The Indiana football program is in an interesting position this season. After having a combined record of 14-7, they found themselves in a bowl game in both the 2019 and 2020 seasons. With lofty expectations going into the 2021 season, the Hoosiers took a nosedive going 2-10, not winning a single conference game.
Ahead of the first game of the season, the Indiana Daily Student football reporters gave their predictions for the 2022 Indiana football season.
Most Valuable Player
GARRETT NEWMAN: In years past, the most valuable player on the Hoosier roster could have been quarterback Michael Penix Jr. or linebacker Micah Mcfadden. This season neither of those players will be suiting up for Indiana. While I believe cornerback Tiawan Mullen will be an impactful player for the back end of the Hoosier defense, my most valuable player this season is transfer running back from Auburn Shaun Shivers. Primarily used as a third-down back for the Tigers, he looks to be more involved as a member of the Hoosiers’ offense this year. In the Big Ten conference, many teams make their identity running the football, and with an uncertain future at the quarterback position the importance of maintaining possession and moving the football on the ground is paramount. With a stout defense, which has become part of the Indiana football identity, a running game led by Shivers will be crucial to a successful season.
WILL FOLEY: This is the first time in a couple of seasons there isn’t an obvious answer as to who Indiana’s most valuable player could be. There are a lot of question marks and uncertainties with this 2022 squad, especially on the offensive side. That narrows it down to the defense, and it’s very tempting to say Tiawan Mullen, but the secondary is so strong as a collective he isn’t necessarily the most valuable, rather he’s the best. Instead, I think senior linebacker Cam Jones steps up in a big way this season, not to say that he is or will be what Micah McFadden was, but he has the ability and leadership to take McFadden’s role. If Jones can come close to taking on McFadden’s role and the rest of the defense steps up, seeing more success in games is in the realm of possibilities.
JACOB SPUDICH: So far, we’ve all wanted to put Tiawan Mullen down, but we’ve found other players to pick in this preseason prediction category. Why not go the obvious answer? For me, Tiawan Mullen is the most talented player on this team, and he will be a big leader in the locker room and on the field. Tiawan Mullen will be talked about as an all-time great Hoosier after this season, and we should get ready to see him on our TV screens on Sundays.
Breakout player of the year
NEWMAN: Indiana has had great weapons on the outside of the offense for the last three seasons. Peyton Hendershot and Ty Fryfogle headlined that group, but neither of these guys will be options for the Hoosiers’ quarterback this season. I expect Donaven McCulley to take a huge leap as a weapon following his switch from quarterback to receiver. His tall frame for the position will give the Hoosier offense a great jump-ball threat, and his overall athleticism will be intriguing to watch on the outside. If the Indiana offense can move the ball through the air, keep your eyes on McCulley to make some huge plays for the Hoosiers this year.
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FOLEY: This one seems obvious to me. After losing three-time All-Big Ten selection tight end Peyton Hendershot, junior tight end A.J. Barner is primed to fill Hendershot’s role. Barner showed a glimpse of success in the last three games of the 2021 season, catching 10 balls for 65 yards in the final three contests. Barner has great size, standing at 6’6’, and as long as there is consistency from the quarterback position, his size can make for a dangerous redzone target.
SPUDICH: I agree with Garrett on this one. Donaven McCulley has tremendous athleticism and has a great understanding of the game. It’ll be a competitive wide receiver room, but I anticipate he will separate himself from the pack and becomes a valuable asset to Indiana’s receiving core for this year and years to come.
Newcomer of the year
NEWMAN: Last year, the Indiana football team got a spark from freshman quarterback Donaven McCulley. This season McCulley will be heading to the perimeter of the offense as a wide receiver. This year, my newcomer of the year will be Dasan McCullough. The 6'5” freshman edge rusher and secondary hybrid player comes into the program as the 75th-ranked prospect in the country by 247sports. McCullough played his senior season in high school for local Bloomington South and was known as a playmaker during his high school career. Following a season where the Hoosiers struggled to generate much of a pass rush, be on the lookout for McCullough to make splash plays for the defense this season.
FOLEY: I really wanted to go with freshman Dasan McCullough here, as the uber-talented linebacker is Indiana’s highest-ranked recruit in the modern era, but I’m not quite sure he’ll get the minutes to show stardom quite yet. Instead, I’ll opt for junior wide receiver Cam Camper, a transfer from junior college Trinity Valley Community College. In what will be a crowded receiver room, Camper was the only one listed as an outright starter in the initial depth chart released, which is very telling about his successful fall camp. His JUCO numbers are terrific, putting up 50 catches for 858 yards and four touchdowns in two seasons. That comes out to a monstrous 17.3 yards per catch, and while a significant level up, he could pose as a major deep threat if he can match his previous production.
SPUDICH: This year Indiana finds itself with a completely different running back room than the year prior. The Hoosiers’ three main running backs, Carr, Ervin-Poindexter and Childers, also lost running back coach Deland McCullogh during the offseason. Indiana needs an exceptional run game and with former Auburn transfer Shaun Shivers and North Carolina transfer Josh Henderson that will be obtainable. My newcomer of the year prediction will go to both Henderson and Shivers. The Big Ten is made up of teams that pack a “one-two punch” at the running back position. This year Indiana will do that.
Defensive player of the year
NEWMAN: While the previously mentioned Dasan McCullough will have a significant impact on the Hoosier defense in 2022, and linebacker Cam Jones will be the heart of the defense following Mcfadden’s departure, neither was my pick for defensive player of the year. My pick for defensive player of the year will come from the Indiana secondary. Even though I love a big safety in the backline like Devon Matthews, my prediction is that Tiawan Mullen will be taking the ball away from opposing offenses a lot this season. A decorated player in his time here in Bloomington, the former All-American looks to right the ship following last season and help the Hoosier’s secondary finish business this year.
FOLEY: I agree with Garrett on Mullen here. While Jones is my pick for MVP, that’s more so for his leadership rather than production. After an outstanding 2020 season, we never really got to see Mullen completely healthy in 2021. If he can avoid injury all season, I expect the senior to return to form and get close to those 2020 numbers. The secondary is the most experienced position group heading into the season, and Mullen can lead them in locking down the Big Ten.
SPUDICH: Linebacker Alfred Bryant has had a great offseason, he’s gotten tremendous recognition from the coaching staff. For me, it’s hard to put together a story where Alfred Bryant is not a key part of this defense. Last year, he scratched the service of full potential, and this year he’s got a new defensive system to work with where he is a focal point. On top of him being defensive player of the year for Indiana, look for him to get some All-Big Ten nods as well.
Game to watch
NEWMAN: As a kid from Indiana, the biggest game of the college football season is the Old Oaken Bucket game between Indiana and Purdue. The bitter rivalry between the two teams is magnified by the fairly equal matchup that can be expected. I believe Indiana will improve quite a bit from last season, and I also predict Purdue’s success from last year will not carry over. The Boilermakers lost star players to the NFL in defensive end George Karlaftis and wide receiver David Bell, having little depth to cover for it. Indiana will bring in a veteran group of players and Purdue returns their quarterback which should make for an amazing rivalry matchup to end the season.
FOLEY: Even when having poor or mediocre seasons in recent years, there’s one top program Indiana always gives a good fight to: Michigan. I’m not sure how or why, but the Hoosiers seemingly always put up a scrappy fight against the Wolverines. Michigan heads into the season ranked No. 8 in the AP Poll and is fresh off its first College Football Playoff appearance, but I think the Hoosiers have a chance to catch them off guard. It should be a rowdy environment in Bloomington, and if Indiana can contain Blake Corum and the run game, the Hoosiers have a real chance to pull off the upset.
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SPUDICH: The Wolverines coming to Bloomington October 8th will be a must-see game. The last time Indiana played Michigan at home, the Hoosiers snapped their 19-game losing streak against Michigan. In 2017, Michigan barely squeaked by with a game-winning touchdown in overtime. In 2015, one of the most memorable college football games in my life, Michigan and Indiana put up a total of 89 points in a double thriller.
NEWMAN: Last season was a disappointing one for the Indiana football program. There is no need to continue beating that drum. This season, the schedule looks to be a bit easier, and the Hoosiers should find a moderate level of success. To start the year, Indiana has four highly competitive opportunities to get wins as it will play Illinois, Idaho and Western Kentucky at home before heading to Cincinnati. My overall prediction for the Hoosiers' record is 6-6, but they have the ability to possibly win seven or eight games if they can pull off one or two upsets. A 6-6 record will be seen as a nice upgrade from last year and will allow Hoosiers fans to watch them play in a bowl game.
FOLEY: Taking a look at the Hoosiers’ schedule, you first say to yourself, ‘Wait, this isn’t all that bad.’ Then you get to the midway point and it starts to get tricky. Weeks 9 through 11 seem impossible, hosting Penn State then taking on Ohio State and Michigan State on the road. There’s a lot we don’t know about this Indiana team, making it difficult to really gauge some of the toss-up games on the schedule, like at Nebraska or hosting Maryland. That being said, there’s still a really good chance the Hoosiers can start the season 3-0 and eventually 4-1. But I think from there it’s just too difficult and the wear and tear will add up. I predict a 5-7 season, one shy of a bowl game berth and immense agony for Hoosier fans who just want a chance at a bowl win.
SPUDICH: There’s no point sugarcoating it. Indiana plays a hard schedule, one of the many consequences of playing in the Big Ten. While this year looks to be a big improvement from last season, we can simply say that Indiana will win the games they’re supposed to win but lose the games they aren’t supposed to win. Toward the tail end of the season, Indiana finds themselves playing Penn State at home, Ohio State on the road and Michigan State on the road in consecutive weeks. Indiana will go 6-6 on the season granting them a bowl appearance. The most important game on the schedule, as mentioned earlier, is Michigan at Indiana. Whenever Michigan takes on Indiana on the road, it never disappoints.
B10 Champ Prediction
NEWMAN: The reality is that Ohio State has had a strangle hold over the Big Ten for the better part of the last decade. Michigan won the conference last season, but my belief is it will take a small step backward this year. So, if Ohio State is the prediction to come out of the East, there is a mosh pit of candidates battling to get the bid from the Big Ten West. My prediction for the West is a familiar face to the Big Ten Championship game. The Wisconsin Badgers enter this season coming off a somewhat disappointing 2021 campaign. They are led by sophomore running back Braelon Allen who made a name for himself last season rushing for 1,268 yards and 12 touchdowns at 17 years of age. Allen has garnered some Derrick Henry comparisons and comes in alongside a veteran running back group. The Badgers look to play to their strengths as a defensive team that runs the ball consistently to get results. On top of this, the Wisconsin schedule does not look to be the most difficult in the conference, as they play Ohio State and Michigan State on the road, but aside from those games, the Badgers should handle business most weeks.
FOLEY: In my recent column, one of my four bold takes about the college football season is that Ohio State has the best quarterback, running back and wide receiver in the country on its way to a national championship. This offense is a juggernaut, and pair that with what could be a well-above average defense? This team gives me shades of 2019 Louisiana State University, now considered one of the greatest teams ever. So, that’s my pick from the Big Ten East. The Big Ten West looks rather bland, per usual. I believe Wisconsin is the best team in the division, led by star sophomore running back Braelon Allen, but the Badgers have a tough road slate. Instead, I’m with Jacob and think the Minnesota Golden Gophers take advantage of a rather easier schedule and secure a berth to the Big Ten championship. Then, well, Ohio State may win by more than 50 points in the championship game.
SPUDICH: We can try and act like the 2022 Big Ten Champion won’t be the winner of Michigan vs. Ohio State, but we’d be fooling ourselves. Both teams have seemingly separated themselves from the rest of a strong Big Ten conference. While the East is decided, what about the team that the Big Ten West sends to Lucas Oil Stadium. Watch for the Minnesota Golden Gophers led by PJ Fleck to finally get to the Big Ten title game. The Gophers have one of the best running back duos in the Big Ten, if not the nation, with Mohamed Ibrahim and Trey Potts. With Tanner Morgan in his fifth year in a Gophers’ uniform and his 27-12 career as a Minnesota starting quarterback, look for reminisces of the Gophers’ 2019 season when they won the Outback Bowl. The official prediction: Michigan over Minnesota in the Big Ten Championship.