October 3, 2015. My Junior Homecoming Night. Or more importantly, a busy college football day. You had Dabo Sweeney proclaiming their win over Notre Dame in the rain was “Bring Your Own Guts.” At close to the same time, you had Kalen Ballage’s “Rugby Scrum Touchdown” providing the exclamation point for Arizona State’s upset over #9 UCLA at the Rose Bowl.
Also, in that packed prime-time period, you had Florida winning a statement game over an #3 Ole Miss squad who had a win over Alabama. With no date for the dance that night, these games were a more than worthy consolation.
Earlier in the day, and lost in all this was a titanic clash between 4-0 squads in the Big Ten East. Indiana, with wins over the likes of Southern Illinois, FIU, WKU, and Wake Forest, hosted the #1 team in the land and defending champs Ohio State. The Hoosiers could get an early leg up on the Playoff race with this win, although very few in America gave them any chance against the Buckeyes.
Indiana got off to a great start taking a 10-6 lead into the half. However, the veteran Buckeyes dominated the second half, ultimately taking a 34-20 lead with 10 minutes to play. Despite a 79-yard run by Zander Diamont with 10:03 to play, the Hoosiers could not tie the game, leaving it to a desperation 4th and goal play with 10 seconds to play. A fumbled snap and broken play doomed the Hoosiers as they fell 34-27.
Ultimately, Indiana went 6-7 that year, but imagine a world where Indiana burst onto the scene defeating the defending champs and #1 team. The energy in Bloomington would have been electric to say the least.
Opportunities like this have been few and far between for the Indiana program. Of course, they have played several ranked teams, but few times has Indiana been in such a position to put themselves in the national title or even the Rose Bowl race.
Memories of 1968 and 1987
This past Saturday’s game against Michigan State was their first game as top-10 team since 1969 and even then, their ranking was an early season one, as they lost it after a week two loss to California. In 1968, Indiana was ranked #19 heading into their penultimate game of the season versus Minnesota, but a 20-6 loss put away any hopes of the Hoosiers catching up to an all-time great 10-0 Ohio State squad.
That brings us to three games of similar magnitude to this weekend’s clash with Ohio State. The first two came in 1968 in back-to-back weeks. Ranked #5 on November 18, 1968, the Hoosiers were in the driver’s seat for their first Rose Bowl appearance as they took on unranked Minnesota. Indiana lost 33-7 to the eventual Big Ten co-champs.
The following week, bounced from the AP Poll, as it only had ten spots then, the Hoosiers redeemed themselves with a 19-7 win over #3 Purdue to clinch a share of the Big Ten title. With a three-way tie at the top, the Rose Bowl birth came down to a vote and the Big Ten voted for the Hoosiers, who ultimately lost 14-3 to USC in the Grandaddy of Them All.
The only game of a similar magnitude came in 1987 in a mid-November face-off against Michigan State. The #13 ranked Spartans were in the top spot in the Big Ten with a 5-0-1 conference record, while #16 Indiana was right behind with a 5-1 mark. In a game that was the de-facto Big Ten title game, the Hoosiers lost 27-3 as Lorenzo White had a staggering 56 carries for 292 for the Spartans. Michigan State eventually got the Rose Bowl bid, their first since 1966 and last until 2014.
Atonement for 50 Years of Darkness
All of this brings us to this coming Saturday. Indiana and Ohio State, both undefeated like in 2015, but the Hoosiers have a ranking this time and a brighter outlook. This could be the de-facto Big Ten East title with both teams looking like the class of the struggling Big Ten East. The winner looks to be in prime position for a Playoff spot as well.
Much more than conference and Playoff positioning is the possible start of Michael Penix’s Heisman campaign. A win over 2019 finalist, Justin Fields could give Penix the moment he needs to not only be on his way towards being a finalist, but possibly winning the award.
Indiana is a basketball school by nature, so what better way to set the stage for this weekend than saying, Indiana, here is your One Shining Moment.