This is it. B1G vs. SEC. The stakes are high, the offenses explosive. This is the game that will ultimately determine conference dominance.
...Ok maybe not, but it's still shaped up to be a fun shootout. Ben R. (@VT_Ben) from SB Nation's Indiana blog Crimson Quarry did an amazing job answering some questions I had for him about Indiana and the B1G, so check it out before the Tigers and Hoosiers hit the field tomorrow.
1. Ok, let's start with the whole conference conversation. How did the B1G get to this point? Are we underrating it, or is it really this bad?
Ben: Ohhh boy, that is a loaded question. Going deep into the different B1G woes could make up an entire PhD dissertation, but I'll touch on a few of the issues. First, there is the fact that the Big Ten's population footprint is not growing at the same rate as other parts of the country, meaning fewer athletes to recruit. It's also tougher to sell five-star recruits on these teams when there is appeal of the warmer weather of SEC or Pac-12 schools. Also, I think there are attitudes of programs and coaches within the conference that are still stuck in the late 90s in terms of building a program, and while these strategies may have been successful then, they aren't really applicable anymore.
Additionally, I don't think the conference's struggles have been confined to just this season. B1G teams have been losing to MAC teams regularly for several years now - I seem to recall Michigan losing to Toledo a few years ago under RichRod. But I think there are a couple reasons why it's so pronounced this year. First of all, Michigan State's solid Rose Bowl win last season gave the conference some higher expectations overall. Also, there has been increased media scrutiny since Maryland and Rutgers joined the conference this season. If Jim Delaney wanted more people talking about the B1G, he certainly got it. But if all else fails, at least basketball season starts in two months (Sorry, Randy Edsall).
2. Indiana has a pretty scary offense. Aside from Tevin Coleman (who is going to be in Dave Steckel's nightmares until gametime, which I'm not sure is a good thing for Tevin) who should Mizzou fans expect to hear from this Saturday?
Ben: Tevin Coleman is awesome, for sure. Another weapon in the backfield is running back D'Angelo Roberts. Through the air, Sudfeld will be looking for Shane Wynn, who had 10 catches against Bowling Green. In addition, J-Shun Harris has shown promise early in the season and caught a TD pass last week. Simmie Cobbs and Dominique Booth are two other wideouts to watch for.
3. Indiana's defense on the other hand has a pretty bad reputation. Who are the players that can turn that around for the Hoosiers against Missouri?
Ben: Despite our defense's struggles, we still have some talented players on that side of the ball. Nick Mangieri made a nice interception last week and also is a threat to sack the QB, and Tim Bennett has provided some steady play at cornerback. David Cooper and Flo Hardin are two other playmakers for the Hoosier defense. On the whole, our new defensive coordinator, Brian Knorr, has installed a new 3-4 defense, so while it's too soon to determine how effective the new scheme is. However, they did keep Bowling Green out of the end zone in the first half last Saturday, and played mostly flawlessly in the opener against Indiana State.
4. Is it REALLY impossible to have a rivalry with an out-of-conference opponent?...
Ben: I assume you are referring to our dormant rivalry with UK? I don't know man, but decent nonconference scheduling in basketball has been an issue for us in general in recent years. As for the Wildcats, both IU and UK will tell you the other side is to blame for the end of the rivalry. And while it's not totally one-sided, I think the rivalry means more to us than to UK. For now, I think IU should try to schedule games with UK in as many other sports as possible, since any time the two schools play it gets people talking about rekindling the hoops rivalry.
5. Who would you consider to be Indiana's biggest rival? How did that come about?
Ben: Though we think of them as Little Brother sometimes, our biggest rival in my opinion is Purdue. The victory in football over them last year was a cathartic moment for the Hoosiers, and the basketball rivalry is still a huge event in the state even when both programs have down seasons, like last year. So yeah, definitely Purdue. Then Kentucky comes second. Third-biggest might be Illinois, but maybe not as much anymore now that the Eric Gordon saga is in the rearview mirror and we're now in different football divisions.
6. Kevin Wilson has done some good things for Indiana football, but how is he viewed among the fans?
Ben: Kevin Wilson's teams have shown gradual improvement in all three of his seasons at the helm, and he sure does put an exciting product on the field. That being said, the Bowling Green loss had a very deja vu feeling to it, and I can't blame some fans who are starting to lose patience. I think overall though, he's viewed favorably as someone who has brought excitement back to IU football after Bill Lynch's mundane tenure, but a few more losses like the one last weekend and that seat could start to get warmer.
7. How does this game go?
Ben: Hmm, this is a tough one. You guys won 45-28 at our place, and I anticipate the score being something similar this year. I think the Hoosiers will be down by 10-14 points most of the game, but the Tigers will score a late TD to put it away and win 52-34. Neither team should struggle to score in this one, that's for sure.