This was going to be the year. Indiana football fans could just feel it.
This was going to be the year the Hoosiers had a chance to win the Big Ten football championship, a goal IU has achieved only twice since it joined the conference in 1899.
With 19 starters back from a team that was ranked No. 12 in last season’s final AP poll, this was going to be the year Indiana could dream about beating Ohio State, something that hasn’t happened since 1988.
And then the season started. And things started to go wrong for the Hoosiers.
Halfway through its schedule Indiana is 2-4 overall and 0-3 in the Big Ten and in sixth place in the East Division it had dreams of winning.
Iowa, Cincinnati and Penn State were clearly superior teams in one-sided wins over IU. And a Michigan State team that is the surprise team in the Big Ten this year escaped with a close win over the Hoosiers last week.
Often-injured quarterback Michael Penix Jr. played like he hadn’t come all the way back from his second ACL surgery before being injured again when he suffered a separated shoulder two weeks ago against Penn State.
With Penix struggling and then out of the lineup, Indiana’s offense has been able to score only one touchdown in its three Big Ten games.
Clearly, Ohio State deserves to be the favorite in Saturday night’s game at Indiana. But, even with all their struggles, the Hoosiers might be a team with enough tools to knock off some of the better teams on their schedule the second half of the season.
No. 5 Ohio State (5-1, 3-0 Big Ten) also did not live up to expectations early this season, especially on defense.
But the Buckeyes appear to have turned the corner in a big way after a 59-7 win over Akron, a 52-13 win over Rutgers and a 66-17 win over Maryland in their last three games before taking last week off.
Whether thumping Akron, Rutgers and Maryland proves OSU should once again be the favorite to win the Big Ten championship is open for debate. But it does show that it is a different team than it was early this season.
If you were assigning grades to each unit of Ohio State’s offense – quarterbacks, running backs, offensive line and receivers – every one of them would get an A or an A-. There is still room for improvement but as long as everyone stays healthy the offense is capable of producing 500 yards or more in any game.
Defensively, there is a little more uncertainty.
It took freshmen like Tyleik Williams, J.T. Tuimoloau and Jack Sawyer getting more playing time to make the defensive line as productive as expected.
A converted running back, Steele Chambers, might be the second-best linebacker. And the defensive backfield still has some question marks.
Indiana threw a scare into Ohio State last season when the Buckeyes jumped out to a 35-7 lead then hung on for a 42-35 win. Unless the Hoosiers can find some offense to go with a defense that might be better than its statistics, it shouldn’t be that close Saturday night.
The prediction: Ohio State 35-17.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414.