Indiana begins one of the most important seasons in the history of its football program on Sept. 4. The Hoosiers are coming off a 6-2 campaign and an Outback Bowl berth in 2020 and are expected to be a preseason Top 25 team. We are profiling each of the 12 teams Indiana will face this season as they try to build on that momentum
Date/Time/TV: Nov. 6, time and television TBA.
Location: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Mich.
2020 record/bowl result: 2-4 overall, 2-4 in the Big Ten.
Returning Starters, Offense (7): WR Ronnie Bell, WR Mike Sainristil, LT Karsen Barnhart, LG Chuck Filaga, C Andrew Vastardis, RG Zak Zinter, RT Andrew Steuber.
Staters Lost, Offense (4): QB Joe Milton, RB Zach Charbonnet, WR Giles Jackson, TE Nick Eubanks.
Offensive Outlook: Michigan’s offense wasn’t terrible in 2020, as the Wolverines finished fifth in the Big Ten in scoring offense (28.3 points per game) and seventh in total offense (381.8 yards per game). But they didn’t strike fear in anyone’s heart either. Michigan didn’t put a single player on an All-Big Ten team — first, second or third team, media or coaches. The roster turnover the Wolverines had might actually help their cause. Quarterback Joe Milton transferred to Tennessee and Zach Charbonnet to UCLA, but Cade McNamara showed promise at quarterback at the end of last season and this spring, and running back Hassan Haskins beat Charbonnet out late in the season and rushed for 375 yards and six touchdowns on 61 carries to finish fourth in the Big Ten with a 6.1 yards per carry average. The Wolverines bring starters back at every offensive line position, so all around the group should be better than it was last year.
Returning Starters, Defense (9): DT Christopher Hinton, NT Donovan Jeter, DE Aidan Hutchinson, WLB Josh Ross, VIPER Michael Barrett, CB Vincent Grey, CB Gemon Green, SS Brad Hawkins, FS Daxton Hill.
Starters Lost, Defense (2): DE Kwity Paye, MLB Cam McGrone.
Defensive Outlook: Michigan’s defense was bad enough in 2020 for coach Jim Harbaugh to make a coordinator change, getting rid of Don Brown and bringing in for Ravens linebackers coach Mike Macdonald. The Wolverines finished 12th in the Big Ten in both scoring defense (34.5 points per game) and total defense (434.3 yards per game) and finished 13th in the conference against the pass. Their best defender and only all-conference pick, defensive end Kwity Paye, was taken in the first round of the NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts, so the returning talent they have only means so much. That being said, the Wolverines have put together top 15 classes nationally each of the past three seasons, so they should have talented depth at each position and should at least have the talent to rebuild.
Special Teams Returners (3): K Jake Moody, P Brad Robbins, LS William Wagner
Special Teams Outlook: The Wolverines were a mess on field goals last year, making just three of nine attempts with Moody making just one of four and Quinn Nordin making just two of five. Robbins led the Big Ten in punting average, however, at 45.3 yards per punt. The Wolverines need to find a replacement for returner Giles Jackson, who averaged 27.2 yards per kickoff return to lead the league and 9.0 yards per punt return to rank second in that category.
Overall outlook: The Hoosiers’ win over Michigan in 2020, their first victory against the Wolverines since 1987, was the most glaring example both of both how far Indiana had risen and how far Michigan had fallen. The Hoosiers won comfortably 38-21, holding Michigan to just 13 rushing yards, and never seemed intimidated by the men in the winged helmets who had broken Indiana hearts on so many occasions in the previous 32 years. If the two teams played again today, Indiana would actually be a a resounding favorite. A lot could happen between now and November, of course. The Hoosiers could hit some rough patches, and Michigan has a lot of talent in camp and could become dangerous again if they get all the pieces together. But for one of the first times in the history of the two programs, the Michigan game looks a lot more like a win on paper for Indiana than it looks like a loss.
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