After a non-conference schedule that gave IU different types of tests, the Hoosiers will get set to tackle a Big Ten conference schedule that will provide different challenges in each and every match.
One of those challenges is physicality, and IU faced it in its match against Stanford. Physicality as a challenge may resurface — maybe minus Stanford’s punch down under — but it may not just be physicality that IU encounters. There are teams that are constructed differently, and that is why junior defender Grant Lillard called the Big Ten the best conference in college soccer.
“The Big Ten is tough,” Lillard said. “In my opinion, it’s the best conference in college soccer and every single game is a different kind of test. All the teams are talented, all the teams are physical, and all the teams can play, so it’s really fun to play in that type of conference every single game.”
The Big Ten conference may not have multiple top 10 teams like the ACC or the defending champions like the Pac-12, but there is still some top-notch soccer happening in between both coasts.
Senior goalkeeper Colin Webb described the Big Ten in a nutshell when asked about the difference between his own conference and teams from out west that they have played.
“The Big Ten is one of the most physical conferences in the whole country,” Webb said. “Every game is a battle so if you’re not having a good technical day, teams can just muck it up maybe grind out a result.”
As a conference, the Big Ten has not necessarily had the start to the year that they may have wanted. Currently, just two teams, IU and Maryland, sit in the NSCAA Top 25 as of the Sept. 6 poll. However, that doesn’t mean that the conference will be a cakewalk for either of those teams who happen to both be in the top five.
The Hoosiers weren’t able to come out of the gate particularly fast a season ago. IU fell on the road against Penn State and then returned home to lose its conference home opener to Rutgers.
This year however, Lillard thinks they are ready to hit the ground running.
“Coach did a great job setting us up for the conference with the strength of schedule,” Lillard said. “Playing those four games were really not tune up games at all for the Big Ten so it was fun to just dive in and play against good competition. We came out undefeated still so it’s awesome.”
When looking at the conference as a whole, the upper echelon is Maryland and Indiana, one and two, as they were picked to finish. Behind them is an Ohio State team and a Rutgers team that have combined to start 0-7-0. Forward Jason Wright, who was on Top Drawer Soccer’s Preseason Best XI second team leads Rutgers and will be a big key to their success.
The teams rounding out the preseason Big Ten coaches poll are Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Penn State and Northwestern in that order.
Each team plays the game differently, and that is the beauty of the conference.
“Every team is a little different, so every game will be a different challenge in style or strength,” IU Coach Todd Yeagley said. “Some may be more athletic, some may be more physically tough, some are more aggressive in their numbers so every game is a bit different and everyone is really talented in what they do.”
There will still be midweek non-conference games, which Yeagley said is different from many other college sports, but he said making sure they are ready for the next game is the key.
After a 3-0-1 start for the third time since 2011, Yeagley said the Hoosiers are ready to go.
“I think we’re ready after playing a lot of different types of teams,” Yeagley said. “I think the guys have a good confidence and to get results against really good teams was a positive. We’re at the best place we can be just four games in.”