The Big Ten schedule analysis series wraps up with the Indiana Hoosiers.
Nonconference opponents (with 2010 records)
Sept. 3: vs. Ball State (4-8)
Sept. 10: Virginia (4-8)
Sept. 17: South Carolina State (9-3)
Sept. 24: at North Texas (3-9)
Leaders division games
Oct. 1: Penn State
Oct. 8: Illinois
Oct. 15: at Wisconsin
Nov. 5: at Ohio State
Nov. 26: Purdue
Oct. 22: at Iowa
Oct. 29: Northwestern
Nov. 19: Michigan State (protected)
Gut-check game: Penn State. After a pretty favorable nonconference schedule, Indiana opens Big Ten play with back-to-back division games. Indiana kept pace with Penn State in last year's neutral-site contest until special teams mishaps doomed the Hoosiers. The Lions provide a test, but Indiana will be at home and can get a major confidence boost for Big Ten play with an upset victory.
Trap game: There's really no obvious selection on Indiana's schedule. The final two nonconference games (South Carolina State and North Texas) don't inspire a ton of excitement, but Indiana's conference schedule offers no breathers.
Snoozer: At North Texas. Some might point to the South Carolina State home game, but the Bulldogs went 9-3 last season and could pose a test for a transitioning Hoosiers team. North Texas, meanwhile, comes off of a poor 2010 campaign. Indiana isn't good enough to take any games for granted, much less road trips, but it's hard to get too excited for this contest.
Non-con challenge: Virginia. The Cavaliers struggled in 2010, but they crushed Indiana 47-7 two years ago in Charlottesville. Pretty much everything went wrong for Indiana that day, and the Hoosiers' defense especially will need a significantly better effort Sept. 10 under the lights. Although Virginia is hardly a powerhouse, Indiana can gain some early confidence with a victory against an ACC opponent before the home faithful.
Key stretch: If Indiana is going to surprise some folks this fall, it needs a strong start to Big Ten play. The Hoosiers open with three consecutive Leaders division games, home contests against Penn State and Illinois and a trip to Camp Randall Stadium, where they were humiliated last season in an 83-20 loss to Wisconsin. October finishes with crossover games against Iowa and Northwestern, two teams Indiana has played tough in recent years. Kevin Wilson's Hoosiers need to have some confidence about them before a rough start to November with consecutive trips to Ohio State and Michigan State.
Analysis: Once again, Indiana plays a soft nonconference schedule that provides the chance to rack up some wins. Indiana likely needs to emerge from the non-league slate with at least three wins to have a realistic shot at the postseason. Why? The Hoosiers' Big Ten slate isn't easy, especially on the road with games at defending co-champs Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State, as well as a trip to Iowa. Indiana must take care of business at home in some potentially winnable Big Ten matchups to avoid another tough season.
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