keep the game close. Ben Chappell and the IU offense will have to play well and eliminate the turnovers.

The Hoosiers may need to play a near-perfect game, but I think IU's best game is enough to win at Michigan.

Overall, a dominating performance by the Hoosiers in the 38-21 win over Akron. It's exactly what IU needed with conference play about to begin.

Next week: At Michigan, noon Sept. 26.

Defense dominates third quarter

IU dominated the third quarter with its defense. They forced two interceptions and turned one into a touchdown to take a 24-14 lead heading to the fourth quarter.

The IU offense had three possessions in the third and appeared to be adhering to the same pattern as the previous two games. The first drive resulted in a fumble and the third was a blocked field goal.

Akron still has not been able to mount much offense. They have rushed for 27 yards and passed for 134 through three quarters. The IU defense so far remains the game MVP.

IU takes lead back at end of half

The Hoosiers offense retook the lead late after an otherwise forgettable second quarter. A late touchdown gave IU a 17-14 lead over Akron.

The special teams big plays now are even. Akron blocked an IU punt and recovered in the end zone to go up 14-10. IU responded with a 12-play drive to retake the lead with about 30 seconds left.

Quarterback Ben Chappell lost his rhythm in the second quarter, throwing an interception and completing no passes until the final drive. But he had five completions on that last drive, including the touchdown pass to Mitchell Evans.

IU coach Bill Lynch threw in a new wrinkle by using Evans at quarterback in the first half. He played pretty well, completing two passes for 12 yards. He also has four catches for 43 yards.

Overall, the offense looked pretty good. The running game has been exceptional and has sustained most of the Hoosiers' drives. IU running backs are averaging 4.3 yards per carry, which is really impressive.

The defense also has largely clamped down on the Zips, with the exception of the one touchdown catch by Deryn Bowser. Akron had 100 total yards in the half and 49 came on Bowser's touchdown catch. The IU defense allowed only four yards rushing in the half.

The halftime adjustments once again will be crucial. The last two weeks, IU's opponents have been successful at controlling the Hoosier offense in the second half. The IU offense has to be prepared to score some more points to hang on.

In-game updates on Twitter.

Hoosiers lead 10-7 after first quarter

The Hoosiers offense looked in sync in the first quarter, but a defensive lapse has made sure Akron remains in the game.

IU rushed for 47 yards and passed for 67 in the first quarter, but the big play came on the opening kickoff, when Ray Fisher ran it back 91 yards for a touchdown.

I've been impressed with the IU running game so far. The line appears to be opening the holes and the backs are hitting them. The Hoosiers also were 4-5 on third down, which is encouraging.

Unfortunately, one defensive lapse gave the Zips an easy touchdown. A missed tackle allowed Akron wide receiver Deryn Bowser to score a 49-yard touchdown. He is the only Akron receiver with a catch so far.

Indiana v. Akron: Pregame thoughts

The Hoosiers will be the underdog on the road against Akron today. The early line gave the Hoosiers 4 1/2 points.

According to my friend LaMond Pope, who covers the Hoosiers for the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, Akron has not allowed a a point in its last six quarters. Of course, four of those quarters came against Morgan State. The first two quarters came against Penn State, when the team was already down 31-0.

Statistically, Akron and Indiana are nearly identical so far this season. Akron has scored 24 points per game, Indiana 21. The Hoosiers allowed 16 points per game, Akron 15.5.

The Zips offense has been pretty balanced so far, with a few more passing yards per game. The team's defensive problem appears to be in the passing game. Akron has allowed 232.5 yards per game through the air. That's still better than IU, which has allowed 272 yards passing per game.

The IU defense will have to take advantage of a depleted Akron offense. Starting quarterback Chris Jacquemain will not play after being suspended indefinitely.

Game is on ESPNU or 100.1 FM radio in Fort Wayne.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Hoosiers move to 2-0

Yes, that is not a typo. IU beat Western Michigan 23-19 in Bloomington to remain undefeated.

Western Michigan was about to take the lead late, however. The Hoosiers defense helped by committing three major penalties -- a late hite, pass interference and facemask -- that sustained the Broncos drive. But Greg Middleton forced and then recovered a fumble with Western Michigan about 10 yards away. IU could not run out the clock, thanks in part to a penalty, but took a safety and then held Western Michigan in the final seconds to secure the win.

I have to say I'm surprised at how the IU defense has stepped up late in the game two weeks in a row. It seems like they have to play better to compete on the Big Ten stage, but if they keep making big plays with the game on the line, they should be just fine.

The IU running game looked much better this week, accumulating 187 yards, including a 59 yard run for a touchdown by Demetrius McCray. Maybe more importantly, IU committed no turnovers.

Ben Chappell did not have his best game: 185 yards passing and no touchdowns, but he did enough to win. I'm still worried about the IU offense in the second half. It fell asleep again in the second half, scoring only 6 points.

The IU defense allowed only 22 yards rushing, which is impressive. The Hoosiers' defensive identity appears to be a bend-but-don't-break style. But the unit is able to get pressure on the quarterback and force turnovers.

Overall, a much better performance than last week.

Next up: At Akron, Sept. 19. The Hoosiers could head to Ann Arbor 3-0...

IU looks good on both sides of the ball

The Hoosiers lead Western Michigan 10-0 early in the second quarter.

I've been impressed with how the IU offense has started the game again. There appears to be some semblance of a running game as well, which is promising. The question remains whether the team will remain consistent in the second half. Last week Eastern Kentucky made an adjustment at halftime and held the Hoosiers scoreless the rest of the game.

The touchdown drive that finished early in the second was impressive, including Ben Chappell's two sneaks to get into the end zone.

While we already knew the IU offense was in gear, I'm more impressed with the IU defense so far. Western Michigan has 21 total yards through the first quarter. QB Tim Hiller, who was expected to have a big game, hasn't done much of anything.

The big key so far is the Broncos lack of running game. As I write this, a rush for 6 yards by WMU gets them near 0 net yards on the ground for the game. There are about 11 minutes left in the half.

The Broncos were moving the ball a little better after the IU touchdown. The IU defense now must make an adjustment.

IU-Western Michigan early thoughts

The big surprise heading into this game was that IU was the favorite. The Hoosiers were a 1-point favorite this morning.

Early in the first quarter, the IU offense seemed to be clicking, but stalled in the red zone. The running game was not able to get it done inside the 10 yard line and a fade in the corner of the end zone was not successful. IU still was able to salvage a field goal.

The defense held the supposedly potent Bronco offense in check on their first drive, thanks to a huge tackle for a loss. The Broncos have -9 yards rushing nearing the end of the quarter.

We'll see if that holds up...

Monday, September 7, 2009

Prediction adjustments following Week 1

After watching the Hoosiers get an unconvincing win in Week 1 and seeing some actual game action, I want to make some adjustments to the season prediction.

I was correct in saying the IU-Eastern Kentucky game would be close. Looking ahead to Week 2 against Western Michigan, after predicting a loss at first, I think now the Hoosiers could get a win. The Broncos were routed by Michigan on Saturday, 31-7. Western Michigan's offense never got started and scored its only points late in the fourth quarter. The Wolverines offense ran up nearly 300 yards total offense in the first half.

That is encouraging for the Hoosiers, who had trouble stopping the EKU pistol offense last week. If the defense can contain the Broncos and the offense can get going, WMU may fall to 0-2 on Saturday.

Unfortunately, after watching Michigan, I don't think the Hoosiers are going to break the losing streak in the Big House this year. Michigan looked and played like the West Virginia teams coach Rich Rodriguez built. The Michigan offense looks as if it would overwhelm the Hoosiers defense.

Penn State smoked Akron on Saturday as well, making me more confident the Hoosiers should be favored to win their game there. And surprisingly, Virginia lost to William and Mary 26-14, creating more confidence that expected loss could turn to a win.

I still can't say the Hoosiers' record will improve over the 4-8 record I predicted. A win at Virginia would push the record to 5-7, but Purdue looked sharp in its win over Toledo, 52-31, leading me to wonder whether that win will come to end the season.

Week 1 inspired some confidence in the Hoosiers prospects this season, but it also issued some more challenges. Ultimately, it should not change the outcome: 4-8 is still the expectation.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Hoosiers win, but it's not pretty

After scoring two touchdowns, a field goal and a safety in the first half, the Hoosiers are shut out in the second, yet still hold on to win by six, 19-13. The key play was a forced fumble on the goal line by the Hoosier defense that preserved the six-point lead.

But the Hoosier offense fell asleep in the second half, which will be a major problem this season if not fixed.

Ben Chappell had a decent day, throwing for 327 yards and a touchdown, but also had two interceptions. I was really impressed with the IU receivers, who surprised me with some of their catches and speed. Doss, Belcher and Turner appear able to run after the catch and aren't afraid to make a catch in front of a defensive back.

Something has to be done about the running game. The Hoosiers rushed for 73 yards, averaging 2.4 yards per carry. It caused real problems trying to run the clock out late in the game.

It was an ugly win, but as they say, it still counts. However, this performance will not beat any Big Ten team.

Next week: Western Michigan comes to Bloomington at noon Sept. 12.

Hoosiers still lead after third, 19-13

EKU crept closer in the third quarter and exposed some weaknesses in the Hoosiers defense.

The defense allowed a 36-yard run on 3rd and 11 that eventually led to a field goal. The only good news is instead of touchdowns, the Hoosiers are holding the Colonels to field goals.

And while the EKU offense is improving in the second half, the IU offense is sputtering. Chappell only threw for about 25 yards, including one interception. The Hoosiers now have three turnovers in the game.

I hope IU's defenders aren't tiring, because they need to step up in the final quarter.

IU up by 9 at halftime

Indiana leads Eastern Kentucky 19-10 at halftime. I'm starting to believe, just a little bit.

The IU offense is clicking. Maybe that's because EKU's defense is not a Big Ten calibre unit, but I'm starting to wonder if the Hoosiers could give a few more teams fits this season.

It's the speed on the outside that's impressive. Tandon Doss is the prime example. Doss has accounted for a huge chunk of the IU passing game with 7 catches and 117 yards receiving. Quarterback Ben Chappell has thrown for 214 yards.

The only bone I have to pick is it seems like IU is dominating this game on both sides of the ball, yet only leads by nine points. The Hoosiers gave EKU seven easy points on a blow coverage and then held them to a field goal after EKU returned a punt inside the 20 yard line.

The offense has to keep the foot on the pedal in the second half. Hopefully, the defense will tighten up as well.

The box score is available here.

First Quarter: IU leads

The Hoosiers lead Eastern Kentucky 9-7 after the first quarter.

The defense forcing a safety was a welcome change from last season, especially after the offense turned the ball over on its first series. Other than the one big mistake, the defense played pretty well. They only gave up 67 yards of total offense, all of it coming on one pass completion.

Offensively, the wide receivers have been impressive. There is some speed there, among Terrance Turner and Tandon Doss, and Damarlo Belcher made a heck of a catch on 3rd and long to keep a drive going. The running game has been at least servicable, but it's clear the Hoosiers' strength is going to be in the passing game. Chappell threw for 112 yards in the quarter.

Hoosiers still driving in EKU territory to start the second quarter.

Pre-game meal

We are less than 45 minutes until kick-off of Indiana-Eastern Kentucky. Here is an interesting story to chew on while you wait for the game to start. Interesting trends for both teams are here.

I'll be providing commentary throughout the game here and on Twitter as the need warrants.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The 2009 season: The rule, not the exception

When I asked my Facebook friends their thoughts on the upcoming IU football season, I set the over-under for wins at four. Not surprisingly, everyone took the under.

After looking at the play in camp, predictions for the rest of the conference, as well as the
schedule, I'm going to predict a push: the Hoosiers will go 4-8.

IU beats Eastern Kentucky, loses to Western Michigan, and beats Akron in close games to start the season 2-1. The team heads to Michigan, a team still rebuilding, learning a new offense and now reeling from internal problems
outlined in the Detroit Free-Press, and upsets the Wolverines 24-23. Michigan's players and coaches expect to steamroll the Hoosiers, only to find a team looking to end its decades long losing streak at Michigan Stadium.

The Hoosiers move to 3-1, and the word bowl is thrown around. Then Ohio State comes to town favored by at least 21 points and reminds the Hoosiers where they stand in the Big Ten power structure. The Buckeyes more than cover the spread and IU is 3-2. The loss lingers in Charlottesville, Va., as the Hoosiers lose to Virginia by 10.

The Hoosiers find themselves at .500 at Homecoming, when Illinois is in Bloomington. The Illini offense is too strong and IU loses its third in a row.

The slide continues with a close loss at Northwestern, followed by a convincing loss at Iowa. Wisconsin then comes to Bloomington with the Hoosiers at 3-6 and mauls them behind their huge offensive line and power running game.

The game at Penn State is a mismatch and IU leaves with another loss. The Hoosiers enter the Bucket game at 3-8 and looking for a new coach. Athletic Director Fred Glass decides before the game that Coach Bill Lynch's contract will not be renewed, but lets him and his staff finish the season.

In a both a tribute to Lynch and payback for last year's embarrassing loss in West Lafayette, the Hoosiers squeak by Purdue to regain the Old Oaken Bucket and finish at 4-8.

It's another sub-par season for Indiana, but really that is the rule in the last 20 years, not an exception. Once again we hope for next year and eagerly await basketball season.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Early Hoosier basketball thoughts

The Hoosiers won't begin year two of the Tom Crean era for another six weeks, but I want to present my theme for the season.

One word: Finish.

The Hoosiers had a 10-point halftime lead against Lipscomb before losing by five. They were up as many as 20 in the second half against Michigan, before losing in overtime, and had a lead with less than four minutes to go at Penn State before being outscored 6-1 to end the game.

Is it clear yet? The Hoosiers had trouble putting teams away last season. They had trouble playing with a lead and in seemingly every situation demanding a clutch play, no IU player was to be found.

Crean will have nine non-freshmen on the team this year, which is a boat load of experience compared to what he had at the start of last season. I expect team growth, experience and improvement will go a long way toward fixing the clutch problem. The question is will it translate into more than six wins?

Just looking at the schedule, I could see 16 or 17 wins this season, maybe more if the ball bounces the right way. It will depend on the strength of the Big Ten conference this year and whether teams like Kentucky, which has a new coach, and Maryland, which is coming off a sub-par year, play at a level most fans expect.

Bottom line, I'm expecting the Hoosiers to take an adult stride forward this year, not a baby step. And I think that is what Crean is expecting as well.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Hall of Famer Bob Knight

Bob Knight deserves better.

The news this weekend that Knight has been selected for the IU Athletics Hall of Fame is really a no-brainer. The fact that he isn't already a member is an insult. The man has been a member of the basketball Hall of Fame for 18 years.

Now the debate rages about whether Knight should return to Bloomington for the induction ceremonies in November. Athletic Director Fred Glass apparently sent a hand-written note to Knight requesting he attend and has enlisted Bob Hammel, one of Knight's friends, to beg for his attendance.

I like the olive branch approach by the university. And I want to say Knight will decide to let bygones be bygones, attend the ceremony and receive the appreciation of the Hoosier faithful. But I suspect he will decline.

Knight may not want to upstage the other members of his Hall class, as was one guess, which include former soccer coach Jerry Yeagley, who won six NCAA championships at IU. Knight also may not care about the recognition. If he wishes to repair his legacy, honoring him like the other Hall of Famers would be unfair.

Like it or not, Knight is a special case and should be honored in a special way. It should be done in Assembly Hall.

There's no question Knight did not always bring honor and distinction to Indiana University. We are not asking anyone to forget that. But I think it's also time to stop ignoring his accomplishments.

IU clearly wants to mend the fence, and may need to considering the men's basketball program's recent turmoil and rebuilding. Glass wants to gather as many fans as he can, including re-engaging those who left the program after Knight's departure.

If that's the case, why not honor Knight during a basketball game this season? During halftime of a game against Kentucky, Purdue or Ohio State, bring him out to the floor for a few minutes. A great number of former players would gladly speak on his behalf. It may even provide some extra motivation for this year's team in a tough game. Imagine the hype if ESPN had Knight call the game and then televised the halftime ceremony.

Knight deserves better than halftime at a football game. Honor him at the place he made famous and maybe he will return.

Friday, August 21, 2009

IU football season preview: The Big Ten schedule

When a team enters the season with as many question marks as the Indiana Hoosiers will this season it's hard to predict a lot of wins. And when they play in a conference the caliber of the Big Ten, it's even harder to predict conference wins.

Sports Illustrated thinks the Hoosiers will go 0 for 8 in conference play this year. I'm not going to go that far. I think there are one or two potential wins out there. Here's my breakdown:

  • Forget about an upset of Ohio State on Oct. 3 in Bloomington. The Buckeyes may be overlooking the Hoosiers (they play Wisconsin the following week), but I don't think on a bad day they will lose.
  • If you think the Hoosiers will win at Penn State Nov. 14, I have a bridge to sell you. Harder than beating a team coached by Joe Paterno is beating one of his teams on the road. Happy Valley will be rocking and the Lions likely will be in the hunt for the Rose Bowl.
  • Homecoming will be fun, but the Hoosiers likely won't beat Illinois. Quarterback Juice Williams and wide receiver Arrelious Benn are considered to be two of the best offensive players in the Big Ten. And the Hoosiers defense has trouble stopping teams. IU's defense will be able to rush the passer, but they are suspect at corner and their run defense is expected to be a problem again. This all adds up to a Hoosiers loss.
  • The Hoosiers will hang around at Iowa Oct. 31 and against Wisconsin Nov. 7, but lose. Both of these teams seem to have trouble beating the Hoosiers. But I'm not convinced the Hoosiers will be able to hang around and still convert it into a win.
  • Watch the Hoosiers play at Michigan Sept. 26. It has been more than 40 years since IU has won there. Michigan is better after last year's disaster season, but stranger things have happened, namely Wolverine Anthony Carter running for a touchdown with no time left to prevent a tie with the Hoosiers in 1979.
  • If IU was scheduled to play Northwestern at home, I would say they could win it. But since it's in Evanston, I'm going to vote 'No.' I still think teams with lots of offense like the Wildcats will give the Hoosier defense fits. The offense may end up in too big a hole to win.
  • The one winnable game is the last one: Nov. 21 against Purdue. The Boilermakers are rated at the bottom of the conference along with IU. I'm guessing the one conference win SI predicted for them is against IU. Since it is a rivalry game, you forget the records. The Old Oaken Bucket will be on the line and after last year's embarrassment, the Hoosiers may have a chip on their shoulder.

I wish I could put more than one conference win on the board, but I can't. The Hoosiers will beat Purdue for their only win and finish in the Big Ten basement at 1-7. But that is much better than 0-8.

Coming next: Picking the 2009 season.

Other parts of my IU football season preview: Must wins, Upset chances, and Coaches' signature wins, Part I and Part II.