With College Football Playoff hopes, the No. 4 Michigan football team (7-0 Big Ten, 9-1 overall) is looking for that top-four spot in the Cotton Bowl or Orange Bowl. Indiana (2-5, 5-5) needs a win just to be bowl eligible.
Though the two teams have vastly different season trajectories, the narratives have largely been left to the wayside in their matchup since Jim Harbaugh started coaching the Wolverines.
In 2015, Michigan escaped Bloomington with a 48-41 shootout victory in double overtime. The following year sang a different tune, with the Wolverines winning, 20-10, in the snow. And last season, another overtime game in favor of Michigan. While this year projects to be a blowout, the past says otherwise.
The Daily spoke with Eddie Cotton, a founder of The Hoosier Network and broadcaster for WIUX, to learn about Indiana’s challenges and opportunities ahead of Saturday’s game at Michigan Stadium.
The Michigan Daily: From a pure record standpoint, has Indiana performed above, at or below expectations?
Eddie Cotton: Oh God, that’s a tough question. I would say at expectations. The expectation every season at this point for Indiana football is 6-6. If you go 6-6, that’s kind of a win because bowl games are not exactly rich in the program’s history. So the fact that the program has two games remaining and is one win away from a bowl game is exactly the expectation. Potentially better than expectations, but the way that it’s happen has been kind of poor.
TMD: Given where the team is at right now, where do you think the fanbase stands with Tom Allen in his second year?
EC: I think there are two sides of the coin. The more radical Indiana fan is genuinely frustrated with Tom Allen. There were calls for him to get fired after the Minnesota game, which to me is absurd because he’s in his second season. But there are concerns because he’s never been a head coach before this and he’s made some mistakes in terms of game management and head coaching type things. But the rational fan understands it’s only his second year, he brought in one of the best recruiting classes Indiana has brought in last year. That’s why we’ve seen so many young players playing for Indiana and why there are reasons for hope — all the players that are vital for Indiana are so young and will be here for a few years. Especially with the quarterback situation. Michael Penix looks like a star, he’s out for the season, but he’ll get a redshirt. The rational fan looks at that and is okay with it and sees that Tom Allen still has potential.
TMD: Coming off a win against Maryland, what has the vibe been around the team this week being one game away from bowl eligibility? Do they sound like a hungrier team?
EC: I don’t know what to say about the vibe out of the team. I can say the vibe of the coach has been very adamant about that sixth win. He said after the last win against Maryland that they absolutely squeaked out, Tom was very adamant that they knew how much the win was because it was all about a bowl game, so that kind of pushed them to win. The fan base themselves are more self-deprecating about it. They’re kinda just like “Yeah, yeah this season is kinda over.”
TMD: Michigan opened as 26.5-point favorites. Do you agree or disagree with that spread?
EC: I disagree with that spread because Indiana historically, as in just the recent history, has kept it close against Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and then completely lost it in the third and fourth quarter. Indiana will do the same thing again and keep it close for a half, and stay within 26 points.
TMD: Two overtimes and a 10-point game the past three meetings. Even with talent mismatches, can you pinpoint a particular reason why this game can be competitive?
EC: They can stay competitive in this game because it’s a trap game. Realistically, it’s easy to overlook Indiana and then you start playing them in real life and it’s like “Hey, they’re not that bad.” To stay competitive in this game, they’ll need to be aggressive offensively, which I don’t think they will be. If (quarterback) Peyton Ramsey doesn’t make any mistakes, seemingly he’s very good at being conservative and managing a game, they can stick around.
TMD: For an offense largely dependent on Ramsey and running back Stevie Scott, how do you think they will fare against Michigan’s defense?
EC: Not great. You mention Stevie Scott and Indiana has this issue where they seem statistically to rely on Stevie Scott. But every big game they play against a good run defense, they give up on the run after about eight carries. I think Scott had about 11 carries against Ohio State, and against Michigan State he didn’t touch it more than five times. It’s a bit hyperbolic, but once the second half came they stopped running the football. Don’t be surprised if Michigan’s defense forces Indiana to throw the football downfield five yards every play.
TMD: Indiana doesn’t have a strong pass defense, but the run game is more of Michigan’s bread and butter. Who do you think their x-factor is offensively?
EC: The whole key is (Karan) Higdon. The biggest problem for Indiana defensively all year has been being able to handle RPO, because they don’t have the man-to-man talent. If Michigan can establish Higdon early, then the idea of just having Higdon on a play-action play — or maybe his running will force Indiana’s defense into situations that they’re not comfortable with, because they have no idea what they’re doing in an RPO situation.
EC: 27-13 Michigan. It feels right. It’s on the books.