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OPINION: Previewing IU’s 2020 Big Ten schedule


IU football players take the field at the start of the game against Ohio State on Sept. 14, 2019, at Memorial Stadium. IU will play a nine-game football schedule this season starting Oct. 24 against Penn State. IDS file photo and Matt Begala

The Big Ten is back, which means it's time for IU to resume its transformation into a certified football school. Last fall’s eight-win campaign under head coach Tom Allen was a watershed season, but replicating that success will be tough on a schedule that throws test after test at the Hoosiers more rapidly than the university’s medical staff.

Oct. 24 vs. Penn State

Last year, the Nittany Lion secondary enjoyed a casual relationship with defending the pass, often leaving receivers wide open. Assuming this issue was fixed over the summer, quarterback Michael Penix Jr. and company are in for a rough outing.

Penn State also added offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca, the man responsible for Minnesota’s potent passing attack in 2019. I have a lot of faith in IU, but week one will be a humbling reminder that there's no tune-up game with Ball State University this year.

Oct. 31 at Rutgers

Rutgers has long been the butt of the joke in the Big Ten, and that probably won’t change soon. First-year head coach Greg Schiano may be able to turn the Scarlet Knights’ defense from paper maché to something resembling a sturdy cardstock, but that likely won’t compensate for an offense that ranked worst in the conference in 2019. Four quarters of Rutgers football might be the scariest thing you could watch this Halloween, so IU should pick up a rare easy win.

Nov. 7 vs. Michigan

Ohio State is Michigan’s unloving father, and IU is the unlucky kid at school upon whom Michigan takes out its paternal insecurities. Last November, Kalen DeBoer’s offense stalled early, leading to a sleet-soaked, 39-14 drubbing that also saw the end of junior Stevie Scott III’s season.

If the Hoosiers upset the Wolverines, it will likely be a high-scoring affair. IU has the offensive firepower to win a shootout, but it is awfully difficult to out-ugly Michigan.

Nov. 14 at Michigan State

Following the abrupt retirement of previous head coach Mark Dantonio, Mel Tucker inherited a fortune on defense and the equivalent of a $10 Applebee’s gift card on offense.

Nonetheless, IU allowed Michigan State to collect 300 passing yards and four touchdowns last October. If the Hoosier secondary takes a stride forward, Allen could notch a much-needed victory in a grueling three-game stretch.

Nov. 21 at Ohio State

With a minute left in the first half of last year’s contest against Ohio State, wide receiver Donavan Hale connected with an uncovered Peyton Hendershot on a trick play, flummoxing the Buckeye secondary and eliciting frenzied screams from the stands.

IU went on to lose by 41 points.

The Hoosiers almost definitely won’t win this matchup, but they must at least prove capable of scoring against an elite defense without using sleight of hand. Preventing two different Buckeye running backs from reaching 100 yards in a single game wouldn’t hurt, either.

Nov. 28 vs. Maryland

Maryland has given IU close scares the past two seasons, and knowing Maryland has a Tagovailoa in its quarterback room doesn’t exactly ease my fears.

Still, I don’t expect too great a challenge against the Terrapins. IU should be able to outscore Maryland by piling points on a defense that held its ground like a newborn deer on a Slip N’ Slide in 2019.

Dec. 5 at Wisconsin

IU journeys to the land of milk and more milk Dec. 5 to take on a defense that netted 51 sacks in 2019. On the other side of the ball, the Badgers return senior quarterback Jack Coan to throw behind 1,500 pounds of linemen. 

Even if Penix can beat the pass rush with a quick release, it might only make the difference between a heartbreaking loss and an embarrassing loss.

Dec. 12 vs. Purdue

When it comes to the most exciting college football rivalries, the Old Oaken Bucket is easily in the top 27. Jokes aside, this game seems to always come down to the wire no matter how battered or bruised either team appears.

Purdue regains star wideout Rondale Moore, who initially opted out, but once again faces uncertainty at the quarterback position. Provided IU takes advantage of its offensive continuity and exploits Purdue’s patchwork offensive line, the Bucket will remain in Bloomington.

Dec. 19 vs. hopefully not Purdue again

In the never-before-seen Champions Week, teams from the East and West are matched up by their relative standing in each division. The Big Ten sure loves an element of mystery, doesn’t it?

The West is a perennial mixed bag, so Northwestern, Nebraska, Illinois and Purdue are all on the table. However, the Hoosiers defeated three of these teams in 2019 and have the talent to top the occasionally plucky Illini.

IU goes 3-0 in December. Truly, there is no limit to the strangeness of 2020.

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