We are less than a week away from kickoff of the 2013 college football season, meaning it is time to dust off the good ol’ Big Ten Best Case/Worst Case/Prediction column. This is where the schedule is broken down and we take a look at how the most extreme cases as well as the most likely can happen. The best part of these is when I examine where I went wrong at the end of the season.
Without further ado, let’s preview the one of first teams alphabetically in the league, Indiana. Those upstart Hoosiers are what many people have been talking about this offseason. Boasting top 20 passing attack – despite using three QBs – has people buzzing. With the dynamic Tre Roberson back from injury and two very capable players who replaced him last season it looks like the most important position on the field has been settled for Indiana.
What about the rest of the roster? Stephen Houston showed some promise at running back and Shane Wynn is a reliable target at wide out.
Defensively, however, the team must show vast improvement if the program is going to take another step forward in 2013. Another year ranked at No. 104-nationally in total defense will not cut it, especially in a league that has a wide range of offensive threats from dual-threat quarterback-led teams like Northwestern and Nebraska to a pro-style team like Penn State to a gound-and-pround team like Wisconsin. Brian Williams (cornerback) and Greg Heban (safety) are both solid players, but you can’t have your secondary be your saviors. Secondaries need to be a strength, but the core of the “D” in the box must step it up.
Indiana State: 7-4 (5-3) Missouri Valley – FCS (2012 record used for all opponents)
Best Case: Hoosiers won this a year ago, might as well do it again. 1-0
Worst Case: They did only manage to eke out a 24-17 victory in 2012 and ISU is an improving program in the FCS. Maybe we see another tight one, but we still have to go with the B1G team though. 1-0
Prediction: Passing attack lives up to expectations and the fans don’t have to worry about staying out late on a Thursday night. W: 31-21, 1-0
Navy: 8-5 Independent
Best Case: Hoosiers lost this one in a heartbreaker, 31-30, last season. They get revenge to stay unbeaten early. 2-0
Worst Case: The Midshipmen were notoriously slow starters in 2012, turning a 1-3 start to a 8-4 regular season finish. They are well coached and that option rushing attack is never easy to game plan for. 1-1
Prediction: I like that these teams played last season – the novelty of the Navy’s option offense won’t be an advantage as much as it is to most teams the Middies play. I also like the fact that Navy has a history of stumbling early before finding itself. Big early win for Kevin Wilson’s club. W: 35-31, 2-0
Bowling Green: 8-5 (6-2) MAC
Best Case: Indiana waxed a MAC team last year, 45-6. 3-0
Worst Case: That team was UMass while the Hoosiers eventually lost to a far more competitive Ball State team. Indiana has a history of dropping games to MAC teams for several years now. 1-2.
Prediction: Make no mistake, Bowling Green is a dangerous club and the MAC has been an improved league for some time now. I can easily see a scenario in which Indiana sustains a sobering loss. With that in mind, if Indiana has improved in on the field as much as it has on paper, they should win this one in front of a home crowd. I think knocking off Navy a week earlier carries over in terms of confidence, especially for its shaky-at-best “D.” W: 31-21, 3-0.
Missouri: 5-7 (2-6) SEC
Best Case: Can I just say one thing really quickly? I love this game. A great chance for Indiana to have a tough, but winnable, game against a fellow power conference school – at home mind you – in order to tune up for league play. Missouri struggled with some teams last year like UCF and Syracuse but also kept it close against Florida and Vandy while winning at Tennessee. This game feels like a toss-up, but I think Missouri’s losing record last year was an exception to Gary Pinkel’s impressive tenure and not about to become the norm. 3-1
Worst Case: A hangover after the Bowling Green loss leads to a sloppy performance against a talented Tigers team. 1-3
Prediction: Mizzou returns a lot of quarterback talent in James Franklin and honestly, I think Pinkel is a better coach than Wilson. This game feels like a big benchmark test for Indiana. It is at home, but I see the SEC getting some pointless bragging rights in this game. L: 28-17, 3-1
Penn State: 8-4 (6-2) Big Ten
Best Case: Hoosiers were crushed in this game a season ago. Even with a slide by PSU and IU being improved, I still think there is too big a gap between these two clubs. 3-2
Worst Case: With five straight weeks at home to open the year as well as an improved team expectations had been for a bowl game. That dream becomes a nightmare as the Hoosiers’ slide continues. 1-4
Prediction: Penn State has the look of a contender. They will be a tough out for even the top teams in the league, let alone one just hoping to show visible improvements. L: 31-13, 3-2 (0-1)
At Michigan State: 7-6 (3-5) Big Ten
Best Case: This has the trappings of a tough road opener to the season but Indiana only lost by four a year ago to Sparty. If MSU’s offense is still anemic, a marquee win for Coach Wilson could come in East Lansing. 4-2
Worst Case: IU lost four of their six road games last season and the majority of those were really ugly. Sometimes teams just don’t have what it takes to go on the road when they are still in rebuilding mode. 1-5
Prediction: Indiana has the horses to win this game, but I think Michigan State finds a way to make enough stops and maybe get a turnover or two to create short fields to help their offense. Michigan State slips by and the Hoosiers are left with a moral victory. L: 21-17, 3-3 (0-2)
At Michigan: 8-5 (6-2) Big Ten
Best Case: What a brutal way for the upstart Hoosiers to start league play. At least they are getting a lot of their toughies out of the way. 4-3
Worst Case: Wisconsin dropped 62 on Indiana last year. Perhaps Michigan will set their sights higher if Indiana is in the midst of a total collapse. 1-6
Prediction: Devin Gardner played solidly down the stretch and really changed Michigan’s approach offensively. The conventional wisdom is that with a training camp as the No. 1 under his belt and that late-season experience from a year ago, he’ll be ready to be a game changer from opening day on. That is scary news for an Indiana team still working through issues defensively. The fact that IU is still a question mark in road games also worries me if I’m a member of the Hoosier faithful. L: 42-21, 3-4 (0-3)
Minnesota: 6-7 (2-6) Big Ten
Best Case: Minnesota was average, at best, a season ago. After a rocky league start Indiana gets an easy one. 5-3
Worst Case: Despite being more of a MASH unit than a team last year, Jerry Kill’s club somehow found the postseason. Maybe Minnesota is the club we should be keeping an eye for a leap in Year 3 under a new coach. 1-7
Prediction: Maybe it’s the Iowa in me but I don’t see what is all that great about this Minnesota club. They have issues at quarterback (Philip Nelson didn’t move my meter that much) and a decent running back. Sure the Gophers defense finished in the top 50-nationally a year ago but this club looks pretty mediocre. I like Indiana’s chances at home. W: 28-24, 4-4 (1-3)
Illinois: 2-10 (0-8) Big Ten
Best Case: Hoosiers won by 14 on the road last year. I smell a bowl game. 6-3
Worst Case: Illinois is the team surprising everyone and Indiana is plagued by poor coaching, poor performance and the wheels come off entirely. The clock officially starts ticking for the firing of Kevin Wilson. 1-8
Prediction: On paper these clubs look very similar but Indiana has the benefit of being the home team. They also have a slight edge in talent and maybe even in coaching too. As Indiana makes that final kick for that bowl they hope to make, they need to take care of teams like the Illini. W: 35-21, 5-4 (2-3)
At Wisconsin: 8-6 (4-4) Big Ten
Best Case: As mentioned, Indiana was floored by these guys last season. Keeping it close is possible … 6-4
Worst Case: … but not probable. 1-9
Prediction: Even with a new face on the sideline and some concern at the quarterback position, the Badgers are deep and experienced. Camp Randall can also be a house of horrors for teams far better than Indiana. L: 42-17, 5-5 (2-4)
At Ohio State: 12-0 (8-0) Big Ten
Best Case: The start and finish to league play is pretty hard for Indiana. If they hope to make a bowl they really need to take care of business in its out-of-conference games. 6-5
Worst Case: I honestly came up with zero names for potential Indiana hires. They would probably have to take a stab at a MAC or Sun Belt up-and-comer. Maybe Antwaan Randal-El, but he has no coaching experience. Ruh-row. 1-10
Prediction: Maybe OSU is worse than we thought and banged up and maybe Indiana is playing lights out. Maybe Gisele Bundchen is thinking about leaving Tom Brady for yours truly. But even if that happened … well, I’ll just keep dreaming. Similarly, OSU would wake up and find a way to win – like they did against Purdue last season. An upset, even if OSU doesn’t live up to the hype, is insane to predict. L: 49-24, 5-6 (2-5)
Purdue: 6-7 (3-5) Big Ten
Best Case: After two stinkers, Indiana finds its stride again and puts any doubt of a bowl snub out of people’s minds. 7-5
Worst Case: A one win, oh-fer B1G finish and the whole coaching Mary-go-round starts over again. 1-11
Prediction: Maybe I just like the poetic nature of it but Purdue killed Indiana last year to get the Old Oaken Bucket and make a bowl game. Indiana gets some revenge. Also, IU’s offense is good enough to carry this program to a bowl. I think they prove that with at track-meet win on a cold November day. W: 56-49, 6-6 (3-5).
If you didn’t pick up on it already–Indiana is improved. Maybe even vastly improved. Their biggest obstacle is a brutal schedule that includes a pesky Navy team, a talented MAC team and a decent SEC team. That’s even before you get to a rough league schedule. However, they get their three easiest league games at home (Illinois, Minnesota, Purdue). If the Hoosiers have any bowl aspirations they have to sweep those three because there are too many mines in this field for them to come out intact on the other side otherwise.