- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Our schedule analysis series rolls on with a look at the Indiana Hoosiers' 2012 docket.
No one expects IU -- which suffered through a dreadful 1-11 season a year ago -- to rise up and contend in the Leaders Division. But after playing so many freshmen last year, the team should be improved under second-year coach Kevin Wilson. How many more victories could that mean? Let's look at the road ahead:
Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)
Sept. 1: Indiana State (6-5)
Sept. 8: at Massachusetts (5-6)
Sept. 15: Ball State (6-6)
Oct. 20: at Navy (5-7)
Leaders Division games
Oct. 13: Ohio State
Oct. 27: at Illinois
Nov. 10: Wisconsin
Nov. 17: at Penn State
Nov. 24: at Purdue
Sept. 29: at Northwestern
Oct. 6: Michigan State (protected)
Nov. 3: Iowa
Gut-check game: If there's one Big Ten game that Indiana fans really want to win every year, it's the Oaken Bucket game against Purdue. The Hoosiers have been competitive most years in that rivalry, including last year's eight-point loss. This time around, the game is on the road against what figures to be a much-improved Boilermakers' squad. The Hoosiers will be looking to finish the year strong and spring the upset.
Trap game: Indiana is not good enough for any games to really be considered a trap. But let's go with the road contest against FBS newbie UMass. The Hoosiers lost in embarrassing fashion at North Texas last season and can't afford another slip-up against a bottom-rung team in Year 2 under Wilson. No matter the struggles, any Big Ten team should have more talent than a school which had a losing record in the FCS last year.
Snoozer: Indiana State has gotten better since a recent horrific streak of futility. Still, no one outside the state of Indiana (and precious few inside it) are going to pay much attention to the season opener at Memorial Stadium.
Non-con challenge: Going to Navy in the middle of the season looks like a situation rife with trouble. The Hoosiers will have little time to prepare for a Midshipmen option attack that will seriously test their young defense. Indiana will be an underdog in this one.
Telltale stretch: The Hoosiers' best chances for victory come in September, with three winnable nonconference game and a not-too-intimidating road trip to Northwestern. Wilson's team will have a chance to do what it couldn't last year: build some confidence with positive early season results. But if the Hoosiers suffer setbacks to teams like Ball State and UMass, it likely will mean another long year is in store.
Analysis: Indiana's goal this year should be marked improvement, both in the number of victories and overall competitiveness. The schedule offers opportunities to pick up some wins, and getting to four or five this year would have to be considered a success. Three of the four Big Ten road games (at Illinois, at Northwestern, at Purdue) are manageable, though that means the home schedule, with Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Iowa, is incredibly demanding. The Hoosiers will have to take care of business against teams with similar or worse talent levels and be a strong road team if this year is going to wind up much better than 2011.
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