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Thursday, May 23
The Indiana Daily Student

sports football

Early slate crucial for IU’s season aspirations

At this time last year, I was clearly in a different state of mind.

I guaranteed the Hoosiers would make a bowl game. I couldn’t see a situation in which they didn’t win at least six games.

I’m not going to be as stupid this time around. Instead of making guarantees, I’m simply going to use this space to make predictions for the season. Sounds safer from my end.
 
NON-CONFERENCE

IU’s non-conference slate isn’t exactly the easy one it had in 2010 (Towson, Western Kentucky, Akron and Arkansas State), but there are still four winnable games on the non-Big Ten schedule. Ball State, South Carolina State and North Texas should be automatic wins, though Virginia is more of a wild card.

Even though the Cavaliers struggled down the stretch last year by losing their final four games, they dominated the Hoosiers the last time the two teams met — to the tune of 47-7 in the middle of Virginia’s 3-9 season in 2009.

For whatever reason, the Virginia game sticks out at me and screams, “This game is dangerous.”

In a new system, IU’s young quarterback will likely struggle in his first game against a team from a BCS conference. The Hoosiers will drop this one and finish the non-conference schedule with a 3-1 record.

BIG TEN

Fortunately for the Hoosiers (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), their four toughest conference games are on the road. They have to travel to No. 11 Wisconsin and No. 18 Ohio State for the second consecutive year, along with trips to Iowa and No. 17 Michigan State.

I give the Hoosiers a chance against Iowa and possibly Michigan State — if the Spartans are in a free fall, as they sometimes are later in a year with high
expectations.

It would be huge for the Hoosiers if they could get one of the four road games.
You’d like to think the team, especially Damarlo Belcher, would get up for the Hawkeyes after last year’s fourth-quarter debacle, but playing them on the road is always a challenge. I’ll take the Hoosiers to beat the Spartans and go 1-3 in Big Ten road games.

While the Hoosiers will likely struggle in those four games, the fact that their most challenging games are away from home means they get to host some of the more beatable teams in the conference.

Penn State and Illinois look especially vulnerable at the beginning of the conference schedule, and even Northwestern and rival Purdue seem beatable at
the end.

I’m taking the Hoosiers to beat the Fighting Illini and the Boilermakers to finish a game better than last year at 6-6. Youth and inexperience will keep IU from beating Penn State in the Big Ten opener, and Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa will be too much for the Hoosier defense.

Preseason awards

OFFENSIVE MVP: Belcher

There’s no reason Belcher shouldn’t be the best receiver in the conference this season. The 6-5 senior had 78 catches for 832 yards and four touchdowns last season, and he’s now the featured guy in Kevin Wilson’s
offense.

DEFENSIVE MVP: Greg Heban

The former baseball player has worked his tail off to become a starting cornerback. Heban’s work ethic, combined with his quickness and instincts, will help him shut down the conference’s most talented receivers. Heban Island?

BALL STATE PREDICTION:

Thank goodness for non-conference schedules. The Hoosiers are going to need these four games to work out the kinks as much as any team in the country.

IU will look plenty sloppy in the season opener, but the Hoosiers will be good enough to beat a pretty average Ball State team. The biggest thing we’ll learn from this game is who the quarterback will be going forward.

IU 23, Ball State 13

­— jmalbers@indiana.edu

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