Whether it's off-the-court storylines or top-five opponents, there are plenty of things to look for in IU volleyball’s Big Ten Conference schedule.
The Big Ten has won 10 national championships in the 21st century, which means it will be tough for the Hoosiers to improve from the 1-19 conference record it had last season.
However, with a new coaching staff and a new environment at University Gym, IU could be poised to pull off some major upsets.
With 20 Big Ten games, IU will play seven opponents both on the road and at home. The Hoosiers will face Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan State only on the road while playing Illinois, Maryland and Iowa only in Bloomington.
Here are the five best matchups to keep an eye on this Big Ten season.
1. Maryland @ IU, 1 p.m. Oct. 21
It will be a battle of the Steve Aird rebuilds at University Gym.
When IU hired Aird as its head coach in late December, it came as a shock to some because he was in the middle of a rebuild at Maryland.
Aird has since brought that rebuild mentality to Bloomington, and Oct. 21 will be the first time he will face off against his former team.
Aird spent 2014 to 2017 coaching the Terrapins, a program that was struggling in the ACC before he came along for the team’s transition into the Big Ten.
2. Nebraska @ IU, 7 p.m. Nov. 17
Nebraska ranks third all-time in number of national championships, and comes into this season as the defending champion.
The Hoosiers travel to Nebraska in mid-October, but Aird said he expects his team to play better at home and as the season progresses.
Nebraska will probably remain a top-10 program throughout the season, so fans can expect the November matchup to be much more exciting than the one in October.
The Cornhuskers have a great amount of depth, something that Aird said his team lacks right now. If IU can improve on that by the matchup at University Gym, it could see itself pulling off a major upset.
3. IU @ Penn State, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 26
Despite Nebraska being the defending champion, Penn State is still tied atop the national record for NCAA titles with seven.
It will be another homecoming for Aird, who spent his collegiate career playing for the Nittany Lions and then much of his assistant coaching career.
Right along with the Nebraska matchup in mid-October, this will be the ultimate road test for IU. Often times Aird has felt his team performed better in losses than wins, so this could be a chance for Aird to see how his team matches up in one of the toughest environments in the NCAA.
IU was 1-1 when playing in the Penn State Invitational during nonconference play this season. The Hoosiers defeated Temple and lost to Texas A&M, but did not compete with Penn State.
4. Rutgers @ IU, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 13
IU defeated Rutgers on Oct. 20 last season at University Gym, the only conference win that either of these teams had last season.
With a loaded conference, it is not a surprise for the bottom teams to struggle immensely. If the rebuild does take time to develop like Aird said it would, this could be one of the few wins IU fans can see this season.
It might not be the best game, but it could be a Big Ten win for the Hoosiers, which was tough to come by last season.
5. Purdue @ IU, 7 p.m. Nov. 21
Last season the Boilermakers and Hoosiers played twice in four days, and IU dropped all six sets.
This matchup, however, will be the last home game of the season for IU which may or may not be played in Wilkinson Hall -- the teams new stadium that is still under construction.
Aird’s motto all season has been to get 1-percent better each day, so depending on postseason play, this will be one of the final markers in seeing just how much the team have improved throughout the season.
Plus, it’s IU versus Purdue. Last season University Gym saw more 1,700 fans show up for the game, which was about 300 fewer than maximum capacity.
Regardless of records, fans will come out to see the in-state rivalry. But with that motto lurking over the team this season, it could be a chance for the Hoosiers to pull off an upset to show how year one of the rebuild went.
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