Only once since the 2013 season had Indiana defeated a non-conference opponent by 35 points or more going into the 2019 campaign. The 2019 Hoosiers (3-1) have now done that twice in the last three weeks.
During that 2013 season, a 51-3 loss to Wisconsin was the last time that IU had lost a game by more than 40 points. They’ve managed to do that in the last three weeks as well.
Of course the extremes in the caliber of the opposition couldn’t have been more polar than these last three weeks. UConn has lost 18 straight FBS games, and FCS Eastern Illinois, well, they are just not good.
But don’t forget that IU has played the likes of North Texas, Indiana State, Georgia Southern and Charleston Southern since the 2013 season. The bowl bound 2015 Hoosiers nearly lost to FCS foe Southern Illinois before sneaking away with a 48-47 win.
Recent vintage Tom Allen and Kevin Wilson teams haven’t been completely dismantling any teams like Indiana did against UConn and Eastern Illinois. The Hoosiers won those two games by a combined score of 90-3 and outgained the opposition in total yards 985-261.
Sandwiched in between those two games of course was another blowout — a 51-10 loss to Ohio State in which the Hoosiers were outgained 528 to 257.
And much like how Indiana hasn’t been nearly this dominant against bad teams in recent years, it hasn’t been taken apart the way it was against elite teams like the Buckeyes either.
IU was competitive against all of the ranked teams it faced last year well into the second half, and for the most part that’s been true for a while now. Going into this year, six of the last seven against Ohio State had been reasonably close games, with a couple going down to the wire.
The loss two weeks ago to the Buckeyes was an outlier, and the two wins that surround that loss were unusual as well.
All of this begs the question — who are these 2019 Hoosiers?
At least one respected national voice, or at least his computer model, is starting to believe a little.
ESPN’s Bill Connelly released new SP+ rankings following the week four college football contests and Indiana made a big jump. Sitting at No. 48 going into the weekend, IU now stands at No. 32 nationally.
Also moving up, to No. 2 in Connelly’s model, is Ohio State. Sitting down nearly at the bottom of the FBS is No. 124 UConn.
Yes, IU has seen the extremes of its schedule in the last three weeks, and while the dominance on both ends of the spectrum has been unusual, the level of competition has of course played a major role.
That’s about to change going forward. The competition is going to level out somewhat, — and the real Indiana Hoosiers will stand up, or perhaps, fall down.
Here are the eight remaining games on IU’s schedule with their SP+ ranking:
- Michigan State (No. 20)
- Rutgers (No. 105)
- Maryland (No. 34)
- Nebraska (No. 35)
- Northwestern (No. 93)
- Penn State (No. 11)
- Michigan (No. 26)
- Purdue (No. 72)
Some of those rankings suggest we don’t have enough data yet to have a clear picture on the current season. Is Indiana really that much better than Northwestern and Purdue? Are they really that close to Michigan? As much as you’d like to say yes, the truth probably lies somewhere in between.
Connelly readily admits the data shouldn’t be over analyzed early in the season, noting “it takes a few weeks before a college football season’s data begins to tell us a semi-reliable story.”
But for Indiana to make such a big jump tells you that their dominance in recent wins means something, and that Ohio State loss, while ugly, may have just come against a playoff team — while the Hoosiers were forced to start their backup quarterback.
Of course we don’t have to concern ourselves too much with rankings or projections. It’s Big Ten football the rest of the way.
And what was well understood even before the season was that there were going to be a few games during conference play that make or break this 2019 campaign. Maryland, Northwestern and Purdue sit atop that list. Beat Rutgers and win two out of the other three and you are bowl eligible.
But before IU can concern itself with the big picture, the potential for another game of extremes looms.
While the Hoosiers only trail Michigan State by 12 spots in Connelly’s rankings, they are a 14 point underdog on the road in East Lansing.
Indiana also opened as a 14 point underdog to Ohio State two weeks ago.
It could turn out that Connelly is right, and the Hoosiers will be tough to deal with down the stretch in league play.
Or it could turn out to be more and more of the extremes.
One way or another, we’re about to find out who these 2019 Hoosiers are.
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