Due to basketball’s domination in the state of Indiana and a shortage of winning seasons in the past decade, the Hoosier football program is starving for attention in the Big Ten. However, they have all the ingredients in Bloomington to be successful. John Mellencamp, an IU alum, donated a beautiful practice facility and the campus itself is very attractive. Memorial Stadium is hard to miss on campus. It’s old-fashioned press box and extremely high facades seem to go right up into the sky. Recently, Memorial Stadium has undergone a facelift with world class weight lifting facilities and added seats that closed both ends of the stadium. All these pieces make Memorial Stadium primed to be a cauldron of excitement.
The Hoosiers have been winning the games they should win. In the competitive Big Ten East, it’s forgivable to lose to Ohio State, Penn State, and even Michigan State during their struggle saturated season. Indiana won all their non conference games, beat the lower echelon conference teams, and consequently have secured a bowl bid. With all this, though, wouldn’t it be nice to topple conference heavyweight, Michigan?
Spotlight on Bloomington for Indiana’s opportunity.
One of the hot topics of the 2014 football season has been the collapse of the Big Ten conference. No team was able to win the marquee games of the nonconference season, and worse yet, they have been losing games that should have been walks in the park. Last week for instance, two Mid-American Conference foes upset Big Ten teams when Northern Illinois toppled Northwestern and Central Michigan clobbered Purdue.
Surely, this week would be better, right?
We arrived on campus. Barely in time. It was worth the mad dash from our parking spot on University Avenue to the pregame band concert at Union South. Few attempted to dodge the drizzle as the masses gathered to soak in the weather and the sounds of the UW band. I brought friends of mine – supporters of The Hoosiers and I’m glad they were part of the action – literally. Famed band director Mike Leckrone asked if any Indiana fans were in the crowd – naturally, I shouted and pointed out my friends who suddenly had thousands of Badger eyes glaring in their direction. Leckrone shared that he was from Indiana and our friends made the “IU” symbol with their arms, to which Leckrone replied, “None of that now!” It’s kind of a welcome by fire.
“Hoosier Football” are two words that go together about as well as “Lite Syrup” or “Economic Stability.” Combine one bowl in 17 years and six different head coaches in the same time span. Add to it a 45 year Big Ten title drought and you have the Indiana football program. Memorial Stadium in Bloomington has been recently expanded, which just means more empty seats. We got to the stadium early and stood in the expanded horseshoe area attempting to catch a few pregame practice kicks that lofted high enough to land in the stands.
Homecoming looked to be doomed. The Hoosiers picked Evanston as the place to showcase their talent this year. Luckily for the Wildcats, the show lasted only one half. Indiana stormed out to a 28-3 lead in the second quarter sending a few Cat fans packing. But, if Wildcat fans have been paying attention over the past decade, Northwestern has a knack for concocting thrilling comebacks and exciting finishes. “Cardiac Cats” is an apt moniker.
A new stadium just christened last week with a victory and a Big Ten team coming in this week has injected new life into an Akron program that could use a lift. It appeared that any kinks in the new setting have been ironed out. The Akron band marched in the main quad toward the stadium and stopped to salute the fans with the fight song and other festive tunes.
“Play 13” has been the motto of Indiana football all year. It came from their head coach, Terry Hoeppner, who died of complication from a brain tumor this past summer. The idea behind “Play 13” revolves around winning enough games to qualify for a bowl game, thus playing one more game than their regular 12 game schedule. In his two seasons at Indiana, Hoeppner had reinvigorated the football program demanding championship quality football and bringing a brand of excitement that usually is found only in college students. His enthusiasm had been infectious and after his passing, his players have been charging toward keeping his goals alive.
Two weeks after Indiana coach Terry Hoeppner underwent brain surgery, he returned to the sidelines to guide his team in their conference opener against Wisconsin. His resilient comeback inspired all who witnessed him leading his team into Memorial Stadium Saturday afternoon.
A battle of Big Ten undefeateds set the stage in Madison on October’s first day. Indiana’s unscathed record may be impressive by Hoosier standards, but the competition they scheduled including Papa Smurf, Strawberry Shortcake, and Dora the Explorer didn’t exactly make the pollsters stands at attention. Wisconsin, on the other hand, validated their perfect mark with an incredible last minute victory over Michigan last week. We sat in the student section to absorb the aftershock of the win over the Wolverines.