Photo by Mike Schumann / The Daily Hoosier

First look: IU football’s 2021 schedule

One good season is a nice story, two an emerging trend, and three a firmly established pattern.

Can Indiana build on a 14-7 overall record and 11-5 Big Ten mark over the last two seasons as it turns the page to 2021?  Spring practice should start in six weeks and the 2021 season in eight and a half months.

Here is a quick look at Indiana’s 2021 schedule.  It will start with two major tests in the first three weeks, an unforgiving West division crossover slate, and of course all the usual Big Ten East suspects.

Sept. 4 —  at Iowa.  The season will start with intrigue and a significant challenge in Iowa City.  The Hawkeyes finished the season No. 16 in the AP top-25, matching IU with a 6-2 record.  Iowa returns its starting quarterback and first-team All-Big Ten running back among several starters that will be back.  A major storyline will be Hawkeyes’ AD Gary Barta, who is the chair of the College Football Playoff selection committee, and perceived as having played a role in IU not reaching a New Year’s Six bowl game.

Sept. 11 — vs. Idaho.  Indiana hopes to play its first game with fans since Nov. 2019 when it welcomes an FCS opponent to Bloomington.  The Vandals have yet to play at all since 2019, as the Big Sky Conference postponed its season until March.  Idaho was 5-7 in 2019.

Sept. 18 — vs. Cincinnati.  This game looks a lot different than it did when it was scheduled in 2014.  The Bearcat coach at the time (Tommy Tuberville) is now a U.S. Senator, and while the program was good, they weren’t this good.  Cincinnati has won 31 games over the last three seasons, and like IU, is likely to open the 2021 season in the top-15.  UC finished the 2021 season with a 9-1 record after a last-second loss to Georgia at the Peach Bowl.

Sept. 25 — at Western Kentucky.  IU will make a relatively rare road trip to a Group-of-5 opponent when they travel to Western Kentucky in week four.  After a strong 2019 season, the Hilltoppers are coming off a somewhat disappointing 5-7 2020 campaign.

Oct. 2 — at Maryland.  The Hoosiers begin Big Ten play on the road with a game that will carry early significance as IU tries to stay in the top tier of the division.  The Terps have been recruiting at a high level and are generally regarded as a program on the rise.  With QB Taulia Tagovailoa back and a new offensive coordinator, Maryland will be highly motivated to end a three-game losing streak to IU and assert itself as the up-and-coming East program.

Credit – IU Athletics

Oct. 9 — at Michigan.  The Wolverines will have revenge on their minds as IU stays on the road in week two of league play.  Indiana dominated Michigan in Bloomington in 2020, ending a losing streak that dated back 33 years.  The Wolverines will have a new defensive coordinator after Don Brown moved on, and Joe Milton will be in a quarterback competition as they look for more impact from that position.  But Michigan will be strong at the skill positions, and they continue to recruit at a high level.

Oct. 16 — vs. Rutgers.  IU will welcome Rutgers to Bloomington for its Big Ten opener.  The Scarlet Knights are another traditional bottom-feeder that appear to be headed in the right direction under Greg Schiano.  Rutgers matched its 2016-19 win total in 2020 with three league victories.  The quarterbacks return as does running back Isaiah Pacheco and receiver Bo Milton.  Schiano’s trademark is defense, and this should be a tough out for the Hoosiers.

Oct. 30 — at Penn State.  Nittany Lion fans still don’t believe Michael Penix, Jr. got the ball across the goal line last October.  Just over a year later Penn State will get a chance at redemption as IU comes off its lone bye week.  Staggered by the loss in Bloomington, the Nittany Lions started 0-5 before finishing the year on a 4-game winning streak.  With a new offensive coordinator, QB Sean Clifford, RB Noah Cain and WR Jahan Dotson will look to jumpstart the production, while the defense will need to reload on the line and back-end.

Nov. 6 — vs. Ohio State.  The national finalist Buckeyes were the lone blip on Indiana’s 2020 league schedule.  While there will be heavy departures to the NFL including QB Justin Fields, there is no rebuilding in Ohio State, only reloading.  The QB competition will be the most significant offseason story to monitor.  Vulnerability there could crack the door ever so slightly for IU to claim its first win in the series since 1988.

Nov. 13 — vs. Michigan State.  The Spartans won’t be down forever, and despite a 2-5 record, wins over Michigan and Northwestern seem to indicate that Mel Tucker can get things turned around in East Lansing.  The Spartans will have to find better QB play, and a once known for its defense under Mark Dantonio, MSU will need to improve on the 35 points per game allowed in 2020.

Nov. 20 — vs. Minnesota.  The Golden Gophers returned to earth after their 11-2 2019 campaign with a 3-4 2020 season.  With quarterback Tanner Morgan and running back Mohamed Ibrahim back for 2021, the offense should be potent.  The defense was bad in 2020 but most of that unit returns in 2021 as P.J. Fleck looks to get things back on track.

Nov. 27 — at Purdue.  Unless the schedule is tweaked, Indiana will play in West Lafayette for consecutive games for the first time since 1917.  The programs tried to play twice in 2020, but both games were canceled due to COVID-19 outbreaks on each side.  The Boilermakers return most of their key players from 2020 including its top-two quarterbacks, WR David Bell, and RB Zander Horvath.  Purdue will look to a new defensive coordinator to improve their performance on that side of the football.

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