It’s finally that wonderful time of the year again. College football is back, or as the students of Indiana like to refer to it, tailgate season—that magical time when the smell of Karkov and cheap beer fills the air over 17th and Dunn Street, where sorority girls desperately try to convince everyone that “The Boys of Fall” by Kenny Chesney is a good song (it is not).
Coach Kevin Wilson, like the lovely ladies of the North Jordan extension, is trying to change the minds of Hoosier Nation. But instead of promoting a terrible country song, Coach Wilson is trying to convince everyone that Indiana football is worth watching. Wilson made it clear that the program left the 2011 season in the rearview mirror immediately after the clock hit zeros against Purdue last November; nonetheless, a 1-11 record in his first season did little to support his cause. Add on the fact that the men’s basketball team reemerged as a contending program, and Indiana is truly back to being a basketball school.
I learned from my basketball preview last season, predicting wins and losses means having to stick to my prediction later in the season, after the team exceeds or fails to meet my expectations. So this season, I have decided instead to give Indiana’s percentage chances to win. (Note: I didn’t use a fancy algorithm to come up with these numbers. I don’t get paid enough to do that.)
Indiana kicks off the 2012 football campaign with FCS opponent Indiana State. The Sycamores finished 2011 with a 6-5 record, and a 1-1 record versus FBS teams (a 41-7 loss to Penn State, and a 44-16 win against Western Kentucky). The Indiana State player to watch is junior running back Shakir Bell. Bell set a school record in 2011 for single-season rushing yards with 1,670, as well as the single-game rushing record with 256 yards and 4 touchdowns on just 21 carries. He’ll be facing an Indiana defense that finished last season ranked 118th in the FBS, giving up over 240 yards per game. The forecast calls for heavy rain on Saturday night so expect a heavy dose of running from the Sycamores. If IU’s defense has not improved over the offseason and the offense fails to be in sync, Coach Wilson could find himself with a 1-12 career record. If IU utilizes its experienced offensive weapons and avoids turnovers, the Hoosiers should have no problem putting this game out of reach. Indiana State has no option at quarterback with any real game experience.
Despite Indiana State having a high-caliber running game, I like the Hoosiers starting off 2012 with a win: 80%.
IU’s first road game will take place in Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots, but fortunately for the Hoosiers, instead of Tom Brady, they will face UMass, one of the four new members of the FBS this season. The Minutemen are lead by new coach, Charley Molnar, and by quarterback Mike Wegzyn, who has never taken a collegiate snap, (last year’s starter Kellen Pagel is suffering from an undisclosed injury). UMass finished their final season in the FCS with a 5-6 record; their only contest against an FBS opponent ending in a 45-17 loss to Boston College. Unlike Indiana State, the Minutemen should not have much of a running game; the top returning running back is Alan Williams who rushed for just 140 yards in 2011. IU will have three probable starters returning from suspensions (receiver Kofi Hughes, cornerback Lawrence Barnett, and linebacker Forisse Hardin), giving the Hoosiers a boost on both sides of the ball.
Enjoy it, Hoosier football fans, this is almost a guaranteed win: 95%.
In week 3, IU faces an opponent against whom they have lost their last two meetings. No, the Hoosiers are not opening up Big Ten play, they will be facing the Cardinals of Ball State. In 2011, the start of the Kevin Wilson era was dampened by a 27-20 loss to Ball State at Lucas Oil Stadium. Ball State graduated their two best wide receivers and both starting safeties from 2011, but most of their core returns.
I hate to say this, but this game is a complete toss-up, and could set the tone for the rest of the season: 50%.
Indiana opens Big Ten play at Northwestern. The 2011 meeting had no shortage of scoring as the Wildcats went on to win 59-38. The win kick-started Northwestern’s late-season run, as they won four straight games to become bowl-eligible. Quarterback Dan Persa graduated after last season, and junior Kain Colter (who was also the team’s leading rusher in 2011) is expected to fill the starting role. Wide receiver Kyle Prater, a transfer from Southern Cal, was granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA and should fill the spot vacated by the Wildcat’s leading receiver from 2011, Jeremy Ebert.
Expect a lot of points once again, but I can’t give the edge to IU until I see this defense stop somebody: 40%.
I would like to know who proposed having Michigan State in Bloomington for Homecoming. I would also like to know who agreed with that idea to make it official. The Spartan offense is full of fresh faces, but last year’s Legends division champion returns a largely intact defense from 2011.
IU could pull off an upset if they fire on all cylinders and are motivated by Homecoming, but I would not expect it: 15%.
Ah picture day at Memorial Stadium. The teams take the field. The ball is set on the 35-yard line for the opening kickoff. From the crowd arises an “O-H…I-O” and finally, the realization that the stadium is filled with Ohio State fans looking for an inexpensive way to watch their favorite team. Urban Meyer is on a mission in his first season with the Buckeyes: with no possibility of a postseason, Ohio State is out to spoil everyone else’s good times.
Indiana’s best chance to win is to force Buckeye quarterback Braxton Miller to make mistakes.
I don’t think he will make enough for the Hoosiers to win this one: 20%.
What does it say about a team when they are scheduled by the Naval Academy as the school’s homecoming game? Guess who Navy’s homecoming opponent is this season. That’s right, the Big Ten’s own Indiana Hoosiers. I am not sure if this is worse than last year’s trip to North Texas, and that trip ended with an IU loss. Navy runs the ball roughly 95 percent of the time and again, until I see the 2012 Hoosier defense, it is hard to believe that there will be substantial improvement in the team’s rush defense even with better athletes on both sides of the ball. Either way, should Indiana really feel good about itself if it spoils a military academy’s homecoming?
This one’s another toss-up: 50%.
Illinois showed much promise in 2011, starting the season with six straight wins, the last of which being at Indiana. Then the wheels fell off as the Illini lost their final six games before winning the “Coaches Collecting Their Last Paycheck Bowl” over UCLA. Illinois returns slightly more than half of their starters, most notably junior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase. Indiana is hoping that their rival to the west struggles to adapt to a new coaching system.
Indiana could pull off a minor upset if they play well for 60 minutes, but I give Illinois the edge playing in their backyard: 35%.
The last time Iowa visited Bloomington in 2010, the Hoosiers were a Damarlo Belcher drop away from sending the Hawkeyes home with a loss. Last season, wide receiver Marvin McNutt and quarterback James Vandenberg, who threw for four touchdowns on just twelve completions, torched the Hoosiers’ defense. McNutt has gone to the NFL, but Vandenberg is back for his senior season. Absent from the Hawkeye backfield is their 1,300-yard rusher Marcus Coker, who is now at Stony Brook. With only five returning starters on defense, it would be an extreme stretch to say this defense is going to improve from last year. As long as Tre Roberson and the Hoosier offense can keep Iowa’s linebackers from being a factor in this game, IU can put up a lot of points.
If there is a game this season in which IU could pull off an upset, it is this one: 45%.
Indiana at Wisconsin, 2010: 83-20. Indiana at Wisconsin 2011: 59-7. This year the Hoosiers are spared from a trip to Camp Randall, but even if IU shows improvement from last season, they are nowhere near ready to contend with the Big Ten favorites. Wisconsin running back Monte Ball already has this game circled on the calendar. This is one of Ball’s best opportunities to put up big numbers in a game as he tries to leap-frog USC quarterback Matt Barkley in the Heisman race.
Okay Indiana sports, you snuck one past me with the IU-Kentucky basketball game last December, but if IU were to pull off this one, I will never pick against IU sports again: 1%.
Indiana ends its 2012 season with two road games, the first being a trip to Beaver Stadium to take on Penn State. Penn State is preparing itself for a few years of bad football. A loss to Indiana would be the perfect “kick ‘em while they are down” and would truly signify the Nittany Lions’ fall from football grace. Penn State has never lost to the Hoosiers on the gridiron (although, according to the NCAA, Indiana has not lost to Penn State since 1998). Quarterback Rob Bolden, running back Silas Redd, and a handful of other players have left the program. Penn State managed only 16 points against Indiana in 2011. If Dusty Kiel could throw the ball more than 45 yards, IU would have had a chance to win.
I could actually see Indiana dominating Penn State, but I am hesitant to guarantee anything of that nature: 50%.
Indiana closes out the 2012 season as it does every year: the Old Oaken Bucket game against archrival Purdue. Purdue is one of the biggest—if not the biggest—wild cards in the Big Ten this season. They could be very solid, or very poor. Caleb TerBush seems to have separated himself as the Boilermaker starting quarterback, but top running back Ralph Bolden is still recovering from an ACL injury. Purdue does, however, have a formidable group of receivers returning, so expect Purdue to have a very good passing game. The Purdue defense has to replace both starters at the safety positions, and standout linebacker Dwayne Beckford was dismissed this week.
Expect a shootout. The away team has won the last three meetings—IU could actually end the year with two straight wins: 50%.
I expect Indiana to be in the range of four to five wins this season, and if football can have the sort of improvement that men’s basketball experienced last season, the Hoosiers could find themselves in bowl contention. They have a relatively weak schedule this year, but the key is major improvements on defense, and the offensive line keeping Tre Roberson upright. They do that, and these ‘Boys of Fall’ will be a lot more enjoyable than the Kenny Chesney version.