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Last updated: Mon. Sep. 23, 2013 - 05:27 pm EDT

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Indiana enters bye week in must-win mode

Big Ten season to start with Penn State

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BLOOMINGTON -- Did Indiana over-schedule its nonconference?

You could argue that. Compare the Hoosiers playing Navy (a perennial bowl team), Missouri (an SEC team), Bowling Green (a Mid-American Conference favorite) and Indiana State with, say, Ohio State playing Buffalo, San Diego State, California and Florida A&M.

IU is 2-2. Ohio State, a national championship contender, is 4-0.

Something seems a little askew.

Anyway, it's a tough stretch that fits Athletic Director Fred Glass' objective to schedule attractive nonconference opponents fans want to see. Missouri drew an extra 7,000 or so people (attendance was 49,149), which means more money and a bigger buzz.

“We ought to be playing a quality BCS opponent as part of our nonconference schedule every year,” Glass said.

That's great, as long as you win. IU was capable of doing that. When you don't, it makes a perennial hard sell ever harder.

The Hoosiers are well aware of that, which is why you get fireworks and giant flags and other promotions designed to get people to games.

Still winning remains the bottom line, and Indiana continues to struggle with that. Missouri did what no Big Ten opponent has ever done at Memorial Stadium -- surpass 620 total yards in Saturday's 45-28 victory. The Tigers finished with 623 yards, seven more than the previous record set by Northwestern in 2011.

Both of those totals, by the way, came under coach Kevin Wilson.

What does that mean? Basically, the Hoosiers need better defensive players. That remains a recruiting priority.

Beyond that, they need to play to their potential. The talent level is better, facilities and resources are better, the coaches are better paid.

It's time to start winning.

IU used Saturday night's game as a recruiting showcase, inviting dozens of high school players -- some from as far away as California, Florida and Georgia -- to see what the program is all about.

Did it work?

It's way too early to tell.

In the meantime, the Hoosiers have a bye week before hosting Penn State (3-1) in their Big Ten opener. It's the last of five straight home games to open the season and IU has to beat the Nittany Lions if it's to have a realistic shot at a bowl bid.

A 6-6 record makes a team bowl eligible, although it doesn't guarantee a bid. A 7-5 record would be much better, which means IU must go 5-3 in the Big Ten.

How hard is that? The Hoosiers have won a total of five conference games in the last five seasons. The last time they were 4-4 in the Big Ten was in 2001. The last time they won five conference games in the same season was 1993.

The good news -- the Big Ten is once again weak. There are no super teams in the league, although No. 4 Ohio State comes the closest. Of IU's eight conference games, five are winnable. Games at No. 23 Wisconsin, at No. 18 Michigan and at Ohio State seem more than the Hoosiers can handle.

“We have to use this bye week to keep getting better,” quarterback Tre Roberson said. “We have to get more physical. We're heading the right way. This (the Missouri loss) was just a little blip. We'll get back to going in the right way.”

Or, as cornerback Tim Bennett put it, “We're getting better. We're not looking at this as we took a major step back. We have to learn from this.”

Learning would have been better with a 3-1 record, if not 4-0. The 2-2 mark seemed a worst-case scenario the Hoosiers hoped was behind them.

“It's disappointing because we worked so hard,” Roberson said. “At the same time, we have eight more games left. We have to get going and start focusing.”

Roberson's focus comes after getting his most extended work of the season. Against Missouri he replaced Nate Sudfeld, who earlier in the season had replaced him.

Roberson threw for 148 yards and a touchdown. He rushed for 22 yards and a TD.

Sudfeld threw for 229 yards and a touchdown, but he also threw three interceptions. One, by defensive end Kony Ealy, was returned 49 yards for a touchdown.

Wilson once again squelched talk of a quarterback controversy. IU will continue to play both. Roberson, who rooms with Sudfeld, downplayed any drama.

“We're good. We help each other out. We talk all the time.”

As far as the season prospects, Roberson said, “We have to put this game behind us, get into the bye week, and get ready for Penn State and Big Ten play.”

We've heard such talk before. Maybe this time, performance will match talk.

pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com


This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Pete DiPrimio at pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com.


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