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IU Football: Renowned analyst Phil Steele thinks Indiana could knock off Michigan this year

Ready for today’s sign that the college football season isn’t happening?

If you are a regular here you know we have been pointing to Indiana’s Oct. 24 home contest against Michigan State as perhaps the defining point of not only the 2020 season, but also the Tom Allen era.

The Spartans look vulnerable after going through a coaching change and losing a lot of starters from 2019.

Win that game and you climb a rung in the formidable Big Ten East.

Perhaps we have been underestimating Indiana’s potential this season.

Well known ESPN Insider and college football analyst Phil Steele says the other team from Michigan in the Big Ten East is in play too.

The Hoosiers have not won a game against Michigan since 1987, and they have not won in Ann Arbor since 1967.

Steele thinks both of those droughts could end this year.

“It wouldn’t surprise me — watch Indiana this year. Indiana’s a very talented team, Steele said in an interview on 97.1 The Fan in Columbus this week.

“I like their defensive front seven. They’ve got good size there. They’ve got Michael Penix at quarterback, Stevie Scott at running back, (Whop) Philyor and (Ty) Fryfogle at wide receiver, Peyton Hendershot at tight end and a very good offensive line. (Head coach) Tom Allen’s building himself quite a team.”

If ever Indiana had an advantage to win at Michigan Stadium it would be this year.

The Michigan athletics department announced July 15 that if the school is able to participate in a football season, the capacity of Michigan Stadium will be reduced, or games could be held without fans as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the interview Steele acknowledged that playing on the road in 2020 won’t be as difficult with less fans.

That is particularly good news for Indiana.  The Hoosiers are scheduled to travel to three of the toughest venues in the league to face Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin in 2020.

Steele said he likes two of the usual suspects as the clear favorites at the top of the East division, but from there, all bets are off.

“I think the East is Ohio State, Penn State and then it’ll drop off to Michigan and Indiana — watch out for the Hoosiers,” Steele said.

Does Steele really think that IU could win for the first time in 53 years at Ann Arbor, and snap a 24-game series losing streak in the process?

Yes he does.

“It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Indiana slipped past Michigan this year in the East. It’s something to take a look at.”

Michigan has the least returning production in the entire Big Ten according to ESPN’s Bill Connelly.

The Wolverines are taking a big hit on the offensive side of the football, with quarterback Shea Patterson moving on along with 75 percent of their offensive line snaps.

Meanwhile, Indiana sits atop the division in terms of returning production, and its personnel look different than what Steele has grown accustomed to seeing from a Hoosier football team.

“This is not your typical Indiana defense,” Steele said.  “You look at their front seven.  Their linebackers are 230 pounds.  The defensive line, their ends are up there in the 260 category, their tackles are in the 300 plus category, they’ve got nine returning starters.  Last year they gave up 352 yards per game which is not the 400 of years past.  I think that Indiana is going to be a dangerous team this year.”

It has been since around the time that Indiana last beat Michigan that there has been that kind of optimism for a Hoosier squad by independent analysts.

But while the optimism for IU football in 2020 seems to rise by the day, the same cannot be said for the prospects of even playing the season.

In a normal year, the program’s fall camp would be starting next week.

It goes without saying that this has been anything but a normal year.

As of this writing, it isn’t even clear that IU has resumed workouts after pausing team activities due to multiple cases of COVID-19 within the program.

Also as of this writing, it isn’t clear what a revised 2020 schedule might look like.

Steele goes through an impressive level of detail to come up with his annual magazine and expectations for each team every year.

But the losing streaks to Michigan serve as a reminder.

Having an optimistic outlook for IU football is never as simple as it seems.

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