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Indiana needs win over Central Michigan

Friday, October 31, 2008

By MICHAEL MAROT

AP Sports Writer

BLOOMINGTON -- Indiana coach Bill Lynch insists all is not lost.

Yes, things look bleak even after his Hoosiers ended a five-game losing streak, and yes, three losses at Memorial Stadium ruined the dream of a perfect home season.

Strange as it seems, though, their goals have only been dented -- not dashed. So Indiana (3-5, 1-4 Big Ten) is still playing for a bowl bid.

"We've talked to them about not giving up on the season because crazy things have happened around the country," Lynch said. "We have to get ourselves a win. We got one and if we get another win, you never know where it may end up."

Perhaps with a trip to some warm-weather spot in December.

The truth is Indiana is in a precarious position. The Hoosiers must win at least three games, possibly all four, to qualify for a second straight bowl game.

What's left on the schedule -- a home game against Wisconsin, a trip to No. 3 Penn State and then a trip to archrival Purdue in what is likely to be the final game of Boilermakers coach Joe Tiller's tenure. Plus, Saturday's suddenly critical game against two-time defending Mid-American Conference champion Central Michigan.

Clearly, the Hoosiers must win.

"Like coach Lynch said last week, all of our goals are still in front of us," quarterback Ben Chappell said. "This week, we're a lot closer,"

The Chippewas (6-2, 5-0 MAC) are still chasing their own dreams.

They hold a one-half game lead over No. 18 Ball State in the MAC's West Division and are trying to become only the second school since the mid-1970s to win three straight league titles. Former conference member Marshall won four straight during 1997-2000.

Nothing would cement their image, and probably their bowl resume, better than a signature win at a Big Ten school.

Indiana has seen this dangerous plot before. Two months ago, Ball State ended the Hoosiers' 20-game winning streak against MAC schools in Bloomington, and three years ago, they nearly lost at home Central Michigan.

"Look at Ball State, look at Tulsa, look at Boise State, there's some really, really fine football teams from non-traditional conferences and Central Michigan is one of them," Lynch said. "Their coach has done a great job maintaining that (success)."

There are many reasons the Chippewas are winning this year.

They are plus-eight in turnover margin, quarterback Dan LeFevour is the reigning conference player of the year, they have the nation's top punt returner in Antonio Brown and are a confident bunch after four straight wins, including a comeback last week at Toledo.

But the Hoosiers pose a different set of problems for coach Butch Jones.

First, he's not sure who will play quarterback for Indiana. Kellen Lewis, a second-team all-conference player in 2007, has missed the last two games with a high ankle sprain, and Chappell, Lewis' replacement, hurt his ribs in last week's win over Northwestern.

Both practiced this week, giving Lynch hope that both would play -- and leaving Jones with many more headaches.

"Chappell brings things to the table that are a little different than Kellen Lewis," Jones said. "But you've got to prepare for both because you don't know who will be playing."

Or, in Lewis' case, where he may be line up. If Lewis does play, Lynch could bring back the tricky formations in which he had both quarterbacks on the field at the same time.

Another concern for Jones: Speed. Marcus Thigpen, nicknamed the fastest man in Bloomington, has been the Hoosiers' best weapon, and the Chippewas questionable defensive performance last week forced Jones to stress fundamentals.

"Marcus is a great football player and there were times Saturday where they ran an inside power play and he bounced it outside for a big play," Jones said. "We've definitely got to improve our tackling this week. I was disappointed with that against Toledo."

And Central Michigan must play better this week.

After all, the Chippewas are playing an Indiana squad desperate to keep its bowl hopes alive.

"When you struggle, you've got to see the big picture is still out there, it's not over," Lynch said. "All of a sudden, we get a win and if we can do it one more time, then some of those things could take place."



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