The excitement has been growing around Memorial Stadium all year.
And no, I’m not talking about the beer sales. Many Indiana fans are gearing up for what could be a very memorable 2019 season.
Off the field, Indiana University has agreed to sell beer and wine inside at football games for the first time. The university has also just wrapped up a $10 million project closing in the stadium on the north side which added more seating and more amenities for fans and student athletes alike.
That same energy is growing on the field too — maybe even at a faster pace.
Keep in mind: this 2019 Indiana football team is a young one; much of the talent on the roster has yet to see Big Ten action.
However, the 2019 season is one which brings some of the highest rated recruits the program has ever had. It’s one that has many fans anxious waiting for the long awaited rise of Indiana football by getting over the six-win hump.
But an annual obstacle stands in the Hoosiers’ way once again — one of the nation’s most unforgiving schedules.
The Big Ten East is one of the best in the nation. It’s a division that means playing Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, and Michigan State every year. It also means facing a Maryland squad that has beaten Texas two straight years and seems to always hang around bowl eligibility.
Each game holds an opportunity as well as a challenge for this Indiana team as Tom Allen’s group once again pursues bowl eligibility. Let’s break it all down.
August 31st: vs Ball State (at Lucas Oil Stadium)
Still not sure why this game is being moved to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, yet here we are. Ball State, while a pretty underwhelming matchup, is one of high importance for IU. The Cardinals struggled last season, finishing with a 4-8 record, but this is the same team that competed with a playoff bound Notre Dame team in week one. It’s always hard to know how well a team will be prepared for the first game of the year.
While Ball State will continue to struggle with the loss of starting quarterback Riley Neal, the Cardinals could still provide a better week one challenge than Florida International a season ago. Facing a struggling defense and secondary, one can imagine it will become a field day for IU quarterbacks (yes, plural — we will see more than one this game) and their choice receivers. This should be a win for the Hoosiers but a good opportunity to get a feel for this team’s new identity in its earliest days.
September 7th: vs Eastern Illinois
Last season, Eastern Illinois had one of the worst defenses in college football. The Panthers allowed 8.4 yards per carry. Let me say that again. 8.4 yards per carry — the eighth worst in the nation. That means it’s going to become a marathon for the IU running back duo of Stevie Scott and Cole Gest, assuming Gest will be the next one into the huddle. This is a game which in most years could become interesting, however this year I see this being the Hoosiers’ game all day long.
September 14th: vs Ohio State
Indiana will most likely not beat Ohio State this year. It’s nothing against IU either. Ohio State is a program on tier with Alabama and Clemson. The Buckeyes are in their own league. They have the second most wins of any Power Five conference team over the past 10 years with 91. They only trail Alabama who has 99. Even without Urban Meyer, Ohio State is still a beast in the Big Ten and isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. New quarterback Justin Fields, whether he starts or not, is going to thrive in new head coach Ryan Day’s system. Despite the turnover, Ohio State is on pace to continue being the big bully of the Big Ten for years to come. Indiana fans should expect the classic one-touchdown game until the 3rd quarter where the Buckeyes go on a run and win by 21.
But I am an optimist. If I had to take one year out of the past five where IU had the best chance to beat Ohio State, it would be this year. Change is tough on teams; Urban Meyer ran a powerhouse during his tenure in Columbus and change could come with a new coach and quarterback group. With a rocking Memorial Stadium, an early season upset is not out of question for the Hoosiers.
September 26th: vs UConn
Am I the only one that had to double check to be sure UConn was still considered an FBS team? In all seriousness, this team struggled a lot in 2018. The Huskies went 1-11. Not good. Their only win? Rhode Island, an FCS team. Not good. The Huskies are bringing back a majority of their starters which is a major positive for them and the program moving forward. While I believe UConn is making positive momentum, it won’t be enough to beat a Big Ten team on the road. IU picks up win number three here.
September 28th: at Michigan State
Listen, the Spartans have a lot of hype around them this year considering their less-than-ok season a year ago. If they are not included in someone’s preseason top 25, it is because they are No. 26. The main reason? Coach Mark Dantonio. For one of the most consistently winning coaches in college football, chances are his team has yet another great season. In my opinion, I don’t get the hype. Sparty was underwhelming last year mainly because of quarterback Brian Lewerke’s health. If Lewerke comes back healthy, it could become quite the season for the Spartans. As far as the Hoosiers go, this could get interesting because in the past few years this one has come down to the fourth quarter. This one will rely more on the Hoosiers defensive ability to shut down Lewerke in the second half. If they can do that, I could see the Hoosiers walking away with a win. However, this one is being played in East Lansing which means more likely than not, the Hoosiers fall on their first game outside Indiana.
October 12th: vs Rutgers (Homecoming)
Rutgers. On homecoming. Ringing any bells?
October 17th, 2015. How could we forget the homecoming weekend where Indiana blew a 25-point second half lead against the Scarlet Knights? This year will not be like that. Rutgers had issues on and off the field last year which lead to an abysmal 1-11 record. Head Coach Chris Ash is on the hot seat this season, as is the starting quarterback Artur Sitkowski, who led the nation last year in interceptions with 18. I fully expect the Hoosiers to take care of business here as the defense has one of its best performances against a struggling Rutgers offense. In my predictions, this would give the Hoosiers win number four, halfway through the season. The team only would need two of the next six to be bowl eligible.
October 19th: at Maryland
Maryland and Minnesota will always be considered trap games for me as far as Indiana Football goes. I think Maryland has a bad year as Head Coach Michael Locksley begins his tenure with the Terrapins. Locksley as a head coach has an overall record of 3-31. This summer, the Terps lost top receiving target Jeshaun Jones, who tore his ACL in camp. However, the Terrapins bring back one of the best young players in the conference with running back Anthony McFarland Jr who tallied over 1,000 yards in his first season at Maryland. On this trip, I don’t believe the young Terrapins will have enough to beat Indiana.
IU is only one win away from securing bowl eligibility with five games remaining. Sadly, those five games will be the toughest stretch of the IU season…
October 26th: at Nebraska
…beginning with one of the toughest road environments in the country. The Cornhuskers started out slow last year under new head coach Scott Frost, but showed signs of improvement late in the season, finishing the year with wins against Illinois and Michigan State. Frost has done a phenomenal job turning around a Nebraska program which suddenly is among the favorites in the Big Ten, however, I’m not buying into the hype just yet. It will depend on how the Huskers can come out early in the year. If they are looking strong and living up to it all, it will become very difficult for Indiana to get out of Lincoln with a win.
November 2nd: vs Northwestern
Northwestern is an exciting matchup; for a team that made the Big Ten Championship last season, the Cats have a load of question marks beside them. Pat Fitzgerald’s group plays the toughest brand of football in the Big Ten and will be another strong opponent for the Hoosiers. Over the past three years, Northwestern has had one of the weakest offensive productions in the country ranking 123rd in yards per play (4.95) in the nation. Hunter Johnson, a former five-star quarterback prospect who transferred out of Clemson to join Northwestern, does put an interesting spin on things and could help continue the growth of the program.
As for the Hoosiers, this is a huge game. This could after all be their first chance to clinch a bowl game with a sixth win. A victory at home would also serve as a huge momentum boost heading into the final three games of the season. November is a long way, away so expect some changes to come by then. But I am going to circle this one as the game that decides whether or not Indiana has another five win season or a possible seven wins. However you cut it, this one’s huge.
November 16th: at Penn State
The Penn State game in 2018 is one that continues to sting for IU fans. The Hoosiers played to the level of the Nittany Lions, however it was another episode of just having not enough time to play, as they fell short again in one of the toughest ‘could’ve had ’em’ moments of the year. Watch for Indiana to be on a revenge tour after the battle last year. I don’t expect IU to win this game but I do expect another road game like the one against Michigan last year — a dog-eat-dog fight the entire game being decided by a touchdown or less. I could see this being one of the most exciting games of the season. At the end of the day, Penn State is going to be a different beast and maybe a little too much for IU to handle in State College. It’s a dog fight to the finish, but Penn State walks away with this one.
November 23rd: vs Michigan
If I had to pick one game to watch over and over again, I think it would be last season’s Indiana/Michigan game — one of the most aggressive games of the college football season. This game saw big hits, cheap shots, bad calls, and everything college football fans know and love. This game has been incredibly close for a couple years straight and I expect more of the same in 2019. Michigan comes to Indiana on what could possibly put them in a Big Ten Championship game, dependent on what the rest of the division does. The Maize and Blue will need a win and if Indiana falls to Northwestern, it will become the last chance for the Hoosiers to secure a bowl game at home. This one will have epic proportions and a crowd to match it. Alongside Northwestern, this may be the most exciting Indiana Football game of the fall.
November 30th: at Purdue
The broken record continues to play as once again the Hoosiers will need to win the last game of the year to be bowl eligible and once again that game will be against Purdue in West Lafayette. Both Purdue and Indiana will return in the 2019 season better and while both should not have to rely on their final game of the season to be bowl eligible, history continues to prove otherwise. This one will be another dog fight and while Purdue will have a huge home field advantage, I’m going with the Hoosiers here. Purdue is losing 14 of their 22 starters. That loss of experience at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and offensive line is going to hurt and I could see it being a huge issue for the Boilers season. There are many questions on the offensive and defensive side of the ball, and for that reason I think the Boilermakers will struggle in the 2019 season. Both teams will need this game to make a bowl, and I expect Indiana to be the one that comes out on top.
12 games all summed up. When the dust settles, Indiana just makes a bowl with six wins and a possibility of more. In year three under Tom Allen, Indiana is going to make many strides this year. The offensive side of the ball will strive under new offensive coordinator Kalen Deboer, with new schemes and a less predictable offense. On the defensive side, Indiana will see new talents grow while some old faces reach their potential.
Indiana’s record and game results will remain unknown for now, but buckle up. Sooner rather than later we will all embark on the wild, unpredictable, emotional extravaganza known as the 2019 Indiana Football season.