Written by Sammy Jacobs (@Hoosier_Huddle)
For this week’s matchup to watch, I decided to go off the beaten path and chose how Indiana will handle raised expectations instead of how they matchup on the field with a Rutgers team that has fired its coach and have rumored to have lost a starting running back (Raheem Blackshear) and quarterback (Art Sitkowski) to sitting out the year and red shirting. On the field I will be watching how Indiana’s defense handles the Rutgers running attack.
As of publication, the Hoosiers are 28-point favorites, yes you’re reading that correctly, against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, but those are not the all of the expectations I am talking about. After a narrow loss at Michigan State and the performance of the offense under freshman quarterback Michael Penix, along with the performance of the teams on the Hoosiers’ upcoming schedule, expectations for this Indiana football team have been increased.
According to Bill Connelly and his SP+ analytics, the Hoosiers have a 93% chance at reaching six or more wins.
So how does Indiana respond to having high outside expectations thrust upon them?
During his weekly press conference on Monday, Tom Allen addressed being a significant favorite on Saturday.
Allen does not buy in to the think that IU being a four-touchdown favorite meant anything.
“I think that the challenge is you've got to be a mature football team to understand it's a Big Ten opportunity for teams. Been in this league long enough to know those things are irrelevant.
And they've got a unique situation they're in right now, but we have no control over that. And all we can control is how we prepare. And I know that we're playing a Big Ten football team all Saturday. We'll have to be at our very best. That's the absolute truth.”
Allen and his Hoosiers are used to playing as underdogs in Big Ten play and when they have been favored this season, they have played well.
However, there is an opportunity to look ahead as well. The Hoosiers upcoming schedule is potentially very manageable and the path to bowl eligibility looks like it could be an easy road, it won’t be though because winning Big Ten football games is difficult. After facing Rutgers on Saturday, the Hoosiers will travel to Maryland and Nebraska before returning home to face Northwestern. It IS a softer part of the schedule, but the sense of urgency has to be there for the Hoosier because it IS a window of opportunity.
So far this season, the Hoosiers haven’t handled success all that well. After blowing out Eastern Illinois 52-0, the Hoosiers were riding high and thought they were ready to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes. Ohio State brought the Hoosiers back to Earth a bit. Have these young Hoosiers learned from that experience and attack every game with the sense of urgency they need, or will they rest on the laurels of playing well, but losing, on the road against Michigan State.
It’s an exciting time for Indiana football, having higher expectations is not a bad things and I am not here saying they shouldn’t be thrust upon this team yet, but how the Hoosiers handle all the talk about six, seven or eight wins? As Tom Allen said, “you’ve got to be a mature team”.