Indiana will accomplish something it hasn't in three decades: beat Ohio State or Michigan
It’s never happened in my lifetime but I’m going to make the prediction anyway: Indiana is going to beat either Ohio State or Michigan.
Ok, so I was slightly disingenuous saying the Hoosiers haven’t won a game against the Buckeyes or the Wolverines in my lifetime. The last time Indiana knocked off Ohio State, I was all of five months old.
Michigan? No, that’s the truth. I was born in 1988. The Wolverines haven’t lost to Indiana since 1987.
Three decades. 43 straight games. That’s how long it’s been – and how many consecutive losses the Hoosiers have suffered – since last beating either Ohio State or Michigan. Those are a hell of a pair of losing streaks.
Why now, then? Why, in 2017, a year when both the Buckeyes and Wolverines are expected to be chasing a B1G East title and potential College Football Playoff berth, could the Hoosiers change their fortunes against either of these blue-blood programs?
Tom Allen, defense and history.
Really, the first two go hand-in-hand. Allen reshaped Indiana’s defense last season, transforming a second-rate group into a formidable unit in less than a year. The Hoosiers ranked ninth in the B1G in both total defense and scoring defense after finishing last in the conference in 2015.
Rashard Fant emerged as one of the top defensive backs in the B1G. Linebacker Tegray Scales led the conference with 126 tackles and 23.5 tackles for loss. Youngsters like Jonathan Crawford, A’Shon Riggins and Marcelino Ball all made significant contributions, too.
All of those guys are coming back, by the way.
Indiana CB Rashard Fant leads all returning B1G 10 CBs with his low 55.3 passer rating when targeted last season. pic.twitter.com/NBRtE2p2jr
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) June 23, 2017
Indiana’s defensive improvements may not have been more apparent than in last year’s matchups against Ohio State and Michigan.
The defense shut down J.T. Barrett in the early October meeting against the Buckeyes. Barrett completed nine-of-21 passes for just 93 yards and a touchdown. Six weeks later, the Hoosiers held Michigan – a team averaged more than 40 points per contest on the year – to 20 points.
Because of those performances, Indiana stayed within striking distance in both games. Had that caliber of defense been around a year earlier maybe the Hoosiers would’ve pulled through against the Buckeyes and Wolverines in 2015.
RELATED: #B1GCoachRank: No. 13 Tom Allen
What was once Indiana’s biggest liability has become its greatest strength. That, alone, gives the Hoosiers a chance to knockout two of the B1G’s juggernauts.
Having one of the best receiving tandems – Simmie Cobbs, Jr. and Nick Westbrook – works in Indiana’s favor, too. The offense is really going to hinge on Richard Lagow’s development as a consistent passer, though. And rhe Hoosiers need to find a suitable running back to replace Devine Redding.
Is it the same high-powered offense we saw in the Kevin Wilson era? No.
The pieces are in place, though.
Indiana also ended a few unflattering streaks last year. An overtime victory over No. 17 Michigan State marked the first time since 2006 the Hoosiers had posted a win over a ranked B1G opponent. They earned a second-straight bowl bid at the end of the season, 25 years since last making back-to-back postseason appearances.
And the Hoosiers have kept the Old Oaken Bucket within Bloomington’s city limits since 2013, beating rival Purdue four consecutive times. The last time that happened was during World War II.
Ohio State and Michigan have been a greased pig for Indiana for the past 30 years. Even when the Hoosiers have tackled the boar, he squirms free. But this is the year they finally hogtie the prize.
If I had to place any bets (thankfully I don’t), I’d favor Indiana in the Oct. 14 meeting against Michigan. The Wolverines lost a good chunk of their talent from last season and the Hoosiers have given Jim Harbaugh a run for his money each of the last two seasons. That seems like the better matchup for Allen and company.
The season opener against Ohio State is an interesting match-up, too. Not that long ago, a Week 1 bout between Indiana and Ohio State would’ve yielded a lopsided result. But the Hoosiers are as much as the Buckeyes want to handle in the first week.
And don’t think that defense isn’t devoted to embarrassing former IU head coach Kevin Wilson in his return to Bloomington.
For the past two years, Indiana has been really close to knocking off one of the B1G’s powerhouses. And, in a different time, close would probably be pretty well-received for this program. But it’s not acceptable for Allen.
“My goal for this program is to break through in 2017,” Allen said at his introductory press conference back in December. “We’ve been close. I’ve joked about it…I’m tired of getting text messages from my buddies telling me how hard we played, how close we are. It’s time to break through.”
Indiana is going to break something, alright. It’s going to break a streak that’s lasted three decades and has resulted in 43 straight losses.
Will it end against Ohio State or Michigan? Or both?
Now that’s really something that hasn’t happened in my lifetime. Or anyone else’s, for that matter.