Does Saturday's game against Bowling Green fall into the must-win category for Indiana football?
It's the second week in September for crying out loud. It's hard to believe you could have a must-win game two games into the season but in many ways I believe it's true.
Following Saturday's 41-35 loss to Navy, Indiana's margin of error this season has quickly disintegrated.
If Indiana went through the non-conference season 4-0, the chance of making it to a bowl game by just needing to win two games in Big Ten play appeared to be close to a lock. With the teams on Indiana's schedule moving forward, two Big Ten victories seemed like a given.
At 3-1, however, that margin of error was reduced significantly. If IU went 3-1, now Indiana would have to win three Big Ten games. This isn't unheard of as both the 2006 and 2007 teams in recent memory were able to pull out three conference wins. So the idea of following up a 3-1 non-conference slate with a 3-5 Big Ten mark could seem doable.
But if Indiana gets beat this weekend, all bets are off. All of a sudden even if IU could beat Missouri the following week and get to 2-2, Indiana would have to go 4-4 in conference play to earn a trip to a bowl game.
Not saying that's not possible either but highly unlikely would definitely be true.
When was the last time any Indiana football team won four games in Big Ten play? Well, let's begin with this thought: Antwaan Randle El was a senior in college. The Hoosiers went 4-4 that season in Big Ten play but still finished 5-6 overall and didn't qualify for a bowl game.
Prior to that, the last time an IU team won four Big Ten football games was 1994.
So there you have it. Basically it's a feat that has occurred once in the last 20 seasons.
All of which just makes the sense of urgency Saturday against Bowling Green that much greater. Now here's the problem: Bowling Green is pretty good. The Falcons, 8-5 a year ago, are off to a 2-0 start with wins over Tulsa and Kent State. Both of those teams won 11 games a year ago.
And Bowling Green received votes in this week's Associated Press top 25 poll.
The Falcons have a running back in Travis Greene that is averaging 116.5 yards per game. They have a quarterback in Matt Johnson who has thrown for better than 250 yards per game. They have a defense that has recorded 11 tackles for loss and three sacks in the first two games.
And it's a must-win game for Indiana.
I'm willing to allow that Saturday's game against Navy's gimmicky offense could be a hiccup. I can see that. Remember, this is an Indiana team that scored 73 points the week before and still managed 35 last week. This team can score a lot of points – and will score a lot of points – on most teams it plays.
But this is a big game for the defense. IU is saying all the right things this week. They said they couldn't wait to get to practice Sunday to get the bad taste out of their mouths. They said they're disappointed and embarrassed by the performance Saturday. They said that wasn't the true IU defense that played Saturday against Navy.
Blah, blah, blah.
The truth is the Hoosiers have to prove it on the football field Saturday afternoon against a formidable foe in Bowling Green. Fall to 1-2 and this season could get away from you in a hurry.
Now, beat the Falcons, go to 2-1, let the victory flag fly for a week, and all of a sudden it will be a different mindset come next week against Missouri.
Still, I don't think it's going too far out on a limb to say that this week is a must-win game for the Hoosiers.
Follow Terry Hutchens at Twitter.com/Foxsportshutch