Coming into the 2020 season, there were a select few Big Ten teams widely considered to be challengers to the College Football Playoff. Among those only two have even remotely lived up to those expectations; Wisconsin and the seemingly permanent Ohio State Buckeyes. Despite their hot start the Badgers of Wisconsin have had a bevy of cancellations, limiting their argument among teams like Cincinnati, BYU and a potential Pac-12 Champion.
As with teams that have been huge letdowns, there have been some positive surprises in the conference as well. In the form of Northwestern, Purdue, Iowa, and of maybe the biggest of all, the Indiana Hoosiers. Sitting at #9 in the country through four games, the Hoosiers find themselves alone atop the East.
With Indiana’s first 4-0 start to conference play since 1987, the Tom Allen led team will head into Columbus for its biggest game in decades to take on the Buckeyes of Ohio State. For all intensive purposes this game will serve as the Big Ten East Championship, and it also just so happens to be the first top-ten matchup of 2020 for the conference.
Now what we’re all here for; can the Hoosiers win this game?
For my money, Indiana has been THE cinderella story of the 2020 season and it’s impossible to overstate how well Tom Allen has done with the hand he has been dealt. With the Hoosiers picking up their first win over Michigan since that 1987 season, they could snap a similar streak against Ohio State which dates back to 1988.
I use “could” very loosely because it would essentially take a miracle for Indiana to win this game. There is a reason betting odds favor the Buckeyes by more than 20 points despite this being a top-ten matchup and I fully expect to see a result around that mark. I have been huge on Indiana this season and a loss (even in blowout fashion) doesn’t discount what the team has been able to accomplish thus far. Michael Penix Jr. has been a huge upgrade for the Hoosiers offense, and it doesn’t hurt to have a supporting cast as talented as Whop Philyor, Stevie Scott, Ty Fryfogle and Peyton Hendershot. Penix would need to play perfect for his team to have a shot in this game. The lefty has had a solid season, but with a 9:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio, ball control has been an issue against teams well below Ohio State’s level.
Speaking of Ohio State’s level, where in the world has the defense from 2019 been? I understand that three first round picks and multiple other key pieces of that team were lost to the draft but 23 points-per-game and one interception is all that we’ve seen through three games? In those same matchups last season (against arguably better versions of those teams) the Buckeyes had six interceptions and allowed just 15 points-per-game. The defense doesn’t have to be elite for Ohio State to win this game, but as the season rolls on something has to click. I believe it happens Saturday coming off of the impromptu bye-week, and that could mean trouble for Indiana.
Notice that I didn’t even have to mention the tear that Justin Fields has been on, or the fact that Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson became the first receiving duo in team history to post back-to-back-to-back 100 yard performances. The run game must continue to integrate itself into the offense, but the talent gap as well as the gameplan that Ryan Day will bring should be enough to move the Buckeyes to 4-0.
So to answer my earlier question; yes, I believe Indiana can win this game. Do I think that will be the case? Not at all. This Ohio State team is on a mission to win a National Championship and this could be their most difficult matchup of the pre-playoff season. Look for a fired up Buckeyes team to come out and light it up in all three phases of the game. I don’t believe that the 20 will be enough.
OSU 55, Indiana 17