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Know Thy Opponent 2013: Indiana State Sycamores

Purdue's home opener comes against a potentially dangerous FCS foe in the mighty Trees of Indiana State.

Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE

Before long, these games against FCS opponents will be gone. Since the NCAA expanded the football schedule from 11 games to 12 in 2006 opponents from the lower division have cropped up on schedules across the country. The reasoning is simple: If you give a school an extra game they are going to make it a home game if at all possible for more ticket revenue. No FBS school would ever actually play at an FCS school, so they are easy fodder for a tune-up game at home in a sport with no preseason.

In all but one season since 2006 Purdue has played an FCS opponent, the lone exception being 2009. Purdue will continue playing FCS opponents until at least 2015 with Southern Illinois (2014) and Indiana State (2015) on the schedule until the 2016 date of the extra Big Ten game kicks in. In that time, Purdue is 6-0 against the lower division while Michigan, Northwestern, Minnesota, and Indiana have famously been bitten (and both Iowa and Wisconsin have come close). Here are your scores:

2006: Indiana State W 60-35

2007: Eastern Illinois W 52-6

2008: Northern Colorado W 42-10

2010: Western Illinois W 31-21

2011: Southeast Missouri St. W 58-0

2012: Eastern Kentucky W 48-6

Aside from the 2010 team that battled everything but leprosy on the injury front, Purdue has cruised in these games, as they should. No Big Ten team should ever lose to any FCS team because of the difference in scholarships, training rooms, facilities, coaching, and more. I would even argue that any BCS conference school that loses to an FCS team should be ineligible for the postseason as an actual consequence of scheduling these teams. If you win, you were supposed to, often by a lot. Lose, and it is flat out embarrassing.

2012 Record: 7-5, 5-3 Missouri Valley Conference

Bowl Result: None

Blog Representation: Sycamore Pride

Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 3-0

Last Purdue win: 9/2/2006 60-35 at Purdue

Last Season for the Sycamores:

When we last played the Trees they may have been the worst team at the FCS level. From 2005 to 2009 the Trees were a dismal 2-54, bottoming out by going 1-32 under Lou West for three seasons. When Purdue beat them in 2009 it was their 18th straight loss, and the streak reached 24 in a row before they beat Missouri State later that season. They would lose 33 more games in a row after that win before beating Western Illinois in 2009 for their second win in the five-year wilderness.

Things changed under Trent Miles, however. His first two years were rough, going 0-12 and 1-10, but the Trees were at least competitive again. Things broke out in 2010 when ISU went 6-5 and contended for the Missouri Valley title (one of the better FCS conferences) before a rough 0-3 finishing stretch. It was the first winning season in Terre Haute since 1996 and Miles followed it with a 6-5 finish the next year and 7-4 in 2012.

ISU did not make the FCS playoffs, but they returned to the National rankings after a long absence and on October 13 of last year they stunned everyone by beating No. 1 North Dakota State 17-14 in Fargo. NDSU is only the two-time defending FCS champion going into this year and is 28-2 in its last 30 games with wins over Minnesota and Kansas.

A pair of losses to Illinois State and Youngstown State denied ISU a shot at the FCS playoffs, but the Trees played IU tough in a 24-17 loss only clinched when ISU ran out of time at the Indiana 36-yard line last season.

The success under Miles is in limbo, as he was hired away by Georgia State, who is moving up to the FBS level soon. Mike Sanford takes over as the former assistant head coach at Utah State and he'll try to continue the momentum started by Miles after he revived a program that was, for all intents and purposes, dead.

Indiana State Offense:

Last season Indiana State had one of the best running backs at the FCS level in Shakir Bell. He was a Second Team All-American according to The Sports Network for the second year in a row after rushing for 1,475 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also caught 19 passes for 142 yards and a score as the No. 5 receiver on the team. Bell is a smaller back at only 5'8" 185 pounds, but he is very elusive and starred at Warren Central in Indianapolis where he was a 2010 Parade All-American. He returns for his senior season needing only 541 yards to become ISU's all-time leading rusher and break a 36-year-old record.

Against Indiana, Bell ran for 192 yards and a touchdown. Against Drake he went absolutely crazy with 349 yards and two scores. He is a legitimate NFL Draft prospect that would finish above 5,000 yards in his career if he simply equals last year's total.

Needless to say the offense centers around his incredible talents and a decent defense. He is helped by former Warren Central product George Cheeseborough, who added 224 yards in relief last season. Mike Perish, who was a backup for Western Michigan when we played them in the 2011 Little Caesar's Bowl, was the All-Newcomer in the MVC last season at quarterback. He completed 155 passes for 1,615 yards and 10 TDs against eight interceptions.

Outside of Bell, however, the offense was not great. It only averaged 23.1 points per game and gained over 100 more yards on the ground as opposed to through the air. Bell was responsible for nearly half of their total yardage. Perish was sacked 23 times in 11 games.

Demory Lawshe is the top returning receiver with 31 catches for 393 yards and three scores. Tanner Riley (22-219-1) and Donald Spencer (21-196-0) give them three decent receivers, but again, this is the Shakir Bell show. Expect him to touch the ball 25-30 times per game.

Indiana State Defense:

We may think that Ricardo Allen is impressive with his four career interceptions returned for touchdowns, but Johnny Towalid topped him with three in one season last year, including two in the win over North Dakota State. Unfortunately, ISU lost the All-American to graduation. He was part of a very stout defense that gave up only 14.3 points per game and only 167.9 through the air.

Connor Underwood returns as a key element in that defense after notching six sacks and 48 tackles last season. Aaron Archie and Jack Washington are also gone as players with over 100 tackles last season, leaving Calvin Burnett as the top returning tackler at 60 stops as a defensive back. Burnett also intercepted four passes and had a sack, showing he can play all over the field.

Larry King is a big defensive back that returns at 6'3" 220 pounds who had 57 tackles and three interceptions a year ago. The safety has started nearly every game in his career and is another player that could see some NFL interest with a good season.

When you look up and down the Indiana State roster there is some good in-state talent. Players from Hamilton Southeastern, Warren Central, Avon, Penn, Hamilton Heights, and Center Grove are represented and those teams are always among the state's best in their respective classes.

Indiana State Special Teams:

Tanner Fritschle was a solid kicker last season, connecting 15 of 18 times with a long of 48 yards and was famously a high school classmate of Baby Jesus before he descended to Bloomington. The Trees have brought in a JuCo punter in Rhys Felton who could play immediately.

In the return game Taje High and Tanner Riley split duties, but weren't great, while Riley handled punt returns.

Game Outlook:

ISU is getting the double whammy of opening at Indiana and Purdue before its first home game, but this is a much better Indiana State team than we saw seven years ago. Miles left plenty of talent behind and Sanford was the offensive mastermind behind a Utah State team that went 11-2 last year and finished the season in the top 20. They also won the WAC and had the 7th best defense in the country at just 15.4 points allowed per game while scoring 34.9.

All that means this is a legitimately dangerous FCS team for both Indiana and Purdue, who both have not had the luxury of overlooking opponents for some time. The Trees went to Bloomington last year and nearly pulled off the upset. They'll be looking to do so again with Purdue coming next.

Indiana State also plays in a tough conference with the two-time defending National Champion as well as powers like Northern Iowa, Youngstown State, and Brock Spack's Illinois State. Don't be surprised if Indiana State hangs around a little longer than we're used to.


That said, this is still a Big Ten vs. FCS game, and I remain steadfast in my belief that no Big Ten should ever lose to an FCS team. The Trees have Bell and that is about it. Purdue has the depth to wear them down and start putting this one away in the third quarter unless ISU can play keep away by running the ball with Bell and the clock.

Purdue hasn't failed to top 30 points since it started playing FCS opponents and there have been some decent ones in there like Western Illinois. They were the only ones to keep Purdue under 40 points. I think that track record continues as the Boilers wear down the Trees and pull away late. Purdue 41, Indiana State 17