The last year and a half has been a whole lot of weird. Case in point: 6 win Indiana (a thing that normally sounds pretty reasonable) is getting their OTE Week in AUGUST (a thing that hasn’t happened since I’ve been writing here) because instead of a normal, full 12 game season, the 2020 football season was abbreviated, and 6 wins placed the Hoosiers near the top of the conference. While circumstances ended the season in a much less pleasant way than most Indiana fans would have liked, momentum is finally starting to swing towards the Cream and Crimson, and 2021 may be the culmination of many years of work trying to bring the program back to respectability.
2020 in Review
If not for two exceedingly fortunate breaks, Indiana probably doesn’t start 2020 off with a win. Devyn Ford running all the way in instead of going down before the goal line gave Indiana a chance to come back for the tie (and they did), and whichever side judge or line judge on the field giving Michael Penix Jr. the benefit of the doubt on whether or not the ball crossed the goal line in overtime (and also the replay booth choosing to go with the call on the field as a result) secured the win for the Hoosiers over #8 Penn State, an incredible upset that would vault IU into the AP rankings, and crushed Nittany Lion hopes early.
After surviving a battle with Rutgers on Halloween, Indiana came back home and pulled another major upset, finally claiming victory over the Michigan Wolverines for the first time since 1987. A 24-0 shutout of Michigan State left the Hoosiers 4-0 in Big Ten play for the first time in a very long time, and set up a top 10 showdown in Columbus against Ohio State.
Which they lost, because snapping two historically long losing streaks in the same season just doesn’t happen. But you know, Ohio State.
Sadly, this is where the wheels started to fall off for the Hoosiers. Beat Maryland, but Michael Penix tore his ACL. Beat Wisconsin, but just barely. And then, COVID claims the Bucket game twice over, leaving Indiana with a very respectable looking record, but not much else to boost a resume with. And that’s how Indiana ended up in the Outback Bowl, which they did not use as a golden opportunity to end a very long bowl win drought.
And now that I’ve had to relive all of that, let us never speak of it again.
The 2021 Offense
Assuming Michael Penix is healthy and ready to go, he will continue to be the key for Indiana’s offense. The Jack Tuttle Experience was fine when facing Wisconsin last season, but I would still prefer a healthy Penix running the show for Indiana on the whole. Stevie Scott is off to the NFL, but Sampson James returns, and will likely be fighting sophomore Tim Baldwin Jr. and USC grad transfer Stephen Carr for the feature back role, and plenty of talent waits behind them should IU need them. A similar situation is happening with the wide outs: Whop Philyor moved on, Ty Fryfogle and Miles Marshall head the returning crew, and a pair of grad transfers (DJ Matthews Jr. from Florida State, and Camron Buckley from Texas A&M) are looking to make their mark in Bloomington as well.
Multiple seniors lead the tight end squad, with Peyton Hendershot and Matt Bjorson the most notable. The Hoosiers are also hoping that Khameron Taylor makes a successful return after injuries sidelined him for all of 2020 after coming over as a grad transfer. And finally, on the offensive line, Indiana returns a lot of experience, with the hope that another year of development will fix some of last season’s struggles. Zack Carpenter has transferred in from Michigan to replace the departed Harry Crider, with Dylan Powell, Matthew Bedford, Mike Katic, and either Caleb Jones or Luke Haggard filling in the rest of the line.
The 2021 Defense
Indiana’s defense was a major strong suit in 2020, and most of the same names are back for 2021. The Hoosiers even got a grad transfer from Ole Miss in Ryder Anderson who has already ascended to the top of the depth chart at defensive end. At defensive tackle, standout Sio Nofoagatoto’a and Demarcus Elliott anchor the line, with NIU grad transfer Weston Kramer right behind them.
In the secondary (which according to Indiana also includes the Husky position), Marcelino McCrary-Ball returns from an ACL tear that kept him out last season, and Tiawan Mullen joins him in an experienced defensive back corps that boasts 7 seniors (and talented junior Mullen) in the early 2-deep.
The 2021 Special Teams
The returning folks first, as you already know them: Charles Campbell returns as the field goal kicker, Jared Smolar returns as kickoff specialist, Sean Wracher returns as snapper, David Ellis returns as primary punt returner, and Reese Taylor returns as the primary kickoff returner.
The slightly interesting stuff begins with backup punter Chase Wyatt stepping in to hold (Smolar is listed as the backup holder), but the redshirt sophomore has been passed for the most important position on the field (according to MNW) by a true freshman.
That’s right, replacing longtime IU punter Haydon Whitehead is true freshman James Evans. Both Whitehead and Evans came to Indiana through the Prokick Australia program, but unlike Whitehead, Evans is from New Zealand. For those keeping score at home (again, probably just MNW), we’ve replaced an Aussie punter with a Kiwi punter.
September 4: @Iowa
September 11: vs. Idaho
September 18: vs. Cincinnati
September 25: @Western Kentucky
October 2: @Penn State
October 16: vs. Michigan State (Old Brass Spittoon)
October 23: vs. Ohio State
October 30: @Maryland (This is what we in the business call a ‘trap game’)
November 6: @Michigan
November 13: vs. Rutgers
November 20: vs. Minnesota
November 27: @Purdue (Old Oaken Bucket)
When Talking to a Hoosier Fan
How excited you were for IU’s victory over Penn State last year, the remarkable job Tom Allen’s done at turning a middling program into something people can actually respect and/or fear, how much support you’re prepared to throw behind the eventual “Penix for Heisman” campaign
DO NOT MENTION
Your thoughts on how every game should have a dedicated goal line cam, anything about how long it’s been since Indiana last beat Ohio State, the betting pool you and your buddies have on when Michael Penix goes down for the season this year