Indiana is suddenly playing meaningful late-season games.
The Hoosiers head into today's home game against Wisconsin with, wait for it, title hopes and bowl possibilities on the table. School officials are expecting a big crowd, too, maybe the biggest all season.
The crash-course lesson for the Hoosiers in how to deal with their biggest game in five years? Change nothing.
"These guys have stayed very focused on the practice field and when game time rolls around, they'll go out and compete," offensive coordinator Seth Littrell said.
Clearly, the Hoosiers (4-5, 2-3 Big Ten) have more fight in them this season.
Four of the five losses have come by a combined 10 points. They gave undefeated Ohio State one of its biggest scares of the season, and the Hoosiers have rebounded from an 11-game Big Ten losing streak to win their last two — their first time two-game league winning streak since 2007.
It has put Indiana in position to accomplish things many thought would be impossible less than a month ago.
A win over Wisconsin (6-3, 3-2) would:
• Give Indiana its first three-game Big Ten winning streak since a four-game streak in October 1993.
• Move the Hoosiers to within a victory of becoming bowl eligible
• Hand the Hoosiers the inside track to representing the Leaders Division in next month's Big Ten title game.
Ready or not, here come the Hoosiers.
"We worry about what we do. We're a long way from being a good football team but we're getting better every day," said coach Kevin Wilson, who had lots of experience in big games when he was the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma. "Kids have bought into it. We're getting better every day and it's fun."
Wouldn't be 1st time BC plays Notre Dame spoiler: There's plenty of football history to talk about at Notre Dame, an eight-time Associated Press national champion that is once again undefeated and trying to peek its way into the NCAA title discussion.
One subject they try to stay away from: The rivalry with Boston College.
The only other Catholic school playing in the FBS, Boston College has twice spoiled Notre Dame's unbeaten seasons and eliminated it from the national championship chase. Now, the Fighting Irish (9-0) are heading to Chestnut Hill and hoping to avoid another upset that would destroy their very outside chance at an NCAA title.
"I'm starting to hear about it," nose guard Louis Nix III said this week as the Fighting Irish prepared for the game known locally as "The Holy War." ''A lot of people saying, 'Blah, blah, blah. BC is going to come in,' and we might lose. I guess because 20 years ago they beat us when we were undefeated, which I don't see what that has to do with now."
Notre Dame has finished first eight times since the AP poll began ranking teams in 1936. This year, the Irish are No. 4 heading into tonight's game, and they would likely need two of the other unbeaten teams — Alabama, Oregon and Kansas State — to lose in order to claim a spot in the BCS title game.
Of course, the Irish would also need to win out, and that starts with a victory against a Boston College (2-7) team that is having its worst season in more than two decades. But the Eagles have always posed problems for their Catholic rivals, beating them six straight times from 2001-08.
That streak included a 2002 win over a fourth-ranked and unbeaten Notre Dame team. In 1993, 17th-ranked BC beat the No. 1 Irish 41-39 on a field goal as time expired.
"I didn't know that," Kelly joked with reporters this week. "But I do now, and I'll put that in the history bank of more information that I have that I won't use."
Struggling Purdue, Iowa hook up in Iowa City: Purdue is trying to win for its embattled coach.
Iowa is vying to curb a tailspin that's threatening to keep it out of a bowl game.
Neither the Boilermakers nor the Hawkeyes figured there would be so much at stake for a game that means so little in the Big Ten standings.
Purdue (3-6, 0-5) and Iowa (4-5, 2-3) have combined to lose eight straight league games heading into today's showdown in Iowa City. The Boilers have fallen apart after a 3-1 start that included a narrow loss at national title contender Notre Dame.
The Hawkeyes have dropped their last three games, including a 24-21 defeat at Indiana that gave the Hoosiers their first back-to-back league victories in five years.
"We've had some ugly losses, and that's tough as far as your momentum goes for your team and your season," said Purdue coach Danny Hope, whose job status has been questioned in the wake of a disappointing season. "There's been some struggles, and they have been a result of injuries and not performing as well and losing some confidence."
Both teams can likely kiss bowl hopes goodbye with a loss today.
Michigan mum on Robinson's status versus Northwestern: Out of necessity or for tactical reasons, Michigan coach Brady Hoke refused to provide a clue about Denard Robinson's availability to play against Northwestern.
"I'm not giving day-to-day updates," Hoke said, more than once.
That leaves everyone — including the Wildcats — waiting until today to see if Robinson is healthy enough to play. Last week, Hoke said he fully expected the spectacular quarterback to play at Minnesota, only to leave him on the sideline because of an injured right elbow.
The Wolverines found out that Devin Gardner could lead them to a win. The junior QB, who moved to receiver this year to get on the field, flourished in his first start under center in a 35-13 victory over the Golden Gophers.
"You always like to have the depth in every position, whether it be quarterback or your nose tackle," Hoke said. "Having guys who have done it before and shown you that they can do it and have done a good job, that's always a big part of it."
Playing quarterback extensively for the first time since leading Inkster High School to a Michigan state finals game in 2009, Gardner was 12 of 18 for 234 yards with two touchdown passes. He created some plays by moving in the pocket, including his 47-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Gallon, and accounted for a third TD with a 2-yard run to help Michigan pull away in the fourth quarter.
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said he expects Robinson to play, but he won't think his team is getting a break if Gardner is in the game under center.
"To watch the way that he picked right back up at quarterback was very, very impressive," Fitzgerald said.
Illinois looks for a win to end losing streak: On the visitor's sideline at Memorial Stadium today, Minnesota will be living the life of a playoff team. With a win, the Gophers will be headed to a bowl for the first time since 2009.
And the urgency that comes with that feeling feels good, wide receiver Derrick Engel said.
"We definitely want to come to Illinois and come in with the mindset that we've got to win this one for sure," said Engel, who will miss the game with an injury. "We want to get to that sixth 'W' and qualify for the bowl bid."
Illinois' aim will be much lower than the Gophers (5-4, 1-4 Big Ten). Any win will do for the Illini (2-7, 0-5), who have lost six straight, are well out of any bowl discussion and enduring a season of mistakes, bad penalties and blowout losses.
"It seems to be something each week, doesn't it?" coach Tim Beckman lamented this week, talking in this case about botched snaps that cost the Illini in last week's 52-22 pasting at Ohio State.