Is it too early for a must-win game?
In other words, the coaches would never let you believe – or more importantly let their players believe – just how important Saturday’s conference opener against Maryland could potentially be.
Here’s the reality though:
Beat Maryland, and you’re 3-1 with a non-conference game against North Texas coming up next Saturday at Memorial Stadium. Beat the Terrapins and 3-1 should become 4-1 next Saturday.
That would put you two wins from becoming bowl eligible with seven games to play. And all of a sudden included in that seven games would be several that you would think IU should be competitive in: Iowa, Michigan, Rutgers, Penn State and Purdue all jump out off of that list.
Provided that is, that the Hoosiers are 4-1 after five games.
Let’s take a look at the view from the glass half empty.
Lose to Maryland and all of a sudden you’re 2-2 facing North Texas next week. Win or lose against Maryland you should beat North Texas.
But the difference between needing to win three games to become bowl eligible and two games for this Indiana football program is a gap equal to the width of the Grand Canyon.
Indiana just hasn’t fared well on a consistent basis in Big Ten play. As it stands right now, if IU goes 3-1 in the non-conference portion of the schedule, IU would need to find three Big Ten wins.
Since the 1995 season, how many times do you think Indiana has won three or more games in conference play? The answer: 5. The years were 1999, 2001,2006, 2007 and last year in the 2013 season.
How many times has IU won four games or more in conference play in that span? The answer: Once. That was in 2001 when the Hoosiers went 1-2 in non-conference losing to North Carolina State and Utah and 4-4 in the Big Ten. It was the final year for Antwaan Randle El and ultimately Cam Cameron, too.
The point is Saturday’s Maryland game is pivotal. A 3-1 record and a Big Ten-opening victory for the second year in a row (IU beat Penn State 44-24 last year) would be a huge confidence boost for a young football team. And with North Texas coming up next week, the momentum should only build that much more.
But lose, and that mountain becomes considerably higher to climb.
Why is becoming bowl eligible such a big deal? Indiana fans know the answer to that question. Until IU has had a few consistent years of becoming bowl eligible people will continue to look at IU football the way it has been viewed for the last 20 years. It’s basically something Indiana fans do for a few months until basketball season begins.
Since 1994, IU has been to one bowl game. That was in 2007 when the team rallied around a Play 13 mantra to honor former IU coach Terry Hoeppner, who died the previous summer from the effects of brain cancer.
For Indiana to be taken seriously in football, the Hoosiers need to consistently get to bowl games. A win over Maryland would be a big first step in that direction.
Four games into the season is probably way too early for a must-win game for the Hoosiers.
But then again, maybe not.
Follow Terry Hutchens at Twitter.com/FoxsportshutchThe Buck Stops Here: Maryland
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