Taking a look at IU football’s revised 2020 schedule

There are no changes to the top line of Indiana’s 2020 football schedule, per the conference’s Wednesday update.

The Hoosiers head to the road on a Friday, Sept. 4, to face Wisconsin in Madison. As expected.

But just skip ahead to the next line, and it becomes apparent that this schedule is very different from the one originally slated. It has a home date against Penn State. Two weeks later, there is a road trip to Ohio State.

With the elimination of non-conference games from the 2020 slate, everyone knew that Big Ten teams were heading right into the meat of their respective schedules. No “buy” games to pad the early weeks. Just right into it.

But the Hoosiers appear to be getting that challenge on steroids. The first six games on IU’s schedule come against six bowl teams — foes that won a combined 60 games in 2019.

“It’s a very obvious challenge, but I see that as a great opportunity,” Indiana coach Tom Allen said on Big Ten Network. “I look at it as we are all about making history here at Indiana. I see this schedule, and I say, you know what, this is going to give us a chance to win more conference games than Indiana has ever won in the history of this program in a single season.”

Hoosier fans have hoped for this 2020 team to be one of the best in recent memory. And it will take no time at all, it seems, for them to see where this season is headed.

Let’s jump through IU’s 10-game slate, starting with a jam-packed first four weeks.

A harrowing September

Regardless of how empty the stands are at Camp Randall, opening in Madison is no picnic. IU’s last win at Wisconsin came in 2001, and the Badgers have won 10 straight in the series.

Back that up with Penn State (Sept. 12), one of the top contenders in the East Division, and the Hoosiers’ road and home openers could both be losses. That could make the next week’s home date with Illinois absolutely crucial to avoid a prolonged slide, considering Ohio State (Sept. 26) visits before the first bye week.

Then again, the Illini have shown steady progress under Lovie Smith. They won zero conference games in 2017. They went 4-5 in the Big Ten last season, clinching a bowl bid with six overall wins.

IU’s defense will have to be ready from the jump. Wisconsin doesn’t return workhorse back Jonathan Taylor, but quarterback Jack Coan, the Big Ten’s third-most efficient passer in 2019, still leads the offense. Penn State has one of the best skill groups in the conference in quarterback Sean Clifford, running back Journey Brown, and tight end Pat Freiermuth.

And Ohio State is what it is, led by reigning Big Ten offensive player of the year Justin Fields.

Just splitting these four and going into the bye at 2-2 would be an encouraging result. But lose three or more, and the Hoosiers will have a hole to dig out of the rest of the season.

The ‘M’ Phase

East rivals Maryland and Michigan were already prescribed to the Hoosiers in 2020. But the increase from nine conference games to 10 brings a new West foe, Minnesota, onto the schedule.

The Gophers are an interesting addition. Their quarterback, Tanner Morgan, led the conference in passing last year, but he will be without receivers Tyler Johnson (2019 NFL Draft) and Rashod Bateman (opting out, 2020 Draft) this season. All-Big Ten back Rodney Smith has also graduated.

Whether the Gophers take a step back from last year’s 11-win season could factor into IU’s prospects during this stretch.

IU will have a few weeks, including the first bye week, to study Minnesota’s offense before an Oct. 10 trip to Minneapolis. The Hoosiers will be the last of six straight opponents for Minnesota without a bye, so, as the schedule currently lays out, the visitors have that advantage.

Michigan and Maryland, both at home, would appear to be winnable games, as well. But they are far from gimmes.

The Terrapins were a tough out on the road last season, and Mike Locksley continues to add talent on the recruiting trail. While there is hope IU has closed the gap on Michigan some, the Hoosiers suffered a 39-14 beating at the hands of the Wolverines last year.

Make up ground late?

With Wisconsin, PSU, OSU, Minnesota, and Michigan out of the way, it would appear the Hoosiers have a chance to gain some ground in the schedule’s final three contests.

Before the final bye week of Nov. 14, the Hoosiers head out to Rutgers (Oct. 31) and Michigan State (Nov. 7). This is the second year in a row IU plays in East Lansing, Mich., following late-game heartbreak at Spartan Stadium in 2019.

The question will be where the Hoosiers are mentally and physically by the time they reach this final road swing. Because Rutgers and MSU ultimately leads into the all-important Bucket Game, this time at Memorial Stadium.

IU took back the Old Oaken Bucket from Purdue last year, on the road, in double overtime, following two consecutive losses in the series. The Boilermakers not only return All-Big Ten freshman David Bell but fellow star receiver Rondale Moore.

Yes, it will probably take some time for Rutgers to escape the Big Ten basement, and MSU appears weakened in 2020, even at home. But if there are bowls to be made, the pressure could really be on IU to win these final three games.

Then again, considering how fluid everything is with the pandemic, who knows if these will actually be, in order, the Hoosiers’ final three games. The week of Nov. 28 has been left open for postponements, and the Big Ten title game, currently slated for Dec. 5, could be pushed back as late as Dec. 19, if necessary.

Simply put: stay tuned.

17 comments

  1. This is the year IUFB needs to make a move up in the B1G and this schedule gives them the opportunity to do just that. WS talent wise isn’t much different than IU now so this is one they can pull off especially breaking in a new RB. Beating WS would tell fans and other B1G teams IUFB has arrived ready to take on anyone. Getting Michigan and PSU at home gives the team a good chance at pulling out close wins.

    It is time to end IUFB fans anguish this season as we should expect big things with the talent returning on this team. MN was able to take a similar situation and breakthrough so it is time for IU to have a true breakthrough. I hope this season is played so we can see if IU is improved to the point of knocking off a couple of the big boys.

    1. On what basis can you support the claim that Wisconsin’s talent level isn’t much different than IU’s?

      1. By not playing them. Then, it is easier to make that claim. This could be for the whole big ten. Then, all teams could lay it’s claim to an undefeated season including the big ten title.
        The question is unless IU is getting romped over and it is a competitive game can IU actually shift into a higher gear like its better to best opponents seem to always do rendering IU fool’s gold. Unless things get turned around a lot…societal chaos including pandemic is going to be very challenging for a football season rhythm for all teams.

        1. Across the board, Wisconsin is surely much deeper….But Indiana has some unknowns in the match-up along with some potential big playmakers.
          Penix could be one of those “it factors” an early opponent still a bit sluggish (not polished in mid-season form) might have some vulnerability against.
          If there is a smidgen of confidence to be found, it’s in all the unknowns right now. All it takes is one positive Covid test in a game-changer talent on either roster…and scales suddenly get tipped.

          The other unknown (as stated above) is just how much Penix can put his mark upon a first game out of the gate. When he’s on the field, IU has demonstrated just how quickly he can transform our offense.

          A win in this game would set a very positive tone for IU. I don’t see it happening, but if there is any opportunity for an upset against a team that’s had its way with you, it’s probably right now. e.g. (a) Covid (b) teams not polished due to an array of possible restrictions/infections/practice limitations and (c) Michael Penix’s cannon and his proven dynamic ability (IF HE CAN STAY IN AN ENTIRE GAME…and quickly build confidence).
          Rarely would any of it be enough….But this is a different time. Not to mention the potential “downer” having no fans in the stands could create for a home opener.

          The game is ripe for upset. If Penix has a crazy good game…and the home team is more “down” (with the absence of fans) than the hungry underdog more motivated by their super-energetic/LEO coach?

          1. Without a doubt the intangible on either side of the field for the Wisky game is Michael Penix. He’s a thoroughbred providing upbeat play. The IUFB D needs to be a consistent resistance for 4 full quarters. The 8-9 DL in the rotation has to be disruptive. Also Teegardin and Allen need to have ST’s energized. Big + Camp Randall won’t be the advantage of the past.

          2. If there is a season OL play will have to keep MP pretty reasonably clean. MP can not get knocked around like last year and years previously qbs. Players are there for balanced offense. The California kid will need to be ready.

      2. Did you watch the bowl game against TN or look at the recruits both schools have pulled in. The only real issue for IU is how the OL does against WS’s front. Granted our talent is younger than most of WS’s players but our players have as much talent as everyone of WS’s players. I know you like to down play IU’s team but Coach Allen and staff have brought in some very good players too.

        1. Yes, TA is doing what I would say is an all around excellent job and he has been creative to bring in some good players.

        2. Would respectfully disagree about the talent level based on both recruiting results and performance on the field. There’s just nothing to support your view.

  2. With all due respect this is the perfect moniker for the 2020 season that never was. If only the game was played it would have been an IU football year “Breakthrough.”

    1. v I parallel your thoughts on this seasons projections. I don’t doubt at all the D will be stouter. Which means Whisky’s rushing offense could very well be manageable. The key will be if IUFB can do a little running too by getting an early lead and force a couple of turnovers. I don’t know what t’s bag is but I do not share it. As stated this very well could be a season like Minnesota has earned the past 2-3 seasons.

  3. This Hoosier team will put points on the board as long as Penix is healthy and will be able to hang with every team on their schedule except Ohio State. As long as the defense shows up in most games and bone headed penalties are minimal I see a 6 – 4 season. With a couple of breaks and superior special team play 7 – 3 is not out of the question.

  4. I think this schedule is brutal and I do not share the optimism expressed by some. Losing the non-conference opponents this season is worse for IU than it is for the top teams in the Eastern Division. We’re playing the two toughest teams in the Western Division plus the big boys in the East. Not to mention the IL is on the rise too. Starting the season at Wisconsin is going to be a huge challenge.

    My concern is that we have a new OC with a quarterback that did not play the second half of last season. IU’s defense, while more mature and deep, is still one that will require our offense to score a lot of points. That was obvious in the bowl game against TN.

  5. If there is a season…and Allen produces an above .500 record based on this schedule? He will not deserve ‘Coach of the Year’. He will be ‘Coach of the Century.’

    I think we’ll go 1-9. 2-8 would be a massive surprise. 3-7 would be a miracle. 4-6 would be the best team in program history. 5-5 would mean A
    Allen has been sent by Jesus.

  6. IU chance for a win against Purdue increased. Moore is gone. What season? At best it would be grit your teeth and bare it. Most of the fun gone. Just to much stress and change happening in mid air.

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