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Cam Jones signals to the fans during Indiana's loss to Cincinnati in 2021. (HN photo/Ross Abdellah)
Cam Jones signals to the fans during Indiana's loss to Cincinnati in 2021. (HN photo/Ross Abdellah)

Hoosier Network football beat reporters predict Indiana's 2022 season

Question marks surround the Hoosiers on the eve of the 2022 season

A new Indiana football season opens Friday against Illinois. Over the past two years, the Hoosiers have seen the highs and lows of college football, and are looking to get back towards the highs in 2022.

For a team with many unanswered questions ahead of its opener, the Hoosier Network football beat tried to make predictions for the season. 

Most Valuable Player

Carlo Barone: The pick has to be Tiawan Mullen here. Mullen is a former All-American, and with newcomers on defense — including his brother, Terrell — Indiana’s defense as a whole will bounce back and have a strong year in 2022. Mullen will look to show much of his older self after a tough year of injuries that hindered him for most of 2021. I think Mullen will have a standout swan song season, improving his draft stock and boosting the team around him.

Evan Gerike: While MVP predictions have been all about the quarterbacks the past two years, neither potential starter seems to have enough ability to carry this team by himself. I’ll switch sides of the ball and pick IU’s best player going into the season in Mullen. He had a down year in 2021, but his breakout in 2019 and strong 2020 (where he earned first-team All-American honors) still show what he can be. He’s come back in 2022 because he said there’s unfinished business at Indiana, so expect him to have a resurgence.

Max Parker: Let’s switch it up. Throughout this offseason, the team has continuously been putting Cam Jones in front of the media, and he comes off as a leader. He seems confident, poised and ready to prove himself this season. I think he really steps into the leadership position well, and establishes himself as an anchor for this defense and team as a whole.

Breakout Player of the Year

Barone: I think that D.J. Matthews Jr. breaks out more than people may think. He only played a few games for IU last season, but when he played, he shined. At the time of his injury he was the leading receiver on the team, so I expect Matthews to break out with the stats of a No. 1 wide receiver. Matthews, a Florida State transfer, is speedy with the ball in his hands, so I’d expect his number to be called a lot by offensive coordinator Walt Bell. 

Gerike: Regardless of anything else, Donaven McCulley is the most interesting player to watch on this Indiana team just because of his early trajectory. No one expected to see him play much at quarterback last season. We did, after a weird sequence of events and a carousel of quarterbacks, and now McCulley is a wide receiver. I expect a lot of growing pains early on, but with his size and athleticism, I think it’s really possible he gets close to a couple of 100-yard receiving games late before becoming a regular target next season.

Parker: I wholeheartedly agree with Evan’s pick of McCulley, and I would have gone there myself. But you know what it’s time for? Some offensive line love. Matthew Bedford is primed for a breakout season. Each year that I have covered this team, I have been thoroughly impressed with Bedford as a leader. I understand that I have said leader a lot already in this piece, but Tom Allen puts plenty of stock in recruiting and building ‘MEN,’ and I think that Bedford is a great example of this. Now it’s time for him to turn heads on the field. Speaking with him this offseason, he has fully embraced the switch to a more player-led system, and I think the entire offensive line can benefit from that. A more accountable offensive line leads to fewer missed assignments, fewer missed assignments leads to less chaos, less chaos allows Bedford to go to work on his assigned guy, and he thrives.

Offensive Player of the Year

Barone: I think that Indiana’s wide receiver room is arguably one of the most intriguing rooms on the team. They have so many receivers with different paths of getting there, and I believe that it is a deep position group. So, I’ll pick McCulley, Matthews or even Cam Camper to lead the position group and be the reason why Indiana’s offense performs much better than last season.

Gerike: Indiana’s offense was bad last year. It was 12th in the Big Ten in rushing, which left defenses plenty of room to shut down the passing game. If Indiana bounces back, it’ll be because the offense moved the ball well again. In order to complete chunk plays through the air, Shaun Shivers has to be productive on the ground. The Auburn transfer looks to be powerful and shifty all at once, and a good season from him means the Hoosiers can finally fill the running back gap that Indiana has been searching for.

Parker: Let’s see what tight end AJ Barner can do. No more hiding behind Peyton Hendershot. With a long list of wide receivers set to get time — Allen has said they will start off by going eight or nine deep — the quarterbacks could struggle to build chemistry with that room. Enter a 6-foot 6, 252-pound tight end in Barner. Out of sheer physical talent, this guy could impose his will over lesser competition, and I believe, now that he is in the spotlight, he’ll more than hold his own against Big Ten competition. Whoever the starting quarterback ends up being, he can build instant chemistry with Barner, who will establish himself as one of the best tight ends in the conference going into his senior year.

Donaven McCulley runs a drill in preseason camp after switching to wide receiver. (HN photo/Eden Snower)

Newcomer of the Year

Barone: Assuming quarterback Connor Bazelak starts multiple games for Indiana this season, he is my pick to win newcomer of the year. In his two years at Missouri, he showed promise in one of the best conferences in the country. I think Bazelak will have plenty of opportunities to shine and will take advantage of them. Look for him to have a few big games at Indiana.

Gerike: With Micah McFadden off to the NFL, Cam Jones is IU’s clear top linebacker, but the Hoosiers have brought in some new faces to add depth to that group. Jared Casey, the Kentucky transfer, is probably the frontrunner to bring the largest impact to the field. Casey was reliable in action with the Wildcats and Indiana seems to know how to turn linebackers into productive players in recent years, so Casey could easily take a large step forward. I’ll also point out UCLA transfer Myles Jackson, who is fighting for the starting job at a bull position that is bound to be important to the Hoosiers’ defensive scheme.

Parker: I’ll take wide receiver Cam Camper here, and that’s primarily due to talk from the quarterbacks. When asked about who has really stood out in fall camp, I probably heard the name Cam Camper five separate times. It really flows doesn’t it? Say Cam Camper over and over and you’ll talk yourself into it. At 6-foot 2 and 202 pounds, Camper has decent size to be able to compete with Big Ten secondaries, and there’s always that surprise from one of the JUCO guys. Something tells me it will be from him.

Boldest prediction

Barone: Indiana wins six games and becomes bowl eligible. Looking at the Hoosiers’ schedule, if they take advantage of some opportunities to beat teams similar to them, it’s definitely in the cards. The first three games — Illinois, Idaho and Western Kentucky, all at home — sound like a recipe for a good start for Indiana. Later, Indiana will face Maryland and Rutgers in back-to-back weeks, including the Maryland contest in Bloomington. If IU can play well offensively, it has a shot to win those games, leaving one game between playing Nebraska on the road or Purdue at home for the sixth win. Is it a stretch? Yes. Is it impossible? No.

Gerike: Quarterback Dexter Williams II starts a game — and it’s not because of injuries. Williams obviously still hasn’t played a snap for Indiana. He nearly came on the field before Jack Tuttle’s triumphant sprint from the tunnel against Wisconsin in 2020, then tore his ACL and missed 2021. But the ball looked sharp out of Williams’ hands in fall camp. He’ll make an impression in garbage time against Idaho Week 2, then will start against Purdue when the other quarterbacks haven’t been able to produce offensively all season.

Parker: This would not be a very bold prediction if we were talking about any other team, but given IU’s history, this could be downright crazy. But hear me out… IU has one starting quarterback the entire season. I think Bazelak comes out of the tunnel on Friday night against Illinois with the job and keeps it until the clock hits zero against Purdue. Like many of my predictions in this piece, I don’t have very much evidence to back up my thoughts, but for a team with so many question marks, that’s kind of what you need to do. So I’m going to run with it.

Indiana head coach Tom Allen comes off the field during Indiana's loss to Cincinnati on Sept. 18, 2021. (HN photo/Ross Abdellah)

Record prediction

Barone: Indiana is a very hard team to predict because of how many question marks there are, but I think Indiana’s win total ranges from 3-6. Its non-conference schedule is fairly easy (minus Cincinnati), making way for at least two or three wins. The rest is conference play, where I’m sure they can compete and steal a game or two. This season, I think IU’s defense rebounds in a big way, especially in the secondary, leading them to compete in many games. The offense remains a question mark, but if Bazelak can lead the Hoosiers into becoming a productive offense, the Hoosiers could turn some heads this season.

Gerike: Man, what happened to my 9-win prediction last year? A lot went wrong in my predictions, as well as pretty much everyone else’s, none more so than this one. It was optimistic, but didn’t feel crazy at the time. I’m going to stick with the optimism this year and predict a 5-7 record with a chance to go bowling if they beat Purdue, but a loss against Illinois can really tank the team to another 2-10 season.

Parker: Evan had a 9-win prediction last year? That does not make me feel too much better about the fact that I have the same 5-7 record prediction as well, but I’m sticking to my guns. I think that the year starts strong with victories against Illinois, Idaho and Western Kentucky, although that last one really scares me. Pretty much from Cincinnati on I think there are only two more slots for them to reasonably pick up a W, and that comes first against Nebraska (the Scott Frost buyout game) and I think they take one of Maryland or Rutgers. It’s not #9WINDIANA, but it’s better than most people expect.

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