As someone who regularly makes rushed predictions about college football teams, I’ve found the best way to minimize how often I look like a complete idiot is to pay very little attention to extremes.
Take Indiana, for example. If we eliminate what will likely be the Hoosiers’ most dominant and pitiful efforts in 2021, we can confidently say that we know next to nothing about them. That’s what happens when you play really well against a Division IA team, the University of Idaho, after barely playing against a really good team, Iowa.
Unfortunately for the Hoosiers, Saturday’s opponent comes a little closer to the defensively unperturbed Hawkeyes than the generally unstable Vandals.
The No. 8 ranked University of Cincinnati comes to Bloomington with the goal of adding a victory over a Power Five foe to their resume. Cincinnati broke an impressive 8-0 regular season record last year, won the American Athletic Conference title and faced the University of Georgia at the Peach Bowl.
In the Peach Bowl, the Bearcats entered the fourth quarter with a 21-10 lead, but let the win slip away after junior quarterback Desmond Ridder threw an incomplete pass at third base with 1:41 remaining. , stopping the stopwatch and giving the Bulldogs enough time to regain the lead.
Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell received immediate criticism for choosing to pass over rather than run on crucial possession when it looked like all the Bearcats needed to do to win was clear out time. It was probably the most maligned coaching decision of the entire bowl season until Indiana head coach Tom Allen asked sophomore quarterback Jack Tuttle to throw 45 passes. with a separate shoulder in the Outback Bowl, not 24 hours later.
Basically Indiana vs. Cincinnati is sort of David vs. David, but you can only have one underdog. Bettors believe the estimated title belongs to the Hoosiers, listing the Bearcats as 4 point favorites.
Attending Indiana from out of state didn’t give me the financial flexibility of being a bettor, but if I was, I’d be inclined to roll with Cincinnati.
From what we’ve seen, I think the Cincinnati defense can contain Indiana’s offensive. Likewise, I wouldn’t be surprised if Cincinnati found ways to move the ball against the Indiana defense and I certainly don’t expect Cincinnati to be the unit that makes a grueling blunder.
It is for all these reasons that I am more than excited to watch the game. Let me explain.
Indiana caught many people by surprise last year, including the people of Las Vegas. The Hoosiers went perfectly 6-0 ATS in the regular season, which means they’ve always done better than expected. Beyond wins and losses, I would say the Hoosiers are a lot more fun to watch when the odds are not in their favor.
If I were Allen, I would lead practices like Gordon Bombay in “D2: The Mighty Ducks” after his overconfident USA team were humiliated by Iceland and had to revert to a gritty streetball style of training. Granted, I don’t know what the football equivalent of the iconic ‘knucklepuck’ is, but it’s the kind of thing offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan is paid to figure out.
It’s possible Allen will take a totally opposite approach and encourage his team to see themselves as the dominant force in Saturday’s game. This is just what I, a 20 year old who twice applied to be a first year high school mentor and was twice rejected, I would do to motivate a large group of young people.
Regardless, whether it’s intentional or not, the outsider mentality is at the heart of what Allen has built in Indiana. Throughout his tenure, the Hoosiers have been in many clashes, such as one youth baseball team showing up to the diamond and seeing the other team wearing brand new uniforms with player names on the back.
Indiana has lost a lot of those contests – Penn State and Michigan State in 2019 or Ohio State in 2020 – but I’m willing to accept the possibility of a tough and narrow loss if that means seeing a fantastic game.
After all, win or lose, the product on the pitch in each of those heartbreaking losses was as much a treat as orange slices and Rice Krispie treats after a Little League battle royale.