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BENNER: Football season arrives - and so do these questions

September 5, 2009

Are you ready for some football … football questions and answers, that is?

Q: Is Indiana now a “football state”?

A: Yes. Foremost is the overwhelming popularity of the Indianapolis Colts in particular and the NFL in general. Football is now America’s game and Indiana is a reflection of that, especially at a time when the state’s two major basketball “franchises”—the Indiana Pacers and Indiana University—are rebuilding (and that’s with all due respect to Purdue and Butler). Second, in communities across the state, fall Friday nights have become the night that citizens young and old gather. Third, the increased skills of players, along with better coaching and training, have made Indiana high schools more fertile recruiting ground than ever. And finally (you knew I’d get to this), when Indiana went to multiple classes in basketball, it was only a matter of time. That time has arrived.

Q: But can Indiana really be a football state when its top in-state collegiate programs struggle? Indiana and Purdue aren’t exactly Alabama and Auburn.

A: Valid point. Then again, not many states (especially in the Midwest) boast of three major intercollegiate programs as Indiana does with IU, Purdue and the University of Notre Dame.

Q: Labeling Indiana a major program is a stretch, isn’t it?

A: Not when you play in the Big Ten. And with the addition to Memorial Stadium, it at least looks like a Big Ten program.

Q: Stadiums don’t win games, players and coaches do. What does Bill Lynch have to do to keep his job?

A: Progress as much as the Hoosiers regressed last year. There are few people or coaches I admire as much as Lynch, but it’s a bottom-line world. These Hoosiers must at least compete for bowl eligibility—6-5 or 5-6 going into the Purdue game—to keep new Athletics Director Fred Glass from making a move, and the schedule is unquestionably more difficult.

Q: Speaking of Glass, what do you think of his decision to sell next year’s home game with Penn State to FedEx Field for $3 million?

A: For the short term, it was a deal he couldn’t turn down.

Q: How about Purdue and new coach Danny Hope?

A: Athletics Director Morgan Burke’s succession plan worked wonderfully in basketball when Matt Painter came on board for a year before taking over for Gene Keady; now we’ll see if a similar plan works in football, where Hope was on staff during Joe Tiller’s last year. Defense will have to carry Purdue while a young offense led by quarterback Joey Ellis, who’s thrown only 13 passes, will need to come together quickly. They get Notre Dame at Ross-Ade Stadium Sept. 26. A win there might carry the Boilers to a season much better than anticipated.

Q:
Which brings us to the Irish and Charlie Weis. Everyone is saying this is their year to be Notre Dame again. Agree?

A: It better be. Like Glass at IU, this is a serious evaluation year for Athletics Director Jack Swarbrick but one that carries far greater financial ramifications. Will the Irish faithful, teased by the prospect of a veteran team facing an easier schedule, tolerate anything less than nine or 10 wins and a BCS bid? The bellwether comes Oct. 17 when Southern California comes to South Bend.

Q: What about Ball State?

A: New head coach Stan Parrish is a terrific guy who deserves this shot. We’ll see if BSU fans continue to turn out or if last season was a one-hit wonder.

Q: Any other thoughts?

A: Glad you asked. If opportunity presents, check out small-college ball. Butler Bowl is an idyllic setting. The University of Indianapolis has a terrific Division II program stocked with local talent. Marian University is moving into its new stadium in its third season of NAIA play. Franklin College has a top-notch program. DePauw University quarterback Spud Dick is closing out a record-breaking career and, as always, the DePauw-Wabash Monon Bell Game (Nov. 14 at DePauw) should be on any football fan’s bucket list.

Q: And the Colts?

A: Easy. 12-4, Division champs, back to the Super Bowl.

Final Q: How are your fantasy picks?

A: I don’t do the fantasy thing. Reality’s tough enough.•

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Benner is director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. Listen to his column via podcast at www.ibj.com. He can be reached at bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.

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