These are relatively high times in the world of Indiana sports, at both the college and pro level. The Colts, who play tonight at Tennessee (8:25 PM ET, NFL) are a Super Bowl contender, in spite of an awful performance last week against the St. Louis Rams. The Pacers are undefeated out of the gate in the NBA, and both the Indiana University basketball and football teams are competitive after spending years (or in the football team’s case, decades) in irrelevancy.
With Andrew Luck and the Colts in action tonight, we’ll start by looking at the Thursday NFL game and then take a brief look at the prospects for more success elsewhere in the world of Indiana sports.
On the surface, Indianapolis-Tennessee should be a big game in the AFC South, with the Colts at 6-3, the Titans at 4-5 and this being the first of their two games the rivals will play in three weeks. In reality, with Tennessee now stuck playing Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback the rest of the way, and having lost at home to Jacksonville last week, the Titans are a dead team walking.
The only real question for the Colts is whether they’ll stumble into the playoffs on the basis of winning a mediocre division, or if they’ll make a real run at the New England Patriots for the AFC’s #2 playoff seed and its accompanying first-round bye.
Whatever the Titans long-term problems, they’ve got homefield tonight on a short week, and they run the ball well, ranking 11th in the NFL in rush yardage behind Chris Johnson. This enables them to go right at the Colt weakness–Indy is 26th at defending the run. If Tennessee can control the game’s tempo and maybe force Andrew Luck into a couple interceptions, the Titans can win.
Las Vegas is more optimistic about Tennessee’s chances then I am. In spite of their problems, the Titans are only a 2.5 point underdog, and they’re only a (+135) value on the moneyline, the betting odds to win outright expressed in $100 increments.
To me, that suggests the odds are reacting to Indianapolis’ atrocious performance at home against St. Louis, and forgetting that this same Colts’ team has beaten San Francisco, Seattle and Denver. I’m all over Indy tonight at (-115), and look for them to eventually roll into the playoffs around 11-5 and be a real Super Bowl threat.
THE COLLEGE SCENE
Indiana University football has been making a slow, grinding crawl to respectability, and while the odds are now against the Hoosiers making a bowl game this season, it’s in part because they went out and played some good non-conference competition. And they can certainly put points on the board.
Kevin White’s team is 4-5, and while they should win the season finale against lowly Purdue on November 30, the Hoosiers are going to have to find a way to steal a victory against either Wisconsin on Saturday or Ohio State on November 23. Both of those games are on the road.
While most power conference teams find as many easy games as they can in non-conference, Indiana went out and challenged itself though. They beat Bowling Green 42-10, and the Falcons are one of the better teams in the MAC. Indiana lost a game to perennial bowl contender Navy and to surprise SEC power Missouri. If the Hoosiers would have just slipped a game against, say, Miami (Ohio) in place of one of these two games, Indiana would be poised to lock up a bowl bid.
Nor have any of the conference losses been embarrassing, with road defeats at Michigan State and Michigan, each by 14 points, and a close home loss to Minnesota. It’s unfortunate that the odds are against this potent offense, averaging 42 points a game in Big Ten play alone, making a bowl game. But Indiana football is back and pointed in the right direction.
HOOSIER STATE BASKETBALL
Talk of Super Bowl runs and bowl games are nice, but this is Indiana sports we’re talking about and that means we talk basketball. The Hoosier hoops team is on a rebuilding year after a strong 2013 run where they won the Big Ten title outright, earned a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and made the Sweet 16 before losing to Syracuse. Head coach Tom Crean has to replace top five picks Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo and has a talented young group to work with.
Noah Vonley, a 6’10” center with the wingspan of a 7’4″ player is a freshman that can hit the boards and alter a game defensively. Yogi Ferrell is a sophomore point guard that got his feet wet on last year’s team and now bears full responsibility for running the show. Crean will also need another freshman, 6’7″ guard Troy Williams to step up with a big year.
IU had a narrow escape this week in beating Long Island 73-72, and on November 21, the Hoosiers will have to play Washington. The big non-conference tests though, will come with a December 3 trip to Syracuse and a chance for some revenge and a December 21 date with Notre Dame. Unfortunately, the traditional Indiana-Kentucky game is off the docket.
In no sport, do the good people of Indiana have a better chance of celebrating a championship than the NBA. The Pacers have followed the league’s traditional model of getting a little closer each year. In 2012, they reached the second round and lost to the Miami Heat in six games. In 2013, the Pacers didn’t meet the Heat until the conference finals and this time it was a seven-game series. Now they’re off to an 8-0 start, with Paul George playing like a star and Roy Hibbert scoring, rebounding and blocking shots.
Indiana was my preseason choice to win the NBA title, especially given the 14-1 odds they were getting. We’re not even a month into the season and those odds have dropped to 5-1, narrowly behind Miami, the 5-2 favorite.
There’s still a long way to go for the Pacers, and they haven’t yet played the Heat. The first meetings between the teams will be December 10 and December 18. But in a good year for Indiana sports, the Pacers, followed closely by the Colts, have a real shot at getting into the throne room.