After a tumultuous offseason that saw the Big Ten postpone its season before voting to play, IU football is scheduled to start its nine-game slate Oct. 24.
With the season kickoff just a few weeks away, the Indiana Daily Student football reporters share their predictions analysis for the upcoming season.
D.J. Fezler: There’s no player for IU I think will dictate the success of the team more than sophomore quarterback Michael Penix Jr. this season. Without the veteran presence of Peyton Ramsey sitting behind him, the Hoosiers can’t afford to juggle players at the quarterback position due to injuries. For IU to break through and establish itself as a formidable team in the Big Ten this year, Penix will have to be the one leading the charge.
Evan Gerike: If IU is going to win big games this year, it will come on the heels of the offense breaking out. Penix’s performance will obviously be important, but look for junior running back Stevie Scott III to have a career year. He carried the ball 50 fewer times last year compared to 2018, resulting in nearly 300 fewer rushing yards. He’s only 18 yards away from 2,000 in his career, and even 600 yards over nine games will easily put him into the top 10 for career rushing yards at IU. Scott can help IU by opening the running game and giving Penix more time and options.
Bradley Hohulin: When it came to slowing down Penix in 2019, the Big Ten’s defenses had nothing on his own collarbone. This is far from an inspired pick, but the sophomore might end up being the best quarterback in IU’s history provided he can stay healthy and take advantage of the skill that surrounds him. If the Hoosiers take the leap forward its fans have been eagerly awaiting, it will come on Penix’s arm.
Breakout player of the year:
Fezler: IU has no shortage of skilled athletes on offense this season. But after the departure of wide receivers Donovan Hale and Nick Westbrook, senior Whop Philyor can’t be expected to shoulder all the responsibilities in the passing game. In comes sophomore wide receiver Miles Marshall, who will fill in as the team’s next tall, physical pass catcher. He’ll see his fair share of targets this season after posting 16 catches, 196 yards and one touchdown in 2019.
Gerike: Bryant Fitzgerald is stepping up to play the husky position in place of senior Marcelino Ball after he tore his ACL in practice earlier this year. Fitzgerald has been one of head coach Tom Allen’s favorite players for a few years now, and he might’ve filled in for Ball in 2017 as a freshman if it wasn’t for eligibility issues. Allen is ready to go back to Fitzgerald as the husky this year, so look for Fitzgerald to perform in a position where he can be a bit more physical than as safety.
Hohulin: IU heard the message to get itself a man who could do both, and found one in David Ellis. The speedy sophomore primarily returned kicks last year, ranking third among true freshmen with 579 yards. Look for Ellis to share the load in the backfield while also snagging passes when defenses are busy locking down Philyor.
Defensive player of the year:
Fezler: Junior linebacker Cam Jones is fast, physical and my pick for IU Defensive Player of the Year in 2020. Unlike last season, he won’t have to split time with a veteran such as Reakwon Jones, who has since graduated. Jones appeared in 12 games in 2019, but with an opportunity to contribute on more snaps this year, he’s primed to make plays all over the field for the Hoosiers’ defense.
Gerike: The defensive player of the year may not be the name you hear most on tackles or interceptions. Look for a lineman such as junior James Head Jr. to push IU’s defense to the next level. IU has playmakers such as Jones, junior linebacker Micah McFadden and sophomore cornerback Tiawan Mullen, but they’ll be even better this year if opposing quarterbacks are afraid of Head rushing the blind side. Head had 2.5 sacks and four tackles for loss last season, but expect a lot more from him this year.
Hohulin: I imagine McFadden is an avid fisherman in his free time because he certainly knows his way around a tackle. The junior linebacker led the Hoosiers with 61 takedowns last year and can be a pillar of consistency and leadership this fall. McFadden may not be the most explosive member of the IU defense, but there’s no more definitive way to stop your opponent from scoring than wrapping him up and yanking him to the turf.
Game to watch:
Fezler: With Peyton Ramsey at the helm of the offense, IU played a tightly contested matchup against Penn State last season but fell short 34-27. It’s a new season, Penix. is healthy and the Hoosiers are still looking for a signature victory during Allen’s tenure. The opening week of the season against the Nittany Lions at home Oct. 24 may provide a glimpse of this team’s potential.
Gerike: Without fans at games, it’s easier to choose an away game, so I’ll pick Michigan State on Nov. 14. If we did this back in January, I would’ve said Penn State at home on Halloween, but away at Rutgers, without fans no less, doesn’t have the same ring to it. With former head coach Mark Dantonio gone, MSU won’t be as good as they have been recently, but IU played well in East Lansing, Michigan, last year and this could be a chance for us to see how far they’ve come. They’ve only won the Old Brass Spittoon once since 2006.
Hohulin: Maryland seemingly took “the best defense is a good offense” a bit too far because their defense is truly offensive to watch. However, this game could be a rare Big Ten barn burner. Junior wide receiver Dontay Demus Jr. is quietly one of the conference's best wideouts, and he may be catching passes from University of Alabama transfer sophomore quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa. The way I see it, Big Ten fans should take their high-scoring affairs wherever they can get them.
Best chance at an upset:
Fezler: IU was embarrassed at home in 2019 against Michigan and posted a scoreless second half in a 39-14 loss. The Hoosiers will invite the Wolverines to Bloomington once again in Week 3 this season but will obviously be prepared to play for a vastly different result. Penix Jr. will be prepared to lead the team to a more consistent display of scoring potential en route to the program’s first victory over Michigan since 1987.
Gerike: Look for something weird to happen in the season opener against Penn State. As we saw in the first week of the Southeastern Conference, good teams like Louisiana State University and the University of Texas struggled in an abnormal year. If IU comes out sharp, week one is as good of a chance as any for the team to catch a good team flat footed.
Hohulin: Michigan visits Bloomington one week after a rivalry matchup with Michigan State and one week before taking on Wisconsin, leaving IU in prime position to be overlooked. The Wolverines will be playing with four new offensive linemen and a first-time starter at quarterback. I hesitate to encourage anyone to watch more Michigan football than absolutely necessary, but this year the sacrifice could be well worth it.
Fezler: With a nine-game, conference-only schedule in 2020, this is the year for IU to prove it can at least hold its own against some of the best talent in the country. If the Hoosiers can win their favorable matchups and come away with one upset victory, they’ll be flaunting a respectable 5-3 record before the Big Ten Champions Week. The Big Ten West has traditionally been weaker than the East, so I’ll give IU the benefit of the doubt in week nine, allowing the team to finish at 6-3.
Gerike: IU is left facing off solely against conference opponents this year, but that isn’t as significant record-wise as it was when they needed six games to reach bowl eligibility. Nearly every reasonable prediction has the Hoosiers at 4-4 and I’m not going to guess any different. That record will likely get IU a fourth or fifth place finish and a Champions Week game against a favorable opponent like Iowa or Illinois. I’ll go for a week nine win and a 5-4 record for IU when the dust settles.
Hohulin: In a year this quirky, I could see IU both winning and losing a game they shouldn’t. Maybe that means toppling Penn State but floundering against Michigan State. A 4-4 record won’t warrant a very tough matchup in Champions Week, so I have the Hoosiers scraping together the elusive non-disappointing five-win season.
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