Why Indiana should be embracing its date with Ohio State
There’s a well-kept secret in Bloomington that only a select amount of people know.
Every couple years, the IU athletic department takes an aerial picture of a near-full Memorial Stadium. Anywhere the Hoosiers can promote themselves — media guides, game posters, billboards — it does so with this picture.
So what’s the secret, you ask? Well, that picture is taken when the Buckeyes come to town. Ohio State fans are able to get cheap tickets — compared to what they usually pay — and make the quick three-and-a-half-hour road trip to watch their beloved Buckeyes.
They wear red. From high above Memorial Stadium, it looks like a whole lot of Hoosier support.
On Saturday, when the two 4-0 teams square off, you can bet that an aerial shot will be taken. And maybe, just maybe, it won’t be weighted by Ohio State fans.
After all, this is the first time that the Hoosiers have been 4-0 since 1990. Michael Jordan hadn’t even won a title yet.
Having said all that, IU actually does need Ohio State. The program should be embracing the role the Buckeyes can play in generating some much-needed hype.
Kevin Wilson shouldn’t have squashed the mid-week College GameDay rumors. I get it. He doesn’t want his team to get caught in the hoopla.
You know what? His team needs some hoopla — and six wins — or else he’ll be out of a job at season’s end. The product that he’s put on the field during his time in Bloomington still isn’t good enough to bring IU students from the tailgate fields into Memorial Stadium.
There’s a reason that Memorial Stadium hasn’t hit 50,000 fans during Wilson’s time in Bloomington. And it isn’t 100-percent based on winning. He has no idea how to generate hype for his football team. Wilson is not a public figure in Bloomington because he never says anything that makes fans want to rally behind him.
But this is not a plea for Wilson to change who he is and become Steve Spurrier. In the long term, wins are the only thing that are going to shift the basketball-dominant culture at Indiana.
This is a plea for IU to embrace this week of hype, and stop pretending it doesn’t exist.
It does. For the first time since the Hoosiers hosted Michigan in 2010, the corners of the stadium should be full.
This is the first time IU will host a consensus No. 1 team since Ohio State in 1998. Nobody in their right mind is picking the Hoosiers to pull off the upset of the century. But win or lose, this game has monumental significance.
IU fans have a chance to talk about being undefeated going into a showdown with the defending national champions. That sentence alone is huge for boosters, fans and recruits.
Analysts are going to talk about IU posing potential matchup problems for the No. 1 team. After all, Jordan Howard is the nation’s leading rusher. Ricky Jones is the conference’s leading receiver. Between the tackles, IU actually doesn’t match up too horribly with the Buckeyes, either.
I’m not talking myself into saying the Hoosiers have a shot, but consider the widespread impact Saturday could have.
Given how the Buckeyes have played against mid-majors so far, it wouldn’t be crazy to see IU’s high-powered offense keep this within a touchdown at halftime. Don’t underestimate how big that is for fan support. That’s prime time for the tailgate buzz to wear off and for students to file out of Memorial Stadium to watch the rest of the game — or nap — in the comfort of their own homes.
Think about what this could mean for the recruits that will be in attendance on Saturday. They have the chance to see IU potentially going back and forth with larger-than-life superstars like Cardale Jones, Ezekiel Elliott and Braxton Miller. They could see a full Memorial Stadium crowd going crazy with every big play, holding on to the prayer that maybe IU can pull off the upset.
If IU somehow keeps it close, you can bet Wilson will walk into a recruit’s living room and drop the line, ‘We were a big play away from stunning the best team in college football.’
That’s worth something. The hype videos that the athletic department creates are worth something. The mid-afternoon ABC slot is worth something. Even if IU gets throttled by 40 points and is just another pebble on Ohio State’s road to a national championship, it’s worth something.
Wilson will say all week that it’s just another game on the schedule. It’s not. Saturday’s opportunity is greater than any x’s and o’s game-plan that Wilson is going to play up.
For once, this game is more than a photo op.