Before I start away, I feel it important to establish my defense before I prosecute myself. I have never, since roughly 1992, had any preconceived notions or delusions of grandeur concerning any IU football season, unlike most every Notre Dame fan that I have ever known. My perennial approach to Indiana re: the pigskin is to have incredibly low expectation for the team each year and hope that they prove me wrong. This approach, I’ll quite readily argue, differentiates me from those fans who are disappointed every year with their teams’ respective results. Disappointment implies some level of expectation, so I never experience it. And, until we show for a season that we aren’t bad, I’ll continue to approach the next season in exactly this same manner.
That said, after watching “the game about nothing (except getting our brains beat in by a MAC team)” Saturday night and then going out for a couple of beverages with Jeff, I was heading home in the back of a cab and a question occurred to me, one which I hadn’t really ever thought about: Are we the worst team in the Big Ten? And, when I asked it, I didn’t mean right now or in the past couple of years. I really meant it in two sort of veins: 1.) in a current era which disregards a couple of fluky years, and 2.) EVER. And here’s where I surprised even myself. The answer, on both fronts, is an inarguable YES.
Yep, that’s right. I’ve been wrong, but only on the matter of degree. I’ve spent years laboring under the slightly incorrect notion that we were just bad. Nearly every year, there is a team in the conference that is worse than we are, which made me feel the “yeah, we’re at the bottom, but there are worse teams” feeling. What I failed to appreciate, seemingly, is that/those bottom team(s) rotate every year, and we’re just above them. And to prove this new-found fact, in case you were hoping for them, indeed I have numbers for you.
According to College Football Reference, since Indiana joined the conference in 1900, it has the worst in-league winning percentage of 29%. Second-worst is Northwestern at 34% all-time. This statistic shows me how, in one way, I am wrong every year. I always believe that we should beat Northwestern. Turns out, it’s an unfounded delusion of mine based on no statistical reality. (More on this later.) Every other team in the league has an in-conference winning percentage above 40%. I hear you, though. I know where you’re going. “Adam, what happens when we add all those cupcake out of conference games?”. Yeah, there we bump up our winning percentage to 40%, only 2% behind Northwestern at 42. Everyone else, as you might well imagine, is above 50 in this category. And, to round out this portion of the argument with an ultimately depressing fact: IU joined the conference, as mentioned in 1900. Penn State joined in 1993. PSU has 105 all-time conference wins to IU’s 195.
But enough of the all-time argument, I’ll readily concede that it means very little in a current context. After all, the University of Chicago used to light it up in-conference, and well, you get it. So, I decided to look at modern era to determine how good or bad we are in a modern context. In doing so, I looked at games of ours from 2002-2010. (This wasn’t an ESPN-type statistic with an arbitrary starting point; it’s the first year CFR has readily available without doing serious digging. And, let’s face it, I’m not writing a paper on changing economic policy. I’m just making a point on how badly IU football sucks. It’s not exactly like I need decades of evidence to sway the opinion of anyone who’s even remotely paying attention.) So, since the beginning of the 2002 season, you know who has the worst overall record? You guessed it. (Illinois was exactly one game better than we through the 2010 season, but they did make a BCS bowl in 2007 and have been to multiple bowls.) Also, the only team to make it to only one bowl? Yep. With the exception of the Illini, every other team has been to at least 5 bowls. What’s more, only four other teams haven’t made it into a BCS bowl, and they’re all teams in the >= 5 bowl territory. So, we’re no longer allowed to view any team, including Northwestern, as an in-conference gimme. Because guess what: They have statistically more of a right to regard us thusly then we they. And you know what else? We…
You know what? Nevermind. Here’s the gist of it. It’s no longer entirely correct to say we’re terrible. You have to kick it up a notch. We’re the worst.