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: Sept. 4, 3:30 PM, Big Ten Network
Location: Nile Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City, Iowa
2020 record/bowl result: 6-2 overall, 6-2 in the Big Ten, earned Music City Bowl berth against Missouri, but game was cancelled due to COVID-19.
Returning Lettermen: 41 (18 offense, 19 defense, 4 special teams)
Lettermen Lost: 19 (9 offense, 9 defense, 1 special teams)
Returning Starters, Offense (6): QB Spencer Petras, RB Tyler Goodson, FB Monte Pottebaum, TE Sam LaPorta, LG Cody Ince, C Tyler Linderbaum
Staters Lost, Offense (5): WR Brandon Smith, WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette, LT Alaric Jackson, RG Cole Banwart, RT Mark Kallengberger
Offensive Outlook: The Hawkeyes lose a first-team All-Big Ten pick on the offensive line in Jackson and a second-team pick in Banwart, but Linderbaum was a Rimington Award finalist as the nation’s best center last season. He was named second-team All-Big Ten by the conference’s coaches and first-team by the media and he’s a preseason All-America pick by several publications including the Sporting News. He’ll be blocking for Goodson, a first-team All-Big Ten pick who rushed for 762 yards and seven touchdowns in eight games last season to finish third in the Big Ten behind Minnesota’s Ibrahim Mohamed and Ohio State’s Trey Sermon. In Petras, the Hawkeyes return the conference’s sixth-leading passer with 1,569 yards and nine touchdowns. They lose their two starting wide receivers, but the tight end LaPorta was the leading receiver in terms of receptions. Nico Ragiani and Tyrone Tracy Jr., last year’s backup receivers, each had better than 14 receptions and 150 yards last season.
Returning Starters, Defense (7): DE Zach VanValkenburg, LEO/Cash hybrid Dane Belton, MLB Shane Benson, CB Matt Hankins, CB Riley Moss, FS Jack Koerner, SS Kaevon Merriweather.
Starters Lost, Defense (4): DE Chauncey Golston, DT Jack Heflin, DT Daviyon Nixon, WLB Nick Niemann.
Defensive Outlook: In Nixon and Golston, the Hawkeyes lost arguably the two most disruptive defensive linemen in the Big Ten. Nixon was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, Golston also a first-team All-Big Ten pick and they finished with 5.5 sacks each, which put them in a tie for second in the Big Ten behind Indiana’s Micah McFadden. Nixon led the league in tackles for loss with 13.5 and Golston was also in the top 10. However, defensive line is always an Iowa strength and the Hawkeyes still have an All-Big Ten pick returning in second-teamer VanValkenburg, who had 3.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss last season. The loss of Niemann, a third-team All-Big Ten pick by the conference’s coaches and the team’s leading tackler with 77 last season, is also significant. However, the Hawkeyes bring back their other two starting linebackers and the entire secondary from a team that finished second in the Big Ten in scoring defense, second in total defense, third in the league against the run and fifth against the pass. Koerner and Moss combined for five interceptions and Koerner was named second-team All-Big Ten by the media and third-team by the coaches.
Special Teams Returners (3): H: Ryan Gersonde, LS Austin Spiewak, P Tory Taylor.
Special Teams Loss (1): K Keith Duncan
Special Teams Outlook: Taylor was a first-team All-Big Ten punter last season with a 44.1 yards per punt average and 18 punts that were downed inside the 20, so the Hawkeyes are still in good position on the field position battle. Duncan, however, is a significant loss, as he led the conference in field goals and was a third-team all-conference pick. No other kicker scored a point for Iowa last season. Senior Caleb Shudak, who missed on his only field goal attempt last season, gives them another letterman at the position and he is the frontrunner to win the job.
Overall outlook: Iowa managed to put together a typically solid Iowa-style season in 2020 despite a tumultuous offseason in which the Hawkeyes parted with their strength coach Chris Doyle because of allegations of bias against Black players. After losing their first two games to Purdue and Northwestern by a combined total of five points, they ran the table the rest of the way with impressive wins over Penn State, Wisconsin and Minnesota before the last two games of their season were cancelled. The losses of Nix and Golston are particularly significant, but there’s every reason to believe the Hawkeyes will still be stout on defense. The offensive line losses are a problem, but Iowa should still have an All-American up front in Linderbaum and they have an All-Big Ten running back running behind him in Goodson. That’s enough to make them a tough out as usual, and how the Hoosiers handle them in the opener will be an excellent indicator of their readiness for the Big Ten grind.
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