CHICAGO — Two words dominated Monday’s Big Ten Media Day for IU: Ohio State.
With the annual event ushering in the beginning of the new football season, the Hoosiers couldn’t go more than a few minutes without getting asked a question about their opponent for the first game of the season.
In case you hadn’t heard, IU opens the 2017 season with a home game Aug. 31 against Ohio State, fresh off its second berth in the College Football Playoff. After getting shut out against eventual national champion Clemson, the Buckeyes turned to former IU Coach Kevin Wilson to fix their offense.
The game will also be IU Coach Tom Allen’s first regular season game as head coach. In his first time up at the podium at Big Ten Media Day, he called the game the biggest home opener in IU history.
He’s not wrong.
The game would provide a monumental opportunity for Allen’s squad to breakthrough in his Memorial Stadium debut. With the primetime kickoff on ESPN, the Hoosiers could make a deafening statement against one of the best teams in the nation.
While the home opener should be a great environment and provides Allen a huge stage for his debut, its only one game and will not define the season. The game should not be used as a barometer how the inaugural season for Allen will go.
All three Hoosier players who came to Chicago were peppered by endless questions about the game against the Buckeyes.
Other important areas of concern such as how the offensive line is going to look without Dan Feeney and who is going to emerge as a passrusher were barely even broached. The news that senior running back Camion Patrick, a player whose potential Wilson raved about, failed to register.
All because Ohio State looms large.
The games at Virginia and Michigan State will tell us a lot more about what this team is going to be than the game against Ohio State. Those games are against teams IU should beat with the talent it has, but are the games that previous IU teams have failed to win.
To move to the next echelon of the conference, IU has to win those games consistently.
The path to seven or eight wins for IU isn’t paved with victories over one of the best teams in the country, but with victories over teams it should beat. Last season, IU was close against so many teams and couldn’t come out with wins in toss up type games.
Ohio State is far from a toss-up game.
Games at Illinois and Maryland along with a home game against perennial Big Ten power Wisconsin are significantly more winnable for the Hoosiers. Those games are the ones IU needs to win to secure the breakthrough that Allen has been preaching about all offseason long.
If IU beats Ohio State, that doesn’t mean the Hoosiers are destined for a winning season. If IU loses, hope for that breakthrough is not lost.
Even though talk of the game dominated Media Day, its outcome will not determine whether IU finally makes a leap forward this season.
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