- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Tick, tock. The sound you hear is the countdown to college football. It's right around the bend, and we're here to get you ready by looking at each Big Ten team's nonconference opponents this fall.
Today, we put Indiana's non-league slate under the microscope.
Indiana State, Aug. 29
Coach: Mike Sanford (0-0, first year; 16-43 overall in FBS)
2012 record: 7-4, 5-3 Missouri Valley (FCS)
Offensive headliner: Running back Shakir Bell earned third-team AP All-America honors after rushing for 1,475 yards and 11 touchdowns last fall. He finished sixth in the FCS in rushing and recorded seven 100-yard rushing performances.
Defensive headliner: Cornerback Calvin Burnett is a back-to-back all-conference selection who recorded four interceptions, eight pass breakups and 60 tackles, including two for loss and a sack. He also averaged 15.6 yards on five punt return attempts.
The skinny: Indiana State has transformed its program in recent years, although the loss of head coach Trent Miles to Georgia State stings. Sanford struggled mightily as UNLV's head coach and then as Louisville's offensive coordinator before rebounding as an assistant at Utah State under current Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen. Bell is a huge weapon for the Sycamores' offense, but Indiana State must replace six starters on defense from the 2012 team. The Hoosiers held off the Sycamores 24-17 in last year's opener.
Navy, Sept. 7
Coach: Ken Niumatalolo, (40-26, sixth year)
2012 record: 8-5
Offensive headliner: Quarterback Keenan Reynolds started the final eight games as a true freshman, finishing with 898 yards passing and nine touchdowns and 649 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns.
Defensive headliner: Senior linebacker Cody Peterson had 67 tackles last year, including a career-high 14 stops against Army. He has been named a team captain for 2013.
The skinny: The Midshipmen were one of the few teams who could match Indiana's youth movement last year, playing 14 true freshmen in 2012. They ranked sixth in the FBS in rushing last season but only scored 25 ppg. Navy beat Indiana 31-30 last year in Annapolis and will open its 2013 season in Bloomington.
Bowling Green, Sept. 14
Coach: Dave Clawson (22-28, fifth year)
2012 record: 8-5, 6-2 MAC
Offensive headliner: Junior running back Anthon Samuel ran for 998 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, topping 100 yards in five contests. However, Samuel left the team this spring and it's unclear whether he will return.
Defensive headliner: Safety and greatly named BooBoo Gates had a pair of interceptions and was named first team All-MAC last year. He's also a dangerous kick returner.
The skinny: The Falcons have made steady progress under Clawson, going from 2-10 in 2010 to a bowl game last year. They have nine starters back on each side of the ball and should be one of the top MAC contenders this season. Bowling Green allowed just 16.8 ppg last year and fielded a top 15 pass defense, which should make for an interesting matchup against Indiana's potent passing attack.
Missouri, Sept. 21
Coach: Gary Pinkel (90-61, 13th year)
2012 record: 5-7, 2-6 SEC
Offensive headliner: Running back Henry Josey was well on his way to stardom before tearing up his knee in 2011. He's back and healthy now and could build on his sophomore year, when he averaged 8.1 yards per carry until the injury.
The skinny: The Tigers' first season in the SEC was pretty much a disaster, but a wave of injuries was at least partially to blame. There's a quarterback battle going on, with former starter James Franklin vying to regain his role. If Josey is healthy and former No. 1 recruit Dorial Green-Beckham continues to make progress at receiver, Missouri could have a fast, versatile offense.
Indiana has hopes of getting to a bowl game in 2013, and how it performs in the nonconference schedule will go a long way toward determining that. On the plus side, the Hoosiers get all four games at home (and, in fact, play their first five in Bloomington). On the negative side, the three FBS teams here all pose different challenges, and Indiana State showed it was no pushover last year against IU. Not to mention that Memorial Stadium hasn't exactly provided the best home-field advantage over the years. Navy is always a tough team to prepare for and play because of its option attack. Bowling Green should be one of the best teams in the MAC. And Missouri should be much improved with better health this season. If Indiana has made strides on defense, it should be able to play with all of these teams. Winning three is probably a must in order to get to a bowl game, but it won't be easy.
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