First things first (I’m the realest), you might be wondering why this is an Indiana article. “But Candystripes,” you ask, “if we go by overall record this should be Maryland or possibly Rutgers week. I know this is a Big Ten conference blog, but are you all really so crazy as to sort by conference record rather than overall record?” Well, totally imaginary and surprisingly well-informed reader, you would be correct. This should be Maryland week, but due to circumstances mostly beyond our control, Maryland week has been delayed until May 7th. Instead, you get Indiana two weeks early. Lucky you.
I’m gonna level with you right now: Indiana absolutely underperformed last year, and just like Illinois, you pretty much have to be crazy or some kind of masochist to keep coming back to watch this team every year. While Tom Allen’s first full year as the Hoosiers’ head coach certainly could have gone worse, it is also patently obvious that this year might be a further step down the ladder of success, simply due to one major reason: graduation. Were it not for the fact that Indiana has 7 home games, I could easily just wrap this article up with a 4-8 prediction and nothing of value would be lost. Instead, because for some unknowable reason there might actually be some glimmer of hope this year, we’re gonna slog all the way through this together.
Despite Simmie Cobbs declaring for the NFL Draft, the offense is actually in a good place for 2018. At running back Morgan Ellison showed flashes of brilliance during his freshman campaign, and senior Mike Majette is back for one more season of speeding past slower defenses. A solid wide receiving corps returns, headlined by Nick Westbrook and J-Shun Harris, two exceptional wide receivers who need slightly better injury luck than in 2017 to make a huge impact, with Donovan Hale, Whop Philyor, and Luke Timian serving as their primary complements. The offensive line has had another year to grow into their roles and responsibilities, and any chance Indiana has of returning to a top offense relies heavily on them finding their way early. Finally, the quarterback position, where a three way battle is still playing out (and might play out for much of the year) between Peyton Ramsey, highly regarded recruit Mike Penix, and recent grad transfer Brandon Dawkins from Arizona. Whoever comes out on top will determine just exactly how Indiana will get downfield, though all are dual threat quarterbacks of some sort.
Potential chances of success: 75%. This relies heavily on finding a good blend of offensive line play, but the playmakers on this side of the ball are talented enough that even a semi-solid line might be enough to raise the scoring average by a couple of points per game; huge for a team that lost four games by a touchdown or less.
The 2017 edition of Indiana’s defense was probably the best the school has seen in at least a decade, if not two or more. And there was a very good reason for it too: senior leadership, primarily that of Tegray Scales and Rashard Fant. Eight starters or major role players graduated, and a couple of the major returnees are coming off of serious injury, which means that noted defensive wizard Tom Allen is going to need to pull off something close to a miracle to not have his defense return to levels most recently seen during the early Kevin Wilson years. There is talent in the defensive backfield, but there is also a total of one senior in that group, safety Jonathan Crawford. For a defense that neared top 25 in the country status last year, anything in the top half of the nation would be worth some celebration this season.
Potential chances of success: 50%. This is probably a bit generous, given that we’ve seen what Indiana’s defense looks like at its worst, but if sheer competency reigns, that might be good enough to keep the Hoosiers competitive. Even so, this effort is going to need a major curve on its final grade barring something utterly unprecedented.
It was the best of times (Indiana returns two punters with game experience, and both are at worst decent). It was the worst of times (replacing Griffin Oakes). OK, that second one may be a little harsh, but when the Big Ten’s leading kicker for two of the last three years graduates, his replacement is almost certainly going to be a step down. This is just science. While not excelling at the kicking game probably wouldn’t be the worst thing that could happen to Indiana in 2018, giving up any points in close games is rarely a winning recipe for a team with very low margins of error.
The good news: there are at least 7 games on here that Indiana winning would not be a major surprise. That’s not to say that they should win that many, or even necessarily all of the games I think they might have a chance in, but that them doing so is not as far-fetched as, say, winning that game on October 6th.
The bad news: This is still Indiana, they still play every team in the Big Ten East, and there’s just as good of a chance of IU going 2-10 (0-9) as there is of going 6-6 (3-6) or better. Indiana could conceivably not win a single game in October, and still have a chance at bowl eligibility. On the other hand, having to play at Michigan the week before the Bucket Game probably means that the Bucket is staying in West Lafayette for another year, but anything is possible, I guess.
If You’re Talking to an Indiana Fan
Generally, Hoosier fans that are still reasonably sober will talk with you on just about anything, but maybe take it lightly on topics related to the Bucket/Purdue, the losing streaks against Michigan and Ohio State, and how Indiana can fill up a tailgating field like no one’s business but rarely fills up Memorial Stadium in the same way.
Of course, basketball speculation is pretty safe all year round, but you don’t really need me to tell you that; it’s fairly self-evident.
B1G 2018: Indiana Week
Monday: Cocktail Party Preview (you are here)
Tuesday: The Tom Allen Experience, Year 2
Wednesday/Thursday: What I’m Told Will Be a Podcast About Indiana, and also The Reverse Potluck
Friday: “Words of Encouragement” from StewMonkey13