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The five most intriguing position matchups entering Indiana's 2020 season

A third iteration of the 2020 Big Ten schedule was released Saturday morning, exactly five weeks before the start of the season. It was assumed that an eight-game Big Ten schedule plus an East versus West crossover game in week nine would give Indiana a challenging 2020 slate, but it is shaping up to be one of the most difficult schedules in the conference:

2020 Indiana Football Schedule

  • Oct 24 vs Penn State

  • Oct 31 at Rutgers

  • Nov 7 vs Michigan

  • Nov 14 at Michigan State

  • Nov 21 at Ohio State

  • Nov 28 vs Maryland

  • Dec 5 at Wisconsin

  • Dec 12 vs Purdue

  • Dec 19 vs TBA (Big Ten Champions Week)

The Hoosiers will be challenged from the opening kickoff against Penn State, and their schedule doesn’t get much easier with matchups against Michigan and Ohio State in the first five weeks, too. Much of Indiana’s 2020 schedule remains the same, minus a home game versus Illinois and a road trip to Minnesota due to a condensed schedule.

While our friend Griffin Gonzalez took care of the 2020 schedule breakdown, let’s take a closer look at the top five most intriguing matchups of this upcoming season like no other.

5) Indiana RB Stevie Scott vs Antjuan Simmons, Michigan State LB

Perhaps the most important game on Indiana’s schedule will be on Nov. 14 at Michigan State. In order to become bowl eligible, the Hoosiers will need to reach a .500 record or better, which means the matchup in East Lansing could be the deciding factor. 

Michigan State enters the 2020 season under the leadership of new head coach Mel Tucker, who came over from Colorado where he was the head coach for one season. The Spartans also lost three-year starter Brian Lewerke, but return one of the top players in the Big Ten for the 2020 season, linebacker Antjuan Simmons.

Simmons has played in 38 games for the Spartans and was one of the biggest breakout players of the 2019 season in his first year as a starter. The senior linebacker racked up 90 tackles a year ago, 15 of which went for a loss. Simmons also has an eye for turnovers, forcing two fumbles in 2019, and has improved at rushing the passer with 3.5 sacks last year.

He had his way with Indiana a year ago:

Simmons was named to the 2020 Chuck Bednarik watch list, an award given to the best defensive player in college football each year. Due to heavy roster turnover and a new coach, Simmons will be leaned on to lead the Spartan defense in 2020, not only stopping the run, but in coverage and rushing the passer as well.

Meanwhile, Scott, a typical workhorse running back, faces an intriguing matchup with the Spartan linebacker who seems to be in on the tackle on nearly every play. Now a junior, Scott will again be heavily relied upon after receiving more than 15 carries in seven games in 2019. In two seasons, Scott has rushed for 1,982 yards and 20 touchdowns.

4) Indiana LT Caleb Jones vs Kwity Paye, Michigan DE

Indiana head coach Tom Allen called the Hoosiers’ 38-31 victory over Nebraska in 2019 the team’s breakthrough win. Faced with a daunting Big Ten schedule, a home game against Michigan could be a chance for Indiana to claim its 2020 breakthrough win. In order to pull this off, though, Indiana will have to keep quarterback Michael Penix Jr. on his feet.

Michigan’s defense has one of the conference’s best pass rushers in senior Kwity Paye. Paye was named to the 2019 All-Big Ten second team and enters 2020 as a candidate to make the leap to the conference’s first team. The edge rusher tallied 6.5 sacks in 2019 and finished with 12.5 tackles for loss. 

A constant threat to get to the quarterback, the Indiana offensive line will have its hands full blocking Paye. In order to combat the size, speed and athleticism of Paye, the Hoosiers will likely lean on left tackle Caleb Jones to keep the 6-foot-4, 272-pound Paye out of the backfield.

Jones, who stands 6-foot-8 and 362 pounds, is one of Indiana’s top offensive line recruits in recent years. Jones was a three-star recruit out of Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis and was ranked the No. 10 player from the state in the 2017 class. 

If Indiana hopes to pull off a breakthrough win versus Michigan, giving Penix Jr. a clean pocket throughout the game will be paramount.

3) Indiana QB Michael Penix Jr. vs Justin Fields, Ohio State QB

Fields enters the 2020 season as arguably the best player in the entire Big Ten, regardless of position. Likely an early first round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, Fields will look to bring the Buckeyes back to the College Football Playoffs after losing to Clemson in the semifinals last year.

On the other hand, Penix Jr. begins this season as the unquestioned starter after a healthy offseason and the departure of Peyton Ramsey to Northwestern. Excitement surrounding the Hoosiers’ offense in 2020 is as high as it has been in recent years, with a multitude of weapons for Penix Jr. to spread the ball to.

Penix Jr. appeared in only six games as a sophomore due to injury, but was one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the country, completing 68.8 percent of his passes for a 157.6 passer rating.

The Hoosiers will have their hands full defensively trying to stop the offensive juggernaut that is Ohio State, which means Penix Jr. and the Indiana offense will have to play its best game of the season to hang around in this one. This will likely be a high-scoring affair on both sides as two of the conference's top quarterbacks square off.

This matchup comes week five in Columbus, and the Hoosiers could benefit from Ohio State's lack of home field advantage due to no fans being allowed at games this season. While Ohio State outmatches Indiana in just about every category, it will be entertaining to see the two quarterbacks sling the ball around.

2) Indiana WR Whop Philyor versus Shaun Wade, Ohio State CB 

It will be difficult for the Hoosiers to keep the score close against Ohio State, but this game does not lack exciting matchups. Ohio State has become one of the biggest producers of cornerback talent to the NFL recently with Jeff Okudah going No. 3 in the 2019 NFL Draft and Denzel Ward selected at No. 4 in the 2018 draft. 

The Buckeyes also lost defensive backs Jordan Fuller and Damon Arnette to the NFL Draft, who were first and second team All-Big Ten players in 2019. Even with the loss of talent in the secondary, Ohio State has one of the best cornerbacks in the nation in junior Shaun Wade.

Wade originally opted out of the 2020 season to prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft, where he was projected to be a first-round pick. However, on Sept. 17, Wade decided to opt back in to the 2020 season, immediately making him one of the best defensive backs in the conference. A year ago, Wade totaled 26 tackles, seven passes defended, two sacks, two forced fumbles and one interception.

Wade, now the top cover guy for the Buckeyes and next future first-round pick from the secondary, will likely match up with Indiana receiver Whop Philyor. Philyor was a second team All-Big Ten selection in 2019 and enters this season as Indiana’s top pass catcher.

The senior receiver thrives in the slot because of his agility and lightning-fast breakaway speed, which will surely put Wade to the test. Philyor finished last year with 1,002 receiving yards and five touchdowns, and with the graduation of receiver Nick Westbrook, he will be relied upon even more as the Hoosiers' top receiving target. 

Philyor was also one of three Hoosiers named to the 2020 preseason Maxwell Award watch list, an award given to the nation’s most outstanding player in college football. Penix Jr. and Scott join Philyor on this watch list.

1) Indiana CB Tiawan Mullen versus David Bell, Purdue WR

The Big Ten succeeded in keeping Big Ten rivalries in the final week of the season. While “Champions Week” will match up corresponding teams from the Big Ten East and West in week nine, the Old Oaken Bucket game will still conclude Indiana’s regular slate on Dec. 12.

Purdue star wide receiver Rondale Moore opted out of the 2020 season, and while there has been speculation that he could opt back in, the Boilermakers have another receiver who could turn out to be just as good. 

Indiana fans got a glimpse of this matchup a year ago when Mullen and the Hoosiers got the best of Bell and the Boilermakers in a 44-41 Hoosier victory in overtime. In that game, Bell finished with nine catches for 136 yards and a touchdown. Mullen held his own, though, totaling eight tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss, four passes defended and a fumble recovery.

Bell made the third team All-Big Ten and Mullen was an All-Big Ten honorable mention in each of their freshman seasons. At 6-foot-2, Bell hauled in 86 catches for 1,035 yards as a freshman and returns to West Lafayette as one of the nation's top receiving threats. 

Mullen was ranked as the No. 10 returning player in then entire Big Ten by Pro Football Focus and has seen his name pop up on NFL Draft boards for 2022 already. Keep your eyes locked in on this matchup as it shapes up to be one of the most intriguing wide receiver-cornerback matchups in the country. 

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