I hope you all, Boilermakers and Hoosiers alike, are enjoying a safe and happy Thanksgiving. For your dessert today we have a Q&A with Ben Raphel of SB Nation's Crimson Quarry. Ben and his cronies run a great ship over there and aren't bad, even if they are IU fans. Here is what they have to say about this year's Bucket game:
T-Mill: You have written a lot about Indiana going to a bowl even if they go 5-7. Is that pretty much a lock now or do they really need this game?
Ben: Even if the Hoosiers lose and finish at 5-7, I'm not sure if a bowl game is certain. The rumor is that the NCAA will use APR scores to determine bowl game participants if there aren't enough 6-6 teams, but nothing is set in stone yet. Kyle wrote a long post about it on Monday, but if the NCAA does determine bowl participants in this way, then a 5-7 IU team has a good chance to make a bowl game, because of our strong scores in that department. In addition, the team's high powered offense and reputation as #CHAOSTEAM may make a bowl with B1G tie-ins interested in taking the Hoosiers, as they'd likely make for good TV. That being said, I don't think the criteria of the NCAA for 5-7 teams in bowls is a done deal, and I'd get very mad online if a 5-7 Rutgers team gets a spot over us.
Of the bowls with B1G tie-ins, the Pinstripe Bowl, Foster Farms Bowl, and Music City Bowl are most appealing to me.
T-Mill: What is the health status of Jordan Howard and Nate Sudfeld?
Ben: Kevin Wilson has been fairly coy about the health of his players all season in the leadup to games. Howard, who has been an incredible replacement for Tevin Coleman, was hurt during the Maryland game last weekend and only got three carries. So far I haven't heard much chatter about his status this week, so I am cautiously optimistic he'll get the call on Saturday.
I think Sudfeld should be good to go for his final regular season game ever on Saturday, as I haven't heard anything otherwise. One interesting fact about Sudfeld is that he's only thrown one pass against Purdue in his career, as Tre Roberson took over the game two years ago, and he was injured and did not play last season.
T-Mill: Simmie Cobbs was originally a Purdue commit, then flipped to IU. what did we miss out on?
Ben: Before the season started, I wrote that Indiana'swide receiving core was a giant question mark, after J-Shun Harris tore his ACL. Three receivers have answered the call this year - Ricky Jones, Mitchell Paige, and Simmie Cobbs. Cobbs has turned into a very reliable target for Sudfeld, especially if the Hoosiers need a big play on third down to keep a drive going. Cobbs doesn't have the explosiveness that Cody Latimer once had, and he occasionally is susceptible to a dropped pass or two, but he's been a great addition to the offense in Bloomington. I'm happy we have him, and I think he'll continue to perform well in the future at IU, regardless of who the quarterback is next season.
T-Mill: Is Kevin Wilson 100% back next year or does a bucket loss spell his doom?
Ben: I think Kevin Wilson is 100% back if we win on Saturday, but then again if he leads Indiana - one of the toughest P5 jobs in the country - to a bowl and a 6-6 record, other teams might try to poach him. And if the Hoosiers do decided to keep Wilson, then some sort of extension will be necessary. Right now, Wilson is in year 5 of a 7-year contract, and he's one of the lower-paid coaches in the B1G at $1.4 million, which is less than half of what Tom Herman will make if he stays at Houston next year. So I think he'll need some sort of raise to keep him and his assistants placated in Bloomington.
Were Wilson to lose though? Then things get tricky. There's a prevailing narrative among college football writers right now that with all the openings already out there, Indiana would have a hard time finding a replacement for Wilson, due to its low place in the pecking order among schools. I disagree with this narrative - there are multiple routes for teams to find coaches, and just because it is a crowded year for new hires, that doesn't mean that Fred Glass will go the same route to find a coach as other ADs will.
But Glass has valued continuity during his tenure at IU, and I think that he'd be inclined to keep Wilson here for at least a sixth season, even if we lose the Bucket. I wrote a couple weeks ago that I was getting sick of the #CHAOSTEAM aspect of Indiana; but despite my misgivings and frustration, #CHAOSTEAM does give the Hoosiers something that they haven't had for years in football - an identity. Top-10 teams have been afraid to match up with us, because they understand that anything could happen against IU, and the Hoosiers have been competitive well into the 4th quarter in all but one game they've played this season. Without Wilson around, who knows how long it takes to build up this type of identity again?
T-Mill: How much do you like Darrell Hazell since he will likely become the first coach in 68 years to lose three straight Bucket games for Purdue?
Ben: Time to rant a little bit. I've been hearing this "woe is me" line all season from you guys Purdue Twitter with regard to Hazell and the program. And it makes me worried, because I'm afraid it's a trap. I almost think Purdue fans are lowering expectations so much, that if they do win Saturday, they won't let Hoosier fans forget about it anytime soon. I know you guys are 2-9. I know it's been a trying season up on the Wabash. I'm still scared though. Indiana could be 11-0 and Purdue could be 0-11 and I'd still be scared of the upset. It's just the nature of this rivalry. I'm glad that the B1G protects the Bucket Game in football, but why won't they do the same in hoops and give us a home-and-home every year?
Okay, back to Hazell. It's looking like the coach is over his head and he might have been a reach as a hire after one successful season at Kent State. The hire shows how hard it is to find the right coach, and that hiring can be such a crapshoot at any school. If the Boilers lose Saturday, I will like Hazell as much as Purdue fans like Tom Crean. I won't resort to making any bad parody Twitter accounts about him, though.
T-Mill: Do you have a prediction for Saturday?
Ben: I know this is Purdue's Super Bowl, and the game is in West Lafayette for the first time in three years, so I think the Boilers will keep this one competitive throughout the first half. However, Indiana's third-quarter defense has been incredible all year long, and I don't expect that to change, so I think during the second half, the Hoosiers will build enough of a lead to put this game away and reach their first bowl since 2007. Indiana wins, 41-31.
If we do lose? I'm going to channel my inner Bill Lynch and throw my gum.