The Big Ten is officially back. No, not like last time. This third schedule release is much more promising than the previous two, as the conference announced its return with a nine-game schedule that begins the weekend of Oct. 23. In case you missed it, the schedule includes eight games and one additional game in which the Hoosiers will face off against a team that finished similarly in the West division.
Tom Allen's squad has a tough eight weeks ahead. That might be putting it softly. Why don't we break it down?
Week 1: Penn State
Well...it isn't Ball State. Obviously playing exclusively conference opponents is going to have its downsides, and opening your season against Penn State is one of them. The Nittany Lions are bringing back much of last year's talent and will be looking to keep pace in the East right behind Ohio State.
But it isn't all bad for the Hoosiers. Last year's matchup against the Nittany Lions ended in a close contest that saw IU give it up late. That battle may provide enough motivation for the Hoosiers to secure a week one upset.
Week 2: at Rutgers
Of course the Hoosiers play Rutgers on Halloween. In Piscataway. I'd be upset if they didn't.
I actually love Scarlet Knights new head coach Greg Schiano, and I really think Rutgers will slowly begin hitting an upswing of things. But Rutgers is still Rutgers and this is probably the only team in the Big Ten that would've benefitted from a year off.
The rebuild is on and it will show in week two. IU — and everyone else — should win big in New Jersey.
Week 3: Michigan
Michigan is always one of those matchups that can go one of two ways: either IU holds it close and loses a tight one late in an absolute dog fight, or... Michigan dominates the entire game.
Last year we saw the latter of the two and we could be in for another episode this year. Not all hope is lost for IU, though. Earlier this week, Michigan quarterback Dylan McCaffrey chose to opt out of the 2020 season, leaving the Wolverines' quarterback situation murky at best. IU may get lucky and sneak an upset in week three.
Week 4: at Michigan State
The Hoosiers head back to East Lansing for a second straight year — a byproduct of pandemic scheduling. Not unlike the opportunity that presented itself to IU a year ago, this game could be the most important win of the 2020 IU football season.
Usually, with a non-conference schedule included, a team like IU can afford to drop a game or two in conference that should have been won, like last season against the Spartans. However, with a shortened schedule and no UConn or Western Kentucky, there's even less room for error.
Michigan State's program is in the middle of mass turnover with new head coach Mel Tucker getting his feet underneath him. Indiana simply must take advantage of a beaten-down Sparty if there remain aspirations of getting back to a bowl game this winter. Yes, as wild as this has been, bowl games are still a thing.
Week 5: at Ohio State
I mean, what do you want me to say? It seems to me — and hopefully you — that Ohio State is head and shoulders above everyone else in the Big Ten, and no one can ignore that.
Ohio State, Clemson, and Alabama are truly in a league of their own and should be respected as such.
No fans cheering against the Hoosiers should help? Maybe? But it probably won't give Indiana the upset in this matchup.
Week 6: Maryland
Mike Locksley begins his second year in College Park after an underwhelming first season. I really like Maryland as far as rebuilding teams go, but the Terps really aren't there yet. I expect their offense to be really explosive but massive holes in the defense will plague them, similarly to how they did last season.
Last year's win for Indiana at Capital One Field signaled a major turning point in IU's journey back to bowl season. This year? In Bloomington? Should be a solid Hoosiers' victory.
Week 7: at Wisconsin
Madison. December. Man, the Big Ten really isn't really giving IU a break this year, huh?
This could be a pretty exciting matchup here. Don't get me wrong, I think Wisconsin is crazy good. But the Badgers did lose a ton of talent this past offseason to graduation and the draft, and this could be a team full of new faces with little Big Ten game experience.
That being said, I expect a solid Wisconsin team this year. Not as good as last year but still really solid. It will be extremely tough for the Hoosiers to walk away victors in Madison.
Week 8: Purdue
Last year's Bucket Game was one of the best we have ever seen, and one can only imagine what this year could look like.
The biggest issue with finishing the season with a rivalry game is that rarely both teams are at 100%. With the youth on both these rosters, I wouldn't get my hopes up for a healthy matchup in Week 8.
Purdue may have better individual players, but I fully believe Indiana is the better team. The Hoosiers should walk away with their second-straight Bucket win.
The regular Big Ten season will conclude with a Week 9 matchup that includes the Big Ten championship and cross-division matchups for every Big Ten team's divisional counterpart. For a team like Indiana, a bowl game opportunity could come down to that final game.
In a year where each day seems to bring more bad, we can finally focus on a common good: Big Ten football is back.
The Hoosiers are showing one of their strongest rosters in recent history and are looking to build off the momentum from the 2019 season.
Will Indiana be able to compete in a Big Ten-only season? Will the Hoosiers finally get that program-changing upset? Can Indiana finally have that great year fans have been waiting for?
All of those questions and more should be answered in the weeks to come.