Bloomington – Right off the bat, let's go ahead and discard the notion that IU's Big Ten conference tag alone makes it a prohibitive favorite over Mid-America Conference foe Western Michigan Saturday.
To do that would fail to take into account that Western Michigan has beaten Big Ten teams in each of the past two seasons. In 2007, it was a 28-19 win over Iowa on the road in a regular-season ending game that dashed the Hawkeyes' postseason bowl hopes. In 2008, it was an early November 23-17 win over Illinois, the first of three straight Illini setbacks to end the season that kept Coach Ron Zook's team from a bowl berth.
Jump over to Indiana, which had won 19 straight games against MAC teams before the 2008 season. That all changed a year ago, as the Hoosiers lost to both Ball State and Central Michigan at home to drop to 31-6-1 all-time against MAC opponents.
Bill Lynch knows the notion that IU had a decided advantage over Western Michigan – either physically or psychologically – based solely on what conference they each represent is inaccurate.
"There have been too many MAC teams that have beaten Big Ten teams over the last ten years (to overlook the MAC)," Lynch said. "I know there are not any coaches in this league that feel like the MAC is far inferior to the Big Ten."
The game is instead going to come down to whether or not Indiana can remedy the handful of things that went wrong a week ago in a six-point win over Eastern Kentucky. Offensively, can the Hoosiers move the ball on the ground to control the clock and to set up the play-action pass? Can Ben Chappell and Co. eliminate the turnovers and pre-snap penalties that either ended or stalled drives last Thursday?
On defense, can Indiana hold Bronco tailback Brandon West in check to keep WMU one-dimensional? And if they're able to do that, can they then keep Tim Hiller from having a day similar to the one enjoyed by Central Michigan's Brian Brunner last year when he threw for 485 yards and four touchdowns in a 37-34 Chippewas' win in Memorial Stadium?
Can Indiana do all those things? Certainly. Lynch said at his weekly press conference this week that one of the positives to come out of the Eastern Kentucky game was the fact that the problems that the staff saw on film afterwards were all correctable errors, and that they'd spend the nine days between games addressing those issues before game two.
But then, the question becomes – will they do all those things, or enough of them to top the Broncos? This is a very good Western Michigan team, one that is much better than last week's 31-7 loss to Michigan would suggest. The fact remains that Indiana could make significant strides Saturday on both sides of the ball and still come up short in a game that odds-makers have made a toss up.
I see it the same way, and will thus base this week's pick on the luck of the coin...heads the Hoosiers win by a field goal to improve to 2-0, tails it's Western Michigan with another victory against a Big Ten foe.
Western Michigan 33, Indiana 30
On Monday – Five Numbers to Note
On Tuesday – Four Names to Know
On Wednesday – Three Key Match-Ups
On Thursday – Two Big Concerns
On Friday – One Bold Prediction
W. MICHIGAN: One Day and Counting
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