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Breaking down Indiana men's soccer's conference-only schedule

Indiana men's soccer will play a 10-game, conference-only schedule beginning Feb. 19, the program unveiled Tuesday morning on its Twitter account. The revamped schedule comes after the NCAA postponed the men's soccer season and tournament until the spring, which also pushed back the College Cup until May 13-17.

The Hoosiers' 10-game slate includes five home matches and five away matches, while facing six teams once and two teams twice.

With that, let's break down what is sure to be a season unlike any other for head coach Todd Yeagley and his Hoosiers.

Vs. Wisconsin — Friday, Feb. 19

Indiana lucked out by drawing Wisconsin in its season-opener. Not only do the Hoosiers avoid a trip to frigid Madison in mid-February, they're also facing a Wisconsin squad that mustered just one win in Big Ten play and a 3-11-4 overall record last season. Oh, and the Badgers are without last season's starting goalkeeper Dean Cowdroy and leading points scorer Matthew Comiskey.

All things considered, this was about as favorable of a first match as the Hoosiers could've hoped for. It should be a good opportunity for Yeagley and the coaching staff to tinker with the rotations and for IU to get its feet wet and knock off a year's worth of rust.

At Ohio State Tuesday, Feb. 23

The Buckeyes could very well be the worst team in the Big Ten this season, and it's probably not that close either.

Barely edging out Rutgers due to a tie-breaker for the No. 8 seed in the Big Ten Tournament last season, Ohio State enters this season losing its main source of offense in Jack Holland and veteran goalkeeper Parker Siegfried.

For a team that scored a conference-low four goals and allowed a conference-high 15 goals, I don't see the Buckeyes improving much, if at all.

Barring a complete meltdown, Indiana will likely put this game away early without much resistance.

At Northwestern Saturday, Feb. 27

The Wildcats surprised many in the Big Ten last season finishing ahead of Maryland in the regular-season standings and earning the No. 4 seed in the conference tournament. A 1-0 stunner over Maryland last season — which gave Northwestern the tie-breaker for the No. 4 seed — showed what the Wildcats are capable of and building toward.

For a program that's largely underachieved for the better part of the past decade, head coach Tim Lenahan seems to have Northwestern headed in the right direction. Second Team All-Big Ten defender Garrett Opperman leads a strong returning core, while juniors Jose Del Valle and Bardia Kimiavi have potential to breakout as major offensive weapons.

Since this will be IU's first road match of season, I'll be keeping a close eye on how the Hoosiers respond from the opening whistle.

Vs. Penn State — Sunday, March 7

If not for Indiana's pedigree and collection of talent, the Nittany Lions might be my pick to win the Big Ten this season. Following a 6-1-1 conference record a season ago that culminated in a trip to the NCAA Tournament, Penn State returns nearly every starter and doesn't seem to have any glaring weaknesses.

Though star midfielder Aaron Molloy graduated after last season and is now playing in the USL, Penn State gets back four All-Big Ten honorees and adds significant experience elsewhere. One of two forwards selected as a First Team-All

Herbert Endeley has made an immediate impact as just a freshman. (Bailey Wright/HN)

Big Ten, Liam Butts headlines a prolific starting XI that also includes Big Ten Defender of the Year candidate Brandon Hackenberg, backline mate Jalen Watson and rising goalkeeper Kris Shakes.

However, heading into this match on March 7, Penn State will be in the midst of a brutal two-game road trip, first at Michigan, then at Indiana just three days later. The quick turnaround could work in IU's favor if its capitalizes out of the gate.

Regardless, this match should be one of Indiana's toughest tests of the year. The Hoosiers better come ready to play.

At Wisconsin — Thursday, March 11

I don't expect much of anything to be different the second time around between IU and Wisconsin other than the Badgers hosting this one. Let's just hope the weather in Madison is somewhat reasonable by March.

Vs. Michigan State — Monday, March 15

To put it bluntly, Michigan State was not good last season despite what its conference record indicates. The Spartans finished with a 3-12-3 record, with all three of their wins coming against Big Ten bottom-feeders — Rutgers, Wisconsin and Ohio State.

Do the Spartans have a chance to improve this season? Absolutely, considering their top-five point scorers from a season ago are all returning, and so is starting goalie Hunter Morse.

Do I think the Spartans have a chance to defeat Indiana, much less in Bloomington? Mmm, not quite. But it should be much more competitive this season.

At Rutgers — Friday, March 19

A trip to Piscataway rounds out what should be a fairly easy eight-day, three-match stretch for the Hoosiers. The Scarlet Knights were abysmal last season, posting just one conference win and tying Ohio State for last place in the conference.

Bringing back All-Big Ten defender Pablo Avila and All-Big Ten freshmen Huge Le Guennec and Jackson Temple should at least make Rutgers a stronger team on paper, but the results on the field last season don't inspire much confidence.

While Rutgers will likely finish better than last place in the Big Ten by virtue of experience, Indiana shouldn't have much of a problem handling the Scarlet Knights, even on the road.

Vs. Northwestern — Tuesday, March 23

Part two of the home-and-home series against Northwestern has the Wildcats traveling to Bloomington. There's a good possibility both teams are much-improved in this second go-around, so fans should be in store for a fun one in the final stretch of the season.

At Michigan — Saturday, March 27

The last time these two squads met, they needed a penalty shoot-out to decide the fate of the 2019 Big Ten Tournament Championship. In the end, the Hoosiers stood tall as forward Josh Penn netted the game-winning PK and secured the Big Ten Double for the cream and crimson.

The Wolverines look primed to make another run at the Big Ten crown this season as they return a majority of their rotational core. Though losing prolific scorers Nebojsa Popovic and Jack Hallahan and Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year Andrew Verti will sting, the return of All-Big selections Jackson Ragen, Marc Ybarra and Derick Broche, among others, should help soften the blow.

Especially with IU having to travel to Ann Arbor for this matchup, Michigan cannot be overlooked — not on March 27 and certainly not in the Big Ten standings.

Vs. Maryland — Sunday, April 4

Was this merely coincidental or did the Big Ten purposely schedule its most-anticipated match for the regular-season finale? Though we'll likely never know the answer to this, we're not complaining as the Hoosiers and Terrapins almost always deliver fireworks when they meet on the field.

Last season, Maryland handed Indiana a 3-0 drubbing in what was arguably IU's worst performance of the season. The Hoosiers, though, quickly rebounded and eventually got the last laugh, ousting the Terrapins in the Big Ten Tournament Semifinals as All-American defender Jack Maher's golden goal in the second overtime proved to be the difference-maker.

However, both squads enter this season with new-look Starting XI's and major holes in need of filling.

Griffin Gonzalez/HN

For Maryland, the departures of defender Johannes Bergmann and midfielder Eli Crongale, both First Team All-Big Ten selections in 2019, could prove to be significant late in the season. Factor in the loss of Second Team All-Big Ten forward Eric Matzelevich and starting goalie Niklas Neumann, and the Terrapins might be in some trouble.

But then again, counting out head coach Sasho Cirovski usually never ends well for the rest of the Big Ten. Under Cirovski's tutelage, all the Terps have done is make nine trips to the College Cup, while winning three of them. So, yeah, it's probably best to just keep our mouths shut and enjoy Cirovski's brilliance — no matter how different Maryland's roster may look.

Hoosier fans should absolutely circle April 4 on their calendars because when the Terps come to town, it's can't-miss soccer. Here's to hoping Bill Armstrong Stadium might be able to have some fans in the stands for this match.

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