Hard to believe we are nearly two months away from Indiana football kicking off what may become its most important season in 25-plus years.
Yes, the 2020 season was magical in many ways for Indiana but it also carries a dark cloud of what-ifs.
WHAT IF Michigan has a better year?
WHAT IF Penn State is at full strength?
WHAT IF Michael Penix Jr. stays healthy?
During the 2021 season, these what-ifs will be proven true or not. We will find out whether 2020 was truly the beginning of a new age in Indiana football or just a brief chapter of success that leads to further disappointment.
That being said, there are five games in 2021 where I feel we will learn firsthand just what this Indiana team can do next.
5. Purdue — Nov. 27
Yes. The Bucket Game is No. 5 on this list. Can you believe we made it this far? It used to be that this was the only game IU fans really cared about. Well, welcome to being a top-15 team in the country — we’ve got bigger fish to fry.
This game could get interesting. You already know Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm is going to come in with another stacked offense despite the loss of Rondale Moore who opted out a majority of the 2020 campaign.
Even though Purdue seems pretty committed to Brohm, fans seem less impressed with the $5.5 million men.
Should Purdue go under .500 again, the question will arise on how much longer Brohm will be there and a third straight loss to Indiana wouldn’t help his case.
— Coach Kevin Wright (@CoachWrightIU) June 25, 2021
4. Michigan — Nov. 6
I love this game so much. When the game is within 10 points, Indiana and Michigan tend to turn into an all-out defensive slugfest and I am here for all of it. Remember in 2018 when Indiana last played at the Big House? Chase Winovich? Stevie Scott? Guys were getting thrown out of the game. The score doesn’t reflect it but that game may be one of my favorite Indiana losses of all time.
I’m calling it now. This game is going to be even more fun than that one.
Harbaugh is desperate for a big year in the Big Ten and he will have to work harder than he ever has with this roster that isn’t as loaded with talent. I don’t think this Michigan team will cross the top-15 this season but that doesn’t mean the Wolverines won’t compete with good teams. Especially in the Big House.
I have Indiana in this one but I think it will be a really fun game to watch.
3. Iowa — Sept. 4
Two words. Gary. Barta.
Although the Iowa athletic director/College Football Playoff committee chair may not be directly responsible for Indiana not landing a New Year’s Six bowl game in 2020, his explanation of why certainly didn’t help.
Gary Barta on the Hoosiers: “The committee really appreciated watching the Indiana team play.”
— Nicole Auerbach (@NicoleAuerbach) December 20, 2020
I too appreciated watching the Indiana team play, Gary.
I think this team is going to use a season opener against Iowa to send a message to everyone who said last year’s team wasn’t a “legit” contender.
On the field, however, it is going to come down to the Indiana offense. If the Hoosiers can come out firing on all cylinders, I think Iowa’s defense will have a hard time catching up. As for Indiana’s defense, they are just flat-out better. They shouldn’t have any problems stopping the Hawkeyes.
2. Cincinnati — Sept. 18
Oh hell yes.
This game could not have come in a better year for either program. Both these squads had program-defining years last season and when it came to bowl selection, the two were compared pretty frequently.
Now we will finally get to see which one is better. Not to mention, if both teams come into this one undefeated, I wouldn’t be surprised if this were to get the College Gameday treatment.
That’s right. College Gameday. In Bloomington. For football.
Oh, what a time to be alive.
1. Ohio State — Oct. 23
How long have we watched this battle come so close just to watch the Buckeyes walk away with it at the end of the day? I think that finally can change this year. In years past, Indiana has not had a complete enough team to match the Buckeyes. This year, if the Hoosiers can stay healthy, they may just have enough to match the Buckeyes.
The issue in the past has been the talent gap and the fatigue gap. However, over the past five years of recruiting and player development, Indiana is closer to Ohio State than they have ever been in the 21st century.
I fully believe that this will be the best matchup of the year and possibly the biggest win for Indiana in school history.
Only two months remain until we all get to witness Indiana football take on a challenge like no other.
These five games should prove that Indiana is no longer the laughingstock of the Big Ten. No longer are the days of being under .500. Now comes the next chapter of Indiana University football. Now the hunters become the hunted.