INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana wants to treat this week’s Big Ten opener like any other.
Coach Kevin Wilson has discussed the nuts and bolts of his team’s surprisingly perfect start, and his players have talked about their surging confidence and a chance to do bigger things.
Around campus, it’s different.
Long-suffering fans have waited decades to see their beloved Hoosiers get a breakthrough win that could catapult them back into the national football conversation and Saturday’s Big Ten feature matchup — No. 1 Ohio State at Indiana — is their next big chance.
“You don’t come here to play just the non-conference games. You come here to play Big Ten games. You want to play the best there is,” senior quarterback Nate Sudfeld said. “Right now, Ohio State is the best there is.”
Odds-makers believe Indiana is a long shot.
The Buckeyes (4-0) have won 17 straight and 14 in a row on the road, the longest active streaks in the Football Bowl Subdivision. The defending national champs also have won a Big Ten record 24 consecutive regular-season games in league play and are heavily favored to continue their dominance in what has been a one-sided series for more than half a century.
Ohio State has won 51 of the 55 games since 1952. During that span, Indiana has only won in 1987 and 1988. And the Hoosiers are 0-15 all-time against No. 1 teams.
Things could be different this time.
The Hoosiers are off to their first 4-0 start in 25 years, have won five straight for the first time since 1987 and have the nation’s leading rusher in Jordan Howard. Sudfeld has the second-best passer efficiency rating in the Big Ten, and the Hoosiers much-maligned defense has been improving.
Ohio State, meanwhile, has not been a well-oiled machine.
Coach Urban Meyer still wants to see more from quarterback Cardale Jones. And hitting the road poses more potential dangers as Meyer found during his last trip to Bloomington three years ago when Ohio State nearly surrendered a big lead and barely hung on for a 52-49 win.
“That was one of the few times I’ve ever seen a defense quit playing hard, and that was a problem. That was a program changer,” Meyer said. “That was not a good moment. I remember it very well.”
A similar misstep could derail Ohio State’s run at back-to-back championships.
But Indiana believes it can rock the college football world.
“I don’t think it’s any special formula to compete with these guys,” Sudfeld said. “We’ve got great players, and they’ve got great players. We just have to come out and compete at a high level and look them eye to eye and fight.”
Here are some other things to watch Saturday:
GROUND GAME: Indiana prefers going up-tempo. But the Hoosiers still like to run. Tevin Coleman rushed for more than 2,000 yards last year. Howard is on pace to do it this season, too. And Indiana has had a 100-yard runner in 16 of the last 17 games. They’ll need similar results against the Buckeyes’ stout defense.
MISSING LINK: On Tuesday, Indiana suspended starting defensive tackle Darius Latham indefinitely and it’s not likely he’ll play Saturday. Though Latham has only 10 tackles this season, he leads the team in tackles for loss (5.0), is tied for second in sacks (2.0) and has played a key role in the defense’s improvement. Without him, the Hoosiers are a different team.
THE RED SEA: Ohio State tends to draw the biggest crowds in Bloomington and it’s no secret why: Reasonably-priced tickets are available and Columbus is just a 3 1/2-hour drive away. Usually that means Indiana’s Memorial Stadium becomes a pseudo-home game for the Buckeyes.
TURNOVER TURNAROUND: The biggest change for Indiana this season has been turnovers. The Hoosiers are tied for the league lead in turnover margin (plus-six), are tied for third in the league in fumble recoveries (four) and already have 48 points off turnovers this season. If they’re going to pull the upset, that trend must continue.
SHORT FIELDS: Ohio State’s defense is one of the best. But on short fields, they’re susceptible. Three of the six TD drives against the Buckeyes started in Buckeyes’ territory. Even Meyer concedes that must stop.