Let’s project, for just a second, what kind of football season Indiana could have.
It’s still July, practice hasn’t started yet and all things are possible. Maybe these Hoosiers could duplicate the Cardiac Kids of 1967, when they improbably shared the Big Ten title and lost a close game to USC in the Rose Bowl.
The odds are against that, of course. There’s too much losing history, too many struggles, too much defensive uncertainty for that to be realistic.
Still, let’s take a look.
First, IU has scheduled well in the non-conference (its four opponents were a combined 9-37 last year). It almost certainly will sweep these games, which means a 3-5 Big Ten record would be enough to guarantee a bowl game at 7-5. Yes, a 2-6 Big Ten record would make the Hoosiers bowl eligible, but that guarantees nothing.
Anyway, they open at home with Towson, which is -- and we’re being diplomatic here -- a bad program. The Tigers were 2-8 last year and got hammered by Northwestern 47-14. IU will win big. If not, well, let’s not go there.
Then the Hoosiers play at Western Kentucky, a decent program, but one that shouldn’t give the Cream ‘n Crimson problems. Next is Akron at home. The Zips were 3-9 last year and are projected to be near the bottom of the Mid-American Conference this season. IU should roll again.
Next comes the Big Ten opener against Michigan. The Wolverines have had all sorts of problems in Rich Rodriguez’s first two seasons. His spread attack has produced a 5-16 record in Ann Arbor and that ain’t nearly good enough. IU nearly won at Michigan Stadium last season. It would not take a miracle to beat the Wolverines at Memorial Stadium this year.
Next comes a trip to Ohio State. Forget it. Indiana loses big. Then comes the Homecoming Game against Arkansas State, which had the best record among IU’s non-conference opponents at 4-8. The Hoosiers should roll again.
Next is a game at Illinois, which has really struggled the last couple of seasons. This is, without a doubt, a winnable game.
By this point IU could be 6-1. Could be. Heck, maybe it could even be ranked.
Did we mention, could be?
After that life gets complex. Indiana hosts Northwestern and the Wildcats are nearly two decades removed from being a doormat. They have been to bowl games five times this decade, including two straight. They’ve won three Big Ten titles in the last 15 years. Do not assume IU wins this game.
The Hoosiers’ last four games are hosting Iowa, at Wisconsin, against Penn State in Washington D.C. and at Purdue. To win they will have to play rib-rocking defense, something they haven’t done since Bill Mallory was coaching.
At best Indiana wins one of its last five games. That could make it 7-5 and put it into a bowl. It wouldn’t have any season-ending momentum, but that’s a worry for another season.
How likely is this? There are three main keys. First, IU has to stay healthy, especially at quarterback. It lacks the depth to overcome major injuries.
Second, it has to play at least middle-of-the-Big Ten defense. That will be a challenge given only four defensive starters return from a poor defense, but there appears to be plenty of young talent available. It will have to play beyond its experience.
Finally, the Hoosiers have to score. They’re very solid at quarterback and receiver. They have talent at running back and on the offensive line. This unit has potential if quarterback Ben Chappell cuts back on his interceptions (going from 15 to 10 or less) and if fumbles are kept to a minimum.
That’s how we see it a week or so before the start of training camp, but it’s not about what we see. It’s about what Indiana does. Come Sept. 2 against Towson, we’ll start finding out.