It has been nearly a month since the Big Ten decided its football teams would play a conference-only schedule, but on Wednesday morning, fans found out just who their team would be playing and when.
Nine conference games for the Hoosiers remain the same as the original schedule, just different dates, but Minnesota was added to Indiana’s 10-game schedule that will span over a 12-week period. The release of this schedule does not come with a guarantee that the season will happen, but sports wouldn’t be the same without preseason schedule speculation.
Hoosiers face numerous challenges early on
In a world without COVID-19, Indiana’s football schedule to begin the season was an opportunity to boost its chances to make a bowl game two years in a row. However, with the release of the new schedule, it is quite the opposite.
The Hoosiers’ season opener at Wisconsin on Sept. 4 remains the same, but instead of building confidence for a few weeks against Ball State, Western Kentucky and UConn, Indiana will face six teams in a row that were bowl eligible last year. Indiana will welcome Penn State, Illinois and Michigan to Memorial Stadium to go along with road trips to Wisconsin, Ohio State and Minnesota to complete the first six weeks of the season. These six teams combined to win 60 games a year ago.
It was obvious that Indiana’s schedule would become significantly more difficult upon the announcement that the Big Ten would only play conference games, which means fans will get to see what Indiana is truly made of right away. In an interview on the Big Ten Network, head coach Tom Allen recognized this challenge.
“I see it as a great opportunity,” Allen said. “The Big Ten is a great conference with a lot of great football teams. I look at it as we are all about making history here at Indiana.”
While Allen’s confidence in his team never seems to waver, a certain metric has not moved in Indiana’s favor. According to ESPN’s SP+ ratings, Indiana’s expected win total went down from 7.4 to 5.2 wins with the release of a new schedule. The Hoosiers’ most likely record is 5-5 following this metric.
Plenty of late-season opportunities to pick up wins
After facing a gauntlet through the first six games of the season, a seemingly easier second half schedule could keep Indiana in the running for bowl eligibility. Week eight features a matchup with the Maryland Terrapins in Bloomington, followed by road matchups with Rutgers and Michigan State and the Old Oaken Bucket Game versus Purdue at home to finish the regular season.
Three of the four teams rounding out Indiana’s schedule were not eligible for a bowl game last year, and Michigan State barely earned eligibility with two wins to finish its regular season. The Spartans also lost head coach Mark Dantonio to retirement this offseason.
It will be important for Indiana to not lose hope in the season after the first stretch of games, since the back half of the schedule provides the Hoosiers with an opportunity to go on a late run. While the Big Ten did not outline bowl eligibility requirements in today’s schedule release, Nick Carpelli, executive director of the Football Bowl Association, told ESPN on July 15 that in a 10-game season, a 5-5 record is bowl-eligible by NCAA rules.
Bye weeks come at optimal times
The 2020-2021 Big Ten football schedule will run from Sept. 3 to Nov. 21 and include two bye weeks for each team. This decision was made in an effort to allow the possibility of games being collapsed into the bye weeks if postponements become necessary.
Indiana’s two bye weeks come during week five and week 11 during the 12-week schedule. At first glance, these times seem to work in the Hoosiers’ favor, as week five provides breathing room between a home game versus Ohio State and a road trip to Minnesota. The first four weeks of Indiana’s schedule look to be one of the most grueling stretches of the season, which means a bye week on Oct. 3 will give Allen and the Hoosiers a chance to get healthy and prepare for the rest of the season.
The second of Indiana’s bye weeks comes on week 11, separating a road game at Michigan and the regular season finale at home versus Purdue. In many past seasons, the Old Oaken Bucket game has decided the Hoosiers’ bowl eligibility status and could likely carry the same weight this season.
Having a bye week during week 11 should provide the Hoosiers with necessary rest after nine weeks of Big Ten football and allow them to prepare for in-state rival Purdue, which has similar bowl game aspirations.
One game to look forward to
Indiana has lost 59 out of 68 games versus Michigan and has not defeated the Wolverines since 1987. That is not very helpful in making an argument for the Hoosiers to take down Michigan this year.
However, Michigan will be without last year’s starting quarterback Shea Patterson. The Wolverines also have Ohio State the following week and Wisconsin the week after that. It is not quite the trap game Indiana fans would hope for since Michigan has a bye week before coming to Bloomington, but an improved Indiana offense led by Michael Penix Jr., Whop Philyor and Stevie Scott could be enough to compete with the Wolverines.
The Hoosiers have played Michigan pretty competitively in recent years, with four of its last five losses coming within 11 points and two of the five games needing overtime to decide the winner. Indiana is scheduled to Michigan on Oct. 17, and if the game happens, there will likely be no fans in attendance.
It’s important to note, the release of this schedule does not guarantee a season will happen, but Indiana will begin fall camp on Aug. 6.