It's Friday, which makes it not only prediction day, but go-out-on-a-limb day as well.
Indiana 35, Minnesota 24.
The Hoosiers now hold my reputation as an expert prognosticator in their hands.
How can an undermanned, slumping IU team knock off a Gopher squad that is in need of a win to guarantee itself bowl eligibility? How can the Hoosiers win their eighth straight over a Minnesota team that has one of the nation's best tailbacks in Laurence Maroney, someone who's good enough that he'll likely bypass his senior season and make himself eligible for the NFL Draft next spring?
Don't expect me to rely on numbers to back up this week's prediction. Minnesota averages an NCAA-best 284.5 yards/game rushing, while its 501.2 yards/game ranks seventh nationally. Indiana's defense, meanwhile, has given up at least 40 points in its last two games. It hit a low last week when it self-destructed with a slew of missed tackles in a 46-15 loss at Michigan State. As if the East Lansing result didn't do enough damage to the Hoosiers' collective psyche, making matters worse was the loss of middle linebacker John Pannozzo and safety Aaron Mitchell with hand injuries.
Honestly, I don't know what has me picking the Hoosiers this weekend. Maybe it's the fact Minnesota hasn't won in Bloomington in 20 years, a staggering statistic considering IU's struggles for more than a decade. Maybe it's the fact the Hoosiers handled the 23rd-ranked Gophers a year ago, a result that was, quite honestly, a whole lot more stunning than an Indiana win this time around would be.
Maybe it's the fact that IU Coach Terry Hoeppner talks a good a talk on a weekly basis, and could probably convince his team they'd have a puncher's chance against, say, the top-ranked USC Trojans.
Here's what it really is – a hunch. And sometimes, that's the best predictor of all.
The 4-4 Hoosiers are a whole lot better than they've been in the last two weeks, and for those who have been following the team on a regular basis, it's obvious the program has made tremendous strides from where it's been in recent years. There hasn't been any quit in this team even during its most recent lopsided losses, and a hard-hitting week of practice suggests it's not about to roll over during the final three weeks of the regular season.
Indiana's wins over Kentucky and Illinois suggested Hoeppner had the program going in a new direction, but a win this weekend would cement that fact in the minds of fans – no matter what happens in the season's final two weeks. It would also push the Hoosiers within one win of bowl eligibility, something that would undoubtedly re-kindle the interest in IU football that might have waned after the Ohio State and Michigan State results.
While following that up with a win in Ann Arbor might be a lot to ask, it could very well set the stage for a Old Oaken Bucket battle with Purdue Nov. 19 wit a bowl invitation on the line. The last time that happened was 1991, when the Hoosiers withstood a furious second-half Purdue comeback to win, 24-22, and earn a berth in the Copper Bowl. The Hoosiers and Boilermakers met under similar circumstances two years earlier in 1989, and a late missed field goal by Scott Bonnell resulted in a 15-14 Purdue win, ending the Hoosiers season at 5-6.
What's coming up:
On Monday – Five Numbers to Note
On Tuesday - Four Key Matchups
On Wednesday – Three Big Concerns
On Thursday – Two Things IU Must Do
On Friday – One Bold Prediction
On Saturday – Hoosier Gameday
One Day and Counting...
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