It will be a battle of unbeatens in the Big Ten on Saturday when the surprising Indiana Hoosiers are in Columbus, Ohio, to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes.
In a highly unusual and very unpredictable college football season, Indiana is perhaps the biggest story of 2020. From 1986-1993, Bill Mallory took the Hoosiers to six bowl games in eight seasons. Indiana has been to six other bowls in its 120-year football-playing history.
Four of those bowl appearances have been since 2007, all losses, including last season’s 23-22 defeat at the hands of Tennessee. The Hoosiers’ presence in the Gator Bowl followed an 8-4 season but didn’t foretell what would happen at the beginning of the 2020 campaign.
As for Ohio State, head coach Ryan Day took over for Urban Meyer in 2018, and the program hasn’t missed a beat. Since 2002, the Buckeyes have had more than two losses only three times, appeared in 17 bowl games and won two national championships.
A Hoosier Surprise
To begin the season, well-respected pay per head sportsbook realbookies.com had eighth-ranked Penn State as a 6.5-point favorite over host Indiana. Penn State was expected to contend for the Big Ten East title, along with Ohio State and Michigan. Indiana was a 29-1 longshot to win the division.
The Hoosiers shocked the Nittany Lions with a 36-35 overtime win and went on to win the next three games over Rutgers, Michigan State and Michigan, ascending to ninth in the AP poll. This week, they take on third-ranked and 3-0 Ohio State in the Horseshoe in Columbus, Ohio.
On the season, Indiana is averaging 33.8 points per game and giving up 19.2 points. The Hoosiers are running the ball for almost 210 yards a game and an average of 4.8 yards per rush. Despite the 4-0 start and lofty ranking, the combined record of the teams that the Hoosiers have beaten is 3-9, excluding their losses to Indiana.
The Hoosiers are giving up just over 320 total yards per game, a good figure considering the proliferation of high-octane offenses in the current era. To have any chance of beating Ohio State, Indiana will need to continue the strong defensive play as it takes a step up in class.
In an unusual season with numerous issues facing teams, it’s difficult to get a good handle on how good or bad some teams really are. Indiana is at the top of that list, and its contest against Ohio State will go a long way to answering any questions.
National Championship Contenders
The College Football Playoff Committee doesn’t meet until Nov. 24, so it’s difficult to know how it will digest the odd circumstances it has been presented with. One thing is certain, and that is that Ohio State, if it keeps winning, will be in the conversation.
The Buckeyes are averaging over 511 yards per game, and quarterback Justin Fields is completing 87% of his pass attempts, has thrown for 11 touchdowns and has yet to toss an interception. They’re scoring 46 points a game and giving up 23 per contest, with a high of 27 in their last outing against Rutgers.
Defensively, Ohio State is giving up 355 yards a game, 223 of it through the air. The Buckeyes are plus-three in turnovers and look very much like a team that can contend with Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and Oregon for a national championship.
Sportsbook realbookies.com has Ohio State as a 20.5-point favorite with an over/under of 66. The Buckeyes have averaged a 23-point margin of victory in their three wins. The teams are combining for almost 80 points a game, so the oddsmakers are relying on the defenses to step up.
Looking at the common opponents, Penn State and Rutgers, Ohio State has won by a combined score of 87-52. Indiana beat the two teams 73-56, with seven of those points given up in overtime. Indiana won’t have to contend with 100,000 hostile fans, but the entirety of the opposing Buckeyes will be tough enough.
Last year, Ohio State rolled over the Hoosiers 51-10, but it should be closer this season. I like Indiana to cover, but they’ll have to score a lot of points to do it, so go with the over.
After all, it’s college football in 2020, where offenses rule, and the defenses are just along for the ride.
Free Pick: Indiana +20.5.
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