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Bowl eligibility still on the line for Hoosiers

Friday, November 2, 2007

By STEVE HERMAN

AP Sports Writer

BLOOMINGTON -- Indiana already has plenty of incentive. All it needs now is a victory.

The Hoosiers take a needed break from their Big Ten schedule with a game against Ball State on Saturday. But with Northwestern and then the season-ending Old Oaken Bucket game against Purdue still ahead of them, they might be facing their last and best chance to become eligible for a postseason bowl.

At least it will be against a familiar opponent.

"So many kids on both sides of the ball know each other," said Indiana's first-year coach Bill Lynch, who also coached Ball State in 1995-2002. "A lot are former high school teammates, or certainly have played against each other in high school or went to camps together. A lot of the kids, both of us recruited them.

"In that sense it is more like a conference game and what you would expect of an in-state rivalry."

It's a short rivalry, though.

Indiana holds a 3-0 edge in the series. Last year, the Hoosiers rallied from deficits of 17-0 and 23-7 to edge the Cardinals in a 24-23 win in Muncie, but they still finished one win short of the required six victories for bowl-eligibility.

This year, Indiana (5-4) won five of its first six games and seemed in a good position for its first postseason appearance in 13 years, but consecutive losses to Michigan State, Penn State and Wisconsin put the Hoosiers on the bubble again as the season goes into the homestretch.

"We don't have to do anything to get our guys' attention, because of the game we had with them a year ago in Muncie," Lynch said. "But we've been preaching the same thing all along. Each game's important. ... Hopefully, the next week is bigger yet. That's what you work for all year."

Indiana playmaker Kellen Lewis, only a sophomore, already is third in IU history with 33 career touchdown passes and sixth with 4,286 career yards passing. But Ball State has a nifty quarterback, too, in sophomore Nate Davis, who already has a school-record 21 TD passes this season and 39 for his career.

The Cardinals (5-4) are coming off a 28-17 loss to Illinois, which earlier beat Indiana 27-14.

"I think there will be a lot of the same things that we ran against Illinois," Ball State coach Brady Hoke said. "The first half defensively, we played great football at Illinois. ... There will be some similarities and obviously there will be things we will work on that we need to do better that we didn't execute last week."

Davis, who passed for a career-high 422 yards in a 41-40 loss at Nebraska in September, has two key receivers who could be trouble for Indiana. Dante Love has 59 catches for 789 yards and seven touchdowns, and Darius Hill has 44 receptions for 655 yards and another seven TDs.

"Sometimes those guys in the Mid-American Conference are under the radar until all of a sudden they become Ben Roethlisberger, Byron Leftwich, Chad Pennington and Charlie Frye and some of those guys that get some of the exposure," Lynch said. "This guy can really throw and he's got a couple of great receivers. ... They can play anywhere."

The big receiving target for Indiana is 6-foot-7 James Hardy, who is second in the nation with 11 TD catches.

In his college debut against Ball State last year, Lewis passed for 228 yards and one touchdown -- to Hardy -- and ran for 88 yards and another TD to lead the Hoosiers' comeback.

"I don't forget losses," Hoke said. "I remember those more than I do wins. ... You remember that (loss) and there are guys on this team that played in that game. Our motivation as a team is to get better every week and I think we have in a lot of areas."

Kickoff in Memorial Stadium is set for Noon (EDT).



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