Dienhart: Indiana Hoosiers football schedule analysis

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Dienhart: Indiana Hoosiers football schedule analysis

B1G HIGHLIGHT - Luke Timian makes a single-handed touchdown catch for Crimson against Cream in the Indiana spring football scrimmage.

Indiana enjoyed a breakthrough last year, earning its first bowl since 2007. Now, the Hoosiers are aiming at playing in a bowl in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1990-91. IU finished 6-7, but two of its losses came in OT: to Michigan in double OT and vs. Duke in the Pinstripe Bowl. So, Kevin Wilson’s crew knows it can hang with most any team. Now, it’s time to take the next step and earn some signature wins in addition to another postseason trip, as IU hasn’t won a bowl since dumping Baylor in the 1991 Copper Bowl.

Here is a look at the Hoosiers’ 2016 schedule analysis.

Toughest non-conference game: vs. Wake Forest. None of the three non-league games is daunting, but that season-opening trip to FIU is bizarre. (The next week, Maryland plays at FIU.) The visit from Wake Forest on Sept. 24 could be a pot hole. The Hoosiers won 31-24 in Winston-Salem last year to start 4-0 for the first time since 1990, so the Demon Deacons will be looking for revenge. This is a well-coached team under Dave Clawson, who went 3-9 in 2015 and is building a solid program.

Toughest conference game: at Ohio State. This Oct. 8 game will be a major challenge. Indiana went 2-1-1 vs. the Buckeyes from 1987-90, including a victory in Columbus in 1987. Since then, the Hoosiers have lost 21 in a row to the Buckeyes. Last year, IU threw a major scare into Ohio State, which had to battle for its life to escape Bloomington with a 34-27 win as the No. 1 team in the nation.

Who they don’t play: The Hoosiers miss Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin.

Easiest game: vs. Ball State. This should be about as good as it can get for IU, the closest thing to a layup. The Cardinals went 3-9 last year and saw coach Pete Lembo bolt to become an assistant at Maryland. Ball State is a program in transition under new coach Mike Neu.

Toughest stretch: Check out Indiana’s first three Big Ten games: Michigan State, at Ohio State and Nebraska. I dare you to find a tougher start to a league schedule. MSU has won seven in a row and 15 of 17 from the Hoosiers. The Buckeyes have lost to the Hoosiers just two times since 1951. This will be the first time Indiana plays Nebraska as a Big Ten team. The schools last met in 1978, with the Cornhuskers taking a 69-17 decision.

Best chance to be upset: vs. Purdue. Indiana needs to be careful when its rival rolls into Memorial Stadium on Nov. 26. These are halcyon days for the Hoosiers in the battle for the Old Oaken Bucket, winning three in a row for the first time since a four-game run from 1944-47. But anything can happen in a rivalry game. And the Boilermakers may be desperate by this time of the season.

Best chance to pull an upset: at Northwestern. The Hoosiers could knock off the Wildcats in Evanston on Oct. 22. The Wildcats are rolling, coming off a 10-win season that was highlighted by myriad close wins. If NU’s offense is scuffling and Indiana has its attack rolling under a new quarterback, the Hoosiers may leave Chicagoland with a nice victory.

Must win: vs. Maryland. If Indiana has any hopes of returning to a bowl, it needs to beat visiting Maryland on Oct. 29. For that matter, the Hoosiers also probably will need to prevail at Rutgers the next week. Big Ten wins won’t be easy to come by, so Indiana needs to collect as many as it can. IU lost a crusher to RU last year, 55-52, blowing a 25-point lead during a six-game losing skid that threatened to derail the season. But the Hoosiers won at Maryland, 47-28.

Bye week: The timing isn’t ideal, as the Hoosiers are off the third week of the season after playing host to Ball State. Coming out of the off week, IU welcomes Wake Forest. Ideally, the off week would come a bit later in the schedule during a tough Big Ten slate.

***

Day Date Opponent Time TV Result
Thu. 9/1TBA at FIU TBA
Sat. 9/10TBA vs. Ball State TBA
Sat. 9/24TBA vs. Wake Forest TBA
Sat. 10/1TBA vs. 6 Michigan State TBA
Sat. 10/8TBA at 4 Ohio State TBA
Sat. 10/15TBA vs. Nebraska TBA
Sat. 10/22TBA at 23 Northwestern TBA
Sat. 10/29TBA vs. Maryland TBA
Sat. 11/5TBA at Rutgers TBA
Sat. 11/12TBA vs. Penn State TBA
Sat. 11/19TBA at 12 Michigan TBA
Sat. 11/26TBA vs. Purdue TBA
Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

About Tom Dienhart: BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.

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