Indiana is widely expected to be ranked in the AP and coaches preseason top-25s to open the 2021 season. One strong indicator of where the Hoosiers will land in those polls came this week by way of ESPN.
Thirty-three ESPN college football analysts submitted their own top 25s, leading to the outlet’s composite preseason top-25.
The ESPN crew expects some familiar schools to end up at the College Football Playoff. The usual suspects — Alabama, Oklahoma, Clemson, Georgia and Ohio State make up the top-five.
If the Buckeyes have a vulnerability that IU can pounce on, it will likely be the same area they attacked in 2020. ESPN’s Tom VanHaaren points to OSU’s defensive backfield as a group that will need to improve this season.
“On defense, the Buckeyes need to see improvement from their secondary, a unit that ranked 122 of all FBS programs in pass yards allowed per game,” he wrote. “This is still a team that will be in the College Football Playoff discussion, but the Buckeyes will need some new names to step up if they want to win it all.”
Indiana’s lone loss with Michael Penix running the offense might have been the redshirt sophomore’s best day as a Hoosier. The Tampa product threw for 491 yards against Ohio State, which ranks as the second best single day performance in school history and the fourth-most ever allowed by the Buckeyes.
The next Big Ten team to appear in ESPN’s rankings is Wisconsin at No. 16, a team IU defeated in 2020 and will not face during the 2021 regular season.
Indiana is slotted in right behind the Badgers at No. 17. ESPN’s Harry Lyles, Jr. believes IU is in prove it mode this time around.
“In 2021, the Hoosiers will be looking to further prove that the 2020 campaign wasn’t a fluke with 18 of 22 starters coming back,” Lyles wrote. “This is the season Indiana tries to exceed any expectation that just about anybody could have for its football program.”
ESPN’s human projection for IU is a bit loftier than their data driven FPI rankings, which has the Hoosiers at No. 27 and sees a seven win season as the most likely outcome.
The only other Big Ten teams in the ESPN rankings are programs IU will face in the first half of the 2021 season. The Hoosiers play No. 18 Iowa to open the campaign on Sept. 4, and they travel to No. 20 Penn State on Oct. 2. Also in ESPN’s rankings is No. 11 Cincinnati. Indiana faces the Bearcats in Bloomington on Sept. 18.
Indiana finished the 2020 season ranked No. 11 in the AP poll and No. 12 in the coaches poll. Those preseason polls are expected in mid-August.
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