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Indiana experiencing a lot of firsts before No. 1 comes to town

The last time Indiana was 4-0 in football, East and West Germany had reunified just days earlier. Saddam Hussein held control of Kuwait. The first Internet web browser was still a couple of months way. America’s innocence hadn’t yet been shattered by the revelation that Milli Vanilli lip-synched through their Grammy-winning album.

Nobody on the current Hoosiers roster was even alive the last time the program won its first four games, back in 1990. A full quarter-century later, Indiana is 4-0 again after completing a perfect September.

“That’s just crazy to think about,” IU linebacker Marcus Oliver said of the history-making achievement.

The Hoosiers’ start has opened all sorts of mind-bending possibilities. A movement began on Twitter last week to get ESPN’s College GameDay to Bloomington for Saturday's visit from No. 1 Ohio State (the show’s producers considered it, but decided on Notre Dame-Clemson). As of Wednesday morning, Indiana was closing in on a sellout for the game, something that hasn’t happened since Michigan brought its legion of fans to Memorial Stadium.

And for a change, the shade of red in the stands for an Ohio State game might not be dominated by the Buckeyes’ scarlet. Indiana’s 11,666-seat student section is full for the game, but the university still is offering $10 tickets to students to ensure a packed and rowdy house for the 3:30 p.m. ET kickoff. Student section leaders are planning their own GameDay theme on Saturday, encouraging classmates to bring signs and dress up. They will even set up a table in the front row to resemble the show’s set.

“The GameDay movement created a lot of hype, and we just wanted to keep the fun going,” said Samantha Feather, a senior who is president of the Student Athletic Board. “I never thought I’d see a sellout in my four years here.”

Oliver said he’s noticed a “definite buzz on campus” this week. He’s received text messages of support from students he barely knows. He’s heard people talking about their excitement for the Ohio State game while riding the bus to class. This is far from standard operating procedure in Bloomington, where chatter usually turns to basketball by the time October arrives.

"That's what a lot of us came here to do," Oliver said. "Change the program and take it somewhere."

But can the Hoosiers extend the good times against the Buckeyes? History suggests otherwise, as Indiana hasn’t beaten Ohio State since 1988 and is 0-15 all-time vs. top-ranked teams.

And let’s face it: The first four wins were a nice story, but they came against Southern Illinois, FIU, Western Kentucky and Wake Forest. The competition level increases exponentially on Saturday, and a defense that has allowed 32 points per game so far will be without one of its top players. Starting defensive tackle Darius Latham was suspended indefinitely pending the outcome of a student ethics board ruling.

At least Kevin Wilson’s team has some major firepower on offense, with running back Jordan Howard leading the FBS in total rushing yards, senior quarterback Nate Sudfeld throwing for 285 yards per game and Ricky Jones pacing the Big Ten in receiving yardage. These Hoosiers also have been resilient, coming back from double-digit halftime deficits in two games and holding on during a furious Wake Forest rally last week. They are outscoring opponents 51-0 in the third quarter this year.

“We’re a more mature team,” Wilson said. “I don’t think we panic at halftime. We eliminate some of the clutter.”

Win or lose this week, Indiana still stands an excellent chance of getting back to its first bowl game since 2007. That eight-year drought is tied with Colorado for the longest among Power 5 teams. Players aren't satisfied with the notion of getting to six wins, however.

“We’ve been here for so long trying to build this program up,” senior guard Dan Feeney said. “It feels like it’s time to stop holding back and start testing how far we can go, how many wins can we get. We’re excited, because we’re doing things to change this program.”

That includes keeping the campus interested in football into October, which is no easy feat in Bloomington.

“It’s a big sports school, and a lot of that is basketball,” Feather said. “But there’s no reason why we can’t become a football school, too.”