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Crazy college season has its moments

Notes and observations from a topsy-turvy college football season:

n It’s 2020, so many things are not going true to form. In college football, if you root for the underdog like I do, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

It’s wonderful to see Indiana and its fine head coach, Tom Allen, ranked 11th in the country with a 5-1 record in six games heading into this Saturday’s Big Ten blockbuster at No. 19 Wisconsin.

The Hoosiers’ only loss this year was a competitive 42-35 defeat to third-ranked Ohio State in Columbus.

Indiana has always been a small fish in the Big Ten football pond, operating at a distinct competitive disadvantage in both recruiting and facilities, but has begun to turn the corner under the very capable Allen and his can-do attitude.

The Hoosiers beat conference heavyweights Penn State and Michigan this year — even though both are struggling — which hopefully should bode well for Allen’s ability to bring more quality recruits to Bloomington in the future.

Indiana suffered a terrible blow in last week’s win over Maryland as star quarterback Michael Penix, Jr. left the game with a leg injury. It turns out Penix tore a knee ligament and is lost for the season.

Indiana fans can find solace in the fact that backup Jack Tuttle managed the Maryland game effectively, completing all five of his passes in the Indiana victory.

n In a year in which perennially nationally-relevant Michigan (2-4) and Penn State (1-5) are nowhere to be found in the Associated Press or Coaches Top 25, Cincinnati (7th, 8-0), Coastal Carolina (14th, 9-0), Louisiana-Lafayette (20th, 8-1), and Liberty (25th, 9-1) are all ranked.

Granted that none of the four programs plays a Power Five Conference-type schedule, but it’s another indication of the type of exciting parity that has developed in college football over the past 10 to 15 years.

n Jim Harbaugh is on the head coaching hot seat at Michigan, and the failings of the Wolverines’ usually staunch defense is a big reason why.

Outstanding veteran defensive coordinator Don Brown’s unit has surrendered an average of 34.5 points per game, including 49 and 38 in respective losses to Wisconsin and Indiana, and 42 in a triple-overtime win at Rutgers. This Michigan defensive unit is an anomaly in the program’s storied history. Somewhere, the late, great Wolverines head coach Bo Schembechler is frowning.

n Like them or not, the Ohio State Buckeyes deserve to be in the Big Ten Championship Game this year, simply because they are the conference’s best team.

The Buckeyes have had games with Maryland and Illinois canceled because of COVID, and at 4-0 and with only two games left on their regular-season schedule, they face the possibility of not getting the minimum six league games in that are required to participate in the conference title game this year.

A program should not be penalized by COVID restrictions that are largely beyond the scope of its control. In this very strange year, the conference ought to follow the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law and implement a stipulation that winning percentage is considered above anything else. Ohio State is batting 1.000, deserves to play in the big game, and most people want to see the best play for the highest stakes.

n Matt Campbell is doing a bang-up job as Iowa State’s head coach, so much so that he should be one of the first in line for plum head coaching opportunities around the country. Campbell’s Cyclones, who host West Virginia in a Big 12 Conference showdown Saturday, started this week ranked 12thin the country at 7-2 after coming off a big road victory at Texas.

n Rutgers still has a way to go to get back to respectability, but rehiring Greg Schiano as head coach was a positive step for the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers (2-4) is coming off a road win at Purdue last week and will host Penn State in what should be an entertaining game Saturday. That will be a nice change, because most of the other games in the Penn State-Rutgers series have been anything but entertaining.

John Hartsock can be reached at jhartsock@altoonamirror.com

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