It's not too often that a match-up of 4-4 teams can be billed as a program's "biggest game" in more than a decade, but that's the case at IU when it comes to Saturday's game against Michigan State.
Indiana's goal of "playing 13" would take a giant step forward if the Hoosiers can handle the Spartans tomorrow at noon. With a victory the Hoosiers would move to 5-4 and have three chances to earn their sixth win and thus become bowl eligible for the first time since 1994. Two of those games – next weekend at Minnesota (3-5) and Nov. 18 at Purdue (5-3) – are against foes that have struggled at times this season and are certainly potential wins for Coach Terry Hoeppner's squad.
On the flip side, though, is this – a loss to Coach John L. Smith's squad would deliver a crippling blow to IU's chances to earning its first bowl invite since 1993. While both Minnesota and Purdue have struggled this season, both games are on the road and IU has won only one of its last 19 Big Ten road contests dating back to 2001. Assuming IU falls to No. 2 Michigan Nov. 11, expecting the Hoosiers to win in Minneapolis and West Lafayette is probably a stretch.
With that in mind, Hoeppner and IU officials have gone to great lengths to lure Hoosier fans to Memorial Stadium. John Mellencamp will perform before the game's kickoff, and the IU basketball team will have an open scrimmage one hour after the football game's conclusion. It's all a part of the department's effort to get 50,000 fans in attendance to the Hoosiers' Homecoming contest.
Truth be told, 50,000 is probably a bit optimistic considering IU has averaged just a shade over 30,000 to its first four games, but 40,000 is foreseeable with the efforts that have been put in during the last two weeks. And even that sort of turnout would likely give an emotional lift to an Indiana team that figures to be riding high when it takes the field Saturday.
So what will unfold Saturday? There are few teams that are less predictable than the Spartans, a team that had lost four in a row before their record-breaking 41-38 comeback win at Northwestern last weekend. The Wildcats didn't do Indiana any favors by giving up 38 straight points in the second half to Michigan State and seemingly breathing life back into an MSU program that appeared to be in a state of disarray.
With that said, this remains a game Indiana can win, and probably should win. Michigan State's ground game has been virtually non-existent since Javon Ringer went down for the season in the Big Ten opener against Illinois, and the Spartans don't have the sort of playmakers at wide receiver that they've had in recent years. On the defensive side, Michigan State is the league's worst at getting after the quarterback (eight sacks in eight games), which has contributed significantly to a league-worst 21 passing touchdowns.
Look for a high-scoring, back-and-forth game in front of a raucous crowd Saturday.
HoosierNation.com Prediction: Indiana 38, Michigan State 30
What's coming up:
On Monday – Five Numbers to Note
On Tuesday - Four Players to Know
On Wednesday – Three Big Concerns
On Thursday – Two Key Match-ups
On Friday – One Bold Prediction
One Day and Counting...
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