By every historical measure, the No. 1 Ohio State Buckeyes (4-0) are expected to steamroll the perennial basement dweller Indiana Hoosiers (4-0). The Buckeyes have won the last 20 meetings in the border war to push their all-time mark to 71-12-5, and since head coach Urban Meyer arrived in 2012 they've won 24 consecutive conference games.
But Ohio State has shown signs of weakness this season, and the Hoosiers are off to their best start in a quarter century, potentially setting up a critical Big Ten showdown Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington.
Led by senior quarterback Nate Sudfeld’s 1,143 passing yards and seven touchdowns to one interception, the Hoosiers are 4-0 for the first time since 1990. Dating back to last season, they have won five straight, the longest streak since 1987.
The Hoosiers haven't faced a ranked team yet this season, and three of their games have been played in Bloomington. But the squad has come together to pull out some very close victories, and the offense has scored more than 30 points in each game. Last week, Indiana picked up their first road win of the season, outlasting Wake Forest’s fourth-quarter rally for a 31-24 win behind Sudfeld’s two touchdown passes and junior running back Jordan Howard’s 168 rushing yards and touchdown.
Altogether, Kevin Wilson's squad has racked up their best start in decades by edging their opponents by a combined 15 points. Last year, Indiana shocked then-No. 18 Missouri in Columbia, and stayed competitive with then-No. 6 Ohio State for three quarters before quarterback J.T. Barrett completed three touchdown passes in a span of just over 10 minutes to cap off a 42-27 win. They were positives for a program that hasn't had a .500 record since 2007.
As for the Buckeyes, they are looking to regain their dominate form, and can take solace in the fact that they still own the nation’s top ranking and the inside track to the conference title and College Football Playoff. Ohio State recovered from a scary threat from Northern Illinois, a game that was actually closer than the narrow 20-13 score suggests, by blasting Western Michigan 38-12 last week. Quarterback Cardale Jones fired off 288 yards and two scores and running back Ezekiel Elliott picked up 124 rushing yards and a touchdown.
The junior Jones and his status as Ohio State’s starter was especially hampered by the near debacle against Northern Illinois, but he bounced back from the two interceptions in that game and should build some momentum against a Hoosiers secondary allowing 360.5 yards per game and 11 total touchdowns.
It was Elliott’s ninth-straight 100-plus yard game dating back to last season, and he stands to keep that streak alive versus a Hoosiers frontline allowing 138.5 rushing yards a game (11th among Big Ten teams) and one that will miss defensive tackle Darius Latham due to a second suspension this season. The junior has 10 tackles, leading the squad with five tackles for a loss, and is second with two sacks in three games.
Betting Odds: Ohio State -21 points
Over/Under: 66.5 points
Prediction: Ohio State over Indiana, 40-21