The Big Ten is constantly argued to be the best, most competitive conference in the NCAA. This is mostly the case for basketball and football, but it’s no secret the Big Ten shines superior with other sports such as volleyball, tennis and swimming and diving, etc.
For men’s soccer, this trend continues. The Hoosiers went further than any Big Ten team in the postseason last year but didn’t even take the regular season conference title or Big Ten Tournament title.
The unique thing about Big Ten men’s soccer is that only nine Big Ten schools have soccer teams, and there’s 14 teams in the Big Ten. Nebraska, Purdue, Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois are the five schools without teams.
Of the nine teams, five made the NCAA Tournament. IU, Michigan and Michigan State were seeded in the tournament, while Maryland and Wisconsin went unseeded.
Michigan took the regular season conference title last season. The runner-up was IU. Wisconsin won the Big Ten Tournament by defeating IU in penalty kicks 4-2, which made the Hoosiers runner-up. IU went on to the National Championship last year and lost to Stanford 1-0 in double overtime. Runner-ups yet again.
IU is tired of being runner-ups, and that trend stops with the Big Ten.
The Hoosiers have already begun conference play, defeating Wisconsin on the road 3-1. Their record is now 6-1 on the season after dropping the first game of the year to Wake Forest in double overtime. The six straight victories have included some highly-ranked opponents including North Carolina, Dartmouth and UConn. Those tests won’t get any easier with the conference foes approaching.
The first big conference match to watch for is against No. 21 Michigan on Oct. 7 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Last year, IU tied the Wolverines 1-1 in Bloomington. Michigan is currently 5-1 on the season, playing just one Big Ten match against Rutgers, and has yet to play anyone quite the caliber of IU. It should be a big test for Michigan with the advantage of having it at home, but it will be a chance to avenge the tie for the Hoosiers and give them an edge in the standings.
After that it’s Maryland on Oct. 12 at home. The Terrapins are another team the Hoosiers tied with last season; this time it was 0-0. Maryland isn’t ranked like how they were last season, but the Terrapins are 2-2-2, with one of those draws coming against defending champion Stanford. It won’t be a walk over for the Hoosiers, as the Terrapins have the potential of sneaking out a victory.
Ohio State is the next big one on the list, on Oct. 24 in Columbus, Ohio. The Hoosiers defeated the ranked Buckeyes last year 2-0. Ohio State is off to a rough start this year at 1-5-1, but any conference opponent can pose any real problem at any given time. Especially with game on the road, the Hoosiers will need to make sure they take care of business and leave with a win.
The last and most important game is the last game of the regular season. It can be argued that Wake Forest and UNC were the best games for IU, but it’s actually No. 5 Michigan State on Oct. 28 at home. Last year, IU’s best games were against MSU.
The Hoosiers needed to beat the Spartans last season in the last game of the year, but tied them 1-1, giving Michigan the regular season title. The two met again in the third round of the NCAA Tournament, and outlasted them 3-2 in penalty kicks. With both teams being inside the top five this year, this matchup will certainly prove pivotal for Big Ten standings and tournament seedings.
The Hoosiers are still on that quest for nine national championships, and it starts by coming out of the Big Ten as the best.