You know the cliches, "one game at a time", "it's the next game on the schedule", "every game is a big game," etc. But the truth is, when you play a team that's in the Big Ten East, that's ranked 6th in the country, in a game that's being shown on national television, a team that you've played oh-so-close but haven't beaten since 1988 - it's a big game. Especially if you feel like you have a team that is competitive. And the Hoosiers have been very competitive with the Buckeyes, but they just haven't won since Anthony Thompson was creating a 'darker day' for the Buckeyes with a 41-7 win in 1988. That was the year after Bill Mallory handed Earl Bruce a defeat so humiliating he uttered the immortal words while describing a 31-10 defeat to the Hoosiers as "the darkest day in Ohio State football history." That would be Bruce's last season in Columbus.
Anthony Thompson in action against Ohio State Phil Whitlow / Herald-Times
Fast forward to today. Ohio State is again a team that is vying for a spot in the National Championship picture. They are a team that has back-ups that could probably start for Indiana at many positions. They have assistant coaches that have been head coaches, including former Indiana coach Kevin Wilson. But none of that has mattered recently. Two years ago the Hoosiers and the Buckeyes opened the college football season in Bloomington and IU led Ohio State 21-20 with just over 3 minutes remaining in the 3rd period. Then, the fact that a team like Ohio State is 3 deep at every position and Indiana is not showed itself in the 49-21 loss.
Tom Allen has been working diligently to extend the depth at Indiana and close the talent gap. The Hoosiers played well enough in Columbus last year that the day after losing 49-26, 4-star Avon, IN running back Sampson James flipped his commitment from the Buckeyes to Indiana! Saturday the Hoosier freshman will definitely see action against the Buckeyes. One player is not enough to change all that is written above, but Tom Allen has brought in a lot of talent and the depth is better. No, it's not not where it needs to be, but it's getting there. Is it close enough for a win? Maybe. But one thing is certain - the belief that it is is there from those who will suit up in the Indiana locker room. Senior linebacker Raekwon Jones said, "It's a great opportunity, it's always fun to play at home, especially in front of our fans."
It certainly is an opportunity. I asked Tom Allen what a win over a team like Ohio State would do for the Indiana program. He said, "Those are program changing opportunities and program changing wins when they occur." You can imagine that if he can pull in the best back to back recruiting classes to anyone's knowledge on the basis of back to back 5-7 seasons, a win over Ohio State would be like a tsunami hitting Bloomington. "They're who this whole conference has been chasing. Playing in this league creates those opportunities." But it's also a double edged sword, hence going nearly 3 decades without a win over the Buckeyes.
Donovan Hale Courtesy of Indiana Athletics
But, as I said earlier, the belief is there for the players. Donovan Hale is a 5th year wide receiver and one of the leaders on this team and this is his last shot at Ohio State. "This is what you signed up for, these are the games you dreamed of." Hale is coming off of his first 100-yard game, pulling in 5 catches for 110 yards in last weeks 52-0 win over Eastern Illinois. But this isn't Eastern Illinois, this is The Ohio State University...Exactly, "These are the games that everybody's watching, so these are the games you want to play in."
With Gus Johnson on the call and a national FOX audience, if Indiana is in this game, everybody will be watching and maybe, just maybe...