COLUMBUS, Ohio — It's a Friday night in November, but it sure feels like Christmas Eve, doesn't it? It feels like it has that same excitement, that same anticipation.
Our current-day Christmas, of course, is Saturday's huge college football game between No. 3 Ohio State and No. 9 Indiana. Indiana is 4-0 and has slayed perennial thorns in Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State, and Saturday's game is the biggest in school history since the Rose Bowl at the end of the 1967 season.
That's a long time.
But for Indiana, the school with the most losses in college football history, this is their chance at greatness. The Hoosiers tied for a conference title back in 1967, and they haven't won one since. Beat Ohio State on Saturday, and they'll be one step closer to living out that dream. So, for Indiana, it's huge.
And for Ohio State? To be honest, it's just another Saturday.
The Buckeyes are three-touchdown favorites and have a 90 percent chance of winning, according to ESPN's Football Power Index. They are a national championship contender, so what that means is they plan on winning every weekend, regardless of opponent.
And Indiana? Well, they haven't lost to the Hoosiers since 1988. They own the nation's longest active winning streak against a single opponent, and they've doled out plenty of pain lately, winning the past three years by an average of 30.7 points per game. Last year was 51-10 ugly in Bloomington
Shoo fly, don't bother me.
So what does it really mean to both sides? How does it look tonight compared to what might look like tomorrow night?
Let's take a quick pass at that.
What Indiana has accomplished so far
Indiana wasn't even ranked in the Associated Press top-25 preseason poll, and this conference-only schedule was supposed to be too overwhelming for them.
But they knocked off then No. 8 Penn State in the opener, winning against the Nittany Lions for just the second time ever in 24 tries. After a win on the road at Rutgers, the Hoosiers came home to beat Michigan for the first time since 1987, ending a 24-game losing streak, and then won at Michigan State for the first time since 2001.
Now, all of a sudden, they are a top-10 team and a cute not-so-little national story, Tom Allen has done more national media in the past month than he did his first three years at Indiana.
There are some people who belittle this 4-0 start because those blueblood programs are down this year, but even if things go poorly on Saturday at Ohio State, it doesn't diminish those wins at all. Indiana has turned the corner, and right now they are in a better position than all four of those programs they've beaten.
Why they can have some confidence
Indiana doesn't care that they are a 21-point underdog. The Hoosiers have faith in themselves, and they have belief. Through all the bad years — decades, really — Indiana could never match up physically with the big boys, but what they've proven in the first four weeks is that they can't get pushed around anymore.
I'm well aware that Ohio State is a different animal. They were my pick to win the national championship, and I'm not really ready to change that thought, not on Friday night.
But I do know this about Indiana. They will line up at noon on Saturday, and when they do, they fully expect to win.
Ohio State taking Hoosiers seriously
Ohio State players and coaches have said all the right things this week. They respect what they've seen from the Hoosiers, and they know there's plenty of talent on both sides of the ball.
But the one thing you have to remember about Ohio State is that they were the leader in bringing this season back, and the reason for that was that they really do consider themselves a potential national champion.
What's that mean? Simply, the Buckeyes know in this shortened season that every game matters. Anything less than a perfect Big Ten season likely derails their goals. So they will be ready at kickoff, too.
And shouldn't it be that way?
There are expectations on both sides, which is perfect. Merry Christmas!