There's plenty of good news for the Hoosier football team.
First of all, the Hoosiers (5-5/3-3) get another shot at bowl eligibility with tomorrow's 3:30 p.m. contest. Coach Terry Hoeppner's team will also be playing at home at Memorial Stadium, the same venue where IU knocked off then-15th-ranked Iowa 31-28 and Michigan State 46-21 in its last two home appearances.
IU officials are also expecting between 40,000-42,000 fans for tomorrow's nationally-televised game, a season-high total for the program.
While those are the positives, there's one big negative – the Hoosiers are facing the second-ranked Michigan Wolverines.
It's a Michigan team that's off to a 10-0 start and seemingly on a collision course with top-ranked Ohio State next weekend in what would be one of the biggest regular season match-ups in college football history. Assuming both get to next week's game undefeated, the winner of that contest at the Horseshoe in Columbus will be one of the participants in the BCS National Championship game in January.
It's also a Michigan team that leads the nation in rushing defense (30.3 yards/game), ranks fourth in total defense (241.5 yards/game), is sixth in sacks (3.5/game) and is seventh in scoring defense (13.0 points/game). Offensively, Coach Lloyd Carr's team has a veteran quarterback in Chad Henne, the nation's sixth-leading rusher in Michael Hart, and a talented stable of wideouts led by Mario Manningham, who will be making his return to the field this weekend after a three-week absence.
Finally, it's a Michigan squad that crushed Indiana in Ann Arbor a year ago. After spotting the Hoosiers a 7-0 lead on the game' opening drive, the Wolverines ripped off 41 straight points to close the first half. Carr sat his starters for the second half and Michigan cruised to a 41-14 win, Michigan's 14th straight victory over Indiana.
That's a tall order for an IU team that is coming off an inexplicable 63-26 loss last weekend to a Minnesota team that was winless in the Big Ten entering the contest. The Hoosiers are also expected to be without straight left tackle Rodger Saffold due to illness, and freshman linebacker Matt Mayberry has already been ruled out of the game.
While that might seem to be too much to overcome, Indiana has been as unpredictable as the weather this season. A couple of embarrassing early-season setbacks were followed by improbable comeback wins over Illinois and Iowa, and then subsequently a dominating performance in the shellacking of Michigan State. As soon as people are ready to write the Hoosiers off – as many appear to be after the loss last weekend in Minneapolis – Hoeppner's team has generally bounced back with some of its best efforts.
Will that happen again this weekend?
It could, but it's unlikely. Iowa has floundered as of late, and appears to have been over-ranked earlier in the season. Michigan State's program is in disarray, and Michigan doesn't have many of those same shortcomings that IU's other vicitims have had.
After narrow wins a week ago for both Ohio State and Michigan, neither wants to stumble before next weekend's encounter. Expect to see a very focused – and very good – Michigan squad Saturday afternoon.
HoosierNation.com Prediction: Michigan 42, Indiana 17
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 Matchups
On Friday – One Bold Prediction
One Day and Counting
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