It’s a New Year with hopes of an I.U. Outback Bowl victory. Last year, they fell short against Tennessee with a late game letdown. With last night’s Ohio State Sugar Bowl domination of Clemson, this Hoosier team is even stronger than I thought. We came so close against the Buckeyes, plus Northwestern throttled Auburn, so the BIG 10 has proven to be a very formidable league, especially against the highly touted SEC. Indiana can add to the 3-0 conference bowl record today with a victory over Old Miss in Tampa. This would set the stage for more respect when next year’s postseason slate is determined.
The Hoosiers should have played in the top tier Citrus Bowl instead of Northwestern but fell in the final rankings to #11 despite a convincing win over Wisconsin, the other BIG bowl representative. Clearly politics played a role, just as Notre Dame was awarded a playoff spot despite the Clemson blow-out loss. Coach Tom Allen has vaulted the I.U. program into the upper echelon of a powerful conference. They can prove their worth today! My other team, #25 Oregon, plays #10 Iowa State later today in the Fiesta Bowl.
Meanwhile, basketball continues to struggle, but did manage to pull-off an OT win over Penn State. Another W against Maryland next week and they can even their BIG record after an 0-2 start. Basketball used to be the big sport on campus in Bloomington, but surprisingly football has proven to be more successful in recent years. In the Bob Knight era it was “The Magic of 60.” If the Hoosiers got to 60 before their opponent victory was eminent. However, with the addition of the 3-point shot, 70 is now coach Archie Miller’s defining number. With his leadership, in conference play (including the B1G tourney) the Hoosiers are 18-7 when scoring 70 or more points and 10-30 when scoring below 70 points. 70 is the new 60 going forward.
Purdue basketball is off to a 7-4 start, but 2-2 in the conference. They play #15 Illinois this afternoon, after losing to #14 Rutgers. It would be nice to see a ranked Purdue or Indiana program. Unfortunately, both rivals will be in the lower half of the BIG since the league is loaded with 7 nationally ranked teams. Here on the West coast, the undefeated Zags are still the #1 team in the country while the Oregon Ducks (6-1) stand at #21.
On the baseball front, the Cubs continue to clean house with the trade of Yu Darvish and Victor Caratini to the Padres. Yu has been the pitching leader for the last two years, with Cy Young consideration. There’s also talk of dealing my favorite and IU alum, Kyle Schwarber. Rizzo and Bryant will soon become free agents, so the World Series Champions of 2016 are seeing their winning foundation deteriorate. Today, however, my concern is football the Indiana Hoosiers in the Outback Bowl.
There was a Border War yesterday, but it only took place on the basketball court. Oregon beat Washington 74-71, claiming their fourth straight rivalry victory. Earlier in the day, both football teams were unfortunately stuck on the sidelines due to Covid, which now raises a controversial issue. If the game had been played, Oregon might have had a chance to play for the PAC12 Championship and potentially redeem a disappointing season. Instead, the Huskies failed to field a team yet claimed the North division with a better record, without even having played a road game. The Ducks are just another casualty of the virus.
Meanwhile in the BIG10, match-ups for Saturday’s games have yet to be announced, though it seems likely that IU.’s next football game will be against Iowa. Football continues to be the shining star in the I.U. athletics program, but sadly never got the chance to play Purdue. Oregon is now waiting to see if Washington can put together a team to play U.S.C. in the Championship. Otherwise, the Ducks could play again in their stead, since it’s unlikely they will be in a bowl game unless they get a shot at the undefeated and 15th ranked Trojans. Ohio State and Michigan also never got a chance to compete, so the BIG waived the minimum game rule to allow them to play Northwestern for the title. The two conferences have been a cluster of confusion.
I.U. basketball stands at a mediocre 3-2 after the disappointing overtime failure at Florida State. Both losses have been to Top 20 teams, keeping The Hoosiers from joining this evasive, elite group of college programs. If they continue to fall short, they may not make the tournament again this year. They’re also looking sloppy against North Alabama, while next week’s game with Butler is in Covid jeopardy. An impossibly tough conference schedule then looms ahead. All is not well with Archie Miller’s underperforming team – another cluster of confusion.
There is no Bucket or Border War to win today. Both rivalries have succumb to Covid. The teams were already three weeks behind schedule as both conference seasons were delayed and shortened by the dreaded virus. Dead. Games today will decide who plays who next, although it has already been determined that #4 Ohio State will play #14 Northwestern for the BIG10 title, #1 Alabama will face #6 Florida for the SEC crown, and #2 Notre Dame will meet #3 Clemson in a rematch for ACC bragging rights. I’m waiting to see what BIG10 team #8 Indiana plays next Saturday and whether the Oregon Ducks will get to compete for PAC12 honors or if the Huskies will automatically get the nod?
1942 was the first Old Oaken Bucket game where Indiana or Purdue entered the contest with a national rating. That year the #18 Hoosiers won 20-0. The following year #3 Purdue got revenge 7-0. In 1945, it was #4 I.U. prevailing 26-0. It wasn’t until 1960 that ratings once again became a bucket factor as #13 Purdue won in West Lafayette 35-6. 1967 went to #4 Indiana, while the 1968 #12 Boilers took home the bucket, and added another P-link in 1969 as the #17 team in the country. 1978 and 1979 also went to ranked Purdue, and it wasn’t until 1987 when the ratings tide changed as #20 Indiana won 35-14, followed by similar success by the #21 Hoosiers in 1993. After that it was all Purdue with nationally recognized teams in 1997 (#23), 1999 (#19), 2000 (#17), and 2003 (#16). Following this stretch, both programs had been in a serious ratings draught until the 2020 #8 Indiana Hoosiers took the field.
It was the Joe Tiller era from 1996-2008 when the dominant Black & Gold went 10-2 against the bucket deprived Cream & Crimson. Going back a little further, the rivalry’s biggest upset was in 1989 when Bill Mallory coached I.U. was a 15.5 favorite, but underdog Purdue led by Fred Akers pulled off a 15-14 victory. It was their only Big Ten win that year and proof that anything can happen in a rivalry game. With the death of the bucket this year, we’ll never know if lightening could have possibly struck twice?
Indiana is having the best football season since before I was born. A once mediocre to poor program has been resurrected by coach Tom Allen. For me, watching them beat Wisconsin yesterday was a near religious experience. The post-game interview showed the love of the players for their coach. It’s encouraging to note that his enthusiasm, energy, and respect will bring top players to Indiana for many years to come. Football will become THE Hoosier sport. Next year, even Ohio State will have reason to fear the Cream & Crimson.
The next step is beating Purdue next Saturday for the Old Oaken Bucket. Rivalry games like this tend to bring out the best in a mediocre opponent like this year’s Boilermakers squad. I’ve seen many a solid I.U. team fall apart in this game. Weather may even be a bigger factor with the December match-up three weeks later than normal. There’s been nothing normal about 2020, and I.U. football success is one of the irregularities. The Hoosiers now boast the most wins in the BIG Conference at six, with Penn State, Michigan, and now Wisconsin as their uncharacteristic victims. In order to qualify for the Championship game, Ohio State still needs to play one more game. If the virus gets in the way, as it often has this year, the Hoosiers could still win the evasive title.
In my lifetime, only the Rose Bowl season of 1967-68 compares with 2020-21 success. The Hoosiers under John Pont finished 6-1 in the Big Ten that year, 9-2 overall, and became the last non-Ohio/Michigan team to win the Conference, losing only to Minnesota. They earned a trip to the Rose Bowl, but were thwarted 14-3 by USC’s O.J. Simpson, the Heisman Trophy winner that year. The team featured wide receiver Jade Butcher, running back John Isenbarger, and MVP Harry Gonzo at quarterback: B-I-G. They were known by those three letters long before the Conference itself!
Virus willing – there will be at least three more games for the Hoosiers this year, including a major Bowl. Hungry Purdue at 2-4 will not qualify for post season play even if they pull-off the upset of I.U. – more reason for me to worry about next Saturday. My other hometown adopted teams are Illinois 2-4, Texas 6-3, and Oregon 3-2. Notre Dame stands at 10-0, with a chance for a National Championship. My heart is always with the Hoosiers. Behold – we are witnessing the resurrection of I.U. football!