It was just a year ago that Indiana football fans were beaming over once in a generation accomplishments.
First it was bowl eligibility, then a winning season, and then an eighth win and the Old Oaken Bucket.
Sure, none of that is truly historic by any normal definition of college football success, but 2019 was a feel good season for the Hoosiers. And it was enough to tide over your average IU football fan for a decade or two.
Once we finally got around to playing some football again, 2020 has gone from feel good to feeling, well, just plain weird.
When No. 9/10 Indiana (4-0) travels to No. 3 Ohio State (3-0) on Saturday, it will mark the first game involving two top ten teams that IU has played in since the Rose Bowl that followed the 1967 season.
That 1968 Rose Bowl appearance nearly 53 years ago was the reward for Indiana’s last Big Ten football title, an achievement they shared with Purdue and Minnesota that season.
And back here in 2020, a Big Ten title is one of several breathtaking yet still viable achievements on the table halfway through the Big Ten season.
Before Indiana can think about winning the Big Ten championship in week nine, it has to win the Big Ten East. And while the Hoosiers have strung together a stunning trifecta of wins over traditional division powers Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State, a clear reality remains.
Any and all talk of Big Ten East superiority goes through Columbus, Ohio.
Indiana won’t be phased by their run of futility against the Buckeyes that dates back to 1988, and includes 25 Ohio State wins and a 1990 tie.
The Hoosiers have, after all, snapped an East Lansing losing streak that dated to 2001, a Michigan losing streak that went back to 1987, and earned just a second ever win over Penn State in 24 tries.
No, much more ominous than losing streaks is a Buckeye squad that destroyed feel good IU 51-10 in 2019, and a 2020 matchup that puts Ohio State as an early 21-point favorite.
But we’ve come this far, so indulge yourself, if only for a minute.
Beyond a first ever Big Ten East crown, there is the resultant opportunity to play for the first time in the Big Ten Championship game — in Indianapolis — on Dec. 19.
A win in that game would give IU its first outright Big Ten title since 1945, and possibly something else almost beyond comprehension, but I’ll give it a try:
The College Football Playoff.
Of course if Indiana gets this far there will be significant individual awards, and none are greater than the Heisman. There is little doubt that if Indiana runs the table into the playoff that quarterback Michael Penix, Jr. will have a seat at the virtual event on Jan. 5.
Round one of the CFP would likely send IU back to, you guessed it — the Rose Bowl, for the first time since 1967. The Rose Bowl, the traditional bowl game for the Big Ten champion, is one of the semifinal games for the playoff.
And if somehow Indiana could emerge victorious in Pasadena, another destination award would await, as roughly 20 percent of the roster would return to their home state for the national championship game in Miami, Fla.
Now let’s just back the heck up here.
All of this is predicated on a win over Ohio State, which, let’s face it, isn’t likely.
But even if the Hoosiers pull off a win for the ages over the Buckeyes, there are still more obstacles before the fantasy sequence could commence.
Indiana plays an improving and dangerous Maryland squad in week 6, travels to Madison to face a highly impressive Wisconsin in week 7, and then of course there would be Purdue ready to play spoiler in week 8. It should be noted, however, that a win over Ohio State would give IU a tiebreaker advantage over the Buckeyes, and thus a cushion in the event of a late season loss.
And then there is Indiana’s toughest remaining opponent, COVID-19, which continues to cast a shadow over the entire season.
Head coach Tom Allen almost seemed bored on Saturday afternoon with the seemingly never ending list of accomplishments his team has produced over the last year.
“So continuing a whole long list of things they gave me of firsts, or tied this, or tied that, or firsts time since this,” Allen said referring to the win in East Lansing.
Of course Allen isn’t bored.
He’s having the time of his life.
And his star linebacker said something on Saturday that Allen has said repeatedly in recent weeks as the Hoosiers first time this and tie that.
“I think we definitely expected this,” Micah McFadden said after the shutout of Michigan State.
Do the Hoosiers expect to beat Ohio State? Win the Big Ten East? Win a Big Ten title? Play in the Rose Bowl? Have a player win a Heisman? Reach the national championship game?
Whoa. That is a lot to process for a fan base that just celebrated an eight win season
But Hoosier fans deserve the rare chance to dream a little.
All of that stuff really is on the table when IU faces Ohio State at noon on Saturday.
In 2019 the feel good Hoosiers just wanted to finish, and finish they have.
Now Allen and his team expect to win.
And we are about to find out just how far those expectations can take them.
The possibilities are exhilarating.
And the Buckeyes, a massive but perhaps not immovable impediment to all of the fun.
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