BLOOMINGTON – Indiana is a program on the rise under energetic, fifth-year coach Tom Allen.

The Hoosiers followed a breakthrough 2019 season with more positive strides in 2020. IU rode the momentum of a 36-35 overtime win over Penn State to four straight victories to start the season. They were in the thick of the Big Ten title race before falling 42-35 at eventual champion Ohio State on Nov. 21.

After the loss to the Buckeyes, IU won two straight to post a 6-1 regular season, notching its most Big Ten wins since 1987 and highest national ranking (7) since 1967. A disappointing loss to Ole Miss in the Outback Bowl ended the season at 6-2, but the Hoosiers showed they could sustain success for the majority of the season, even after All-Big Ten quarterback Michael Penix Jr. went down with a torn ACL on November 28 against Maryland.

Penix is ahead of schedule on rehab and all signs point to him starting IU’s season opener on Sept. 4 at Iowa. His health is again critical to IU’s hopes in 2021. The Hoosiers are 10-2 in the last two seasons when Penix starts and 4-5 when a different quarterback is under center.

IU returns nine starters on offense and nine on defense, including Big Ten wide receiver of the year Ty Fryfogle (37 catches, 721 yards, 7 TDs), All-Big Ten linebacker Micah McFadden (58 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions) and All-Big Ten cornerback Tiawan Mullen (eight career takeaways).

Here’s an early outlook for Indiana heading into the 2021 season:

WHAT THEY LOST

All-Big Ten first-team safety Jamar Johnson declared for the NFL draft after posting seven career interceptions in three seasons and was taken in the fifth round by the Denver Broncos. All-Big Team first team defensive tackle Jerome Johnson declared for the NFL Draft and signed with the Miami Dolphins as a free agent. Running back Steve Scott III declared for the NFL Draft after rushing for 2,543 career yards and 30 TDs and signed with the New Orleans Saints as a free agent. Wide receiver Whop Philyor (180 career catches, 2,067 yards, 12 TDs) signed with the Minnesota Vikings as a free agent after declaring for the NFL Draft.

NEWCOMERS TO WATCH

Wide receiver/kick returner D.J. Matthews, a transfer from Florida State, earned Most Outstanding Offensive Player honors this spring and will be counted on in the passing game and on special teams. Defensive line transfers Ryder Anderson (Ole Miss) and Jaren Handy (Auburn) are athletic pass rushers that could help IU get more pressure from the four-man rush. Stephen Carr, a running back transfer from USC, will battle to earn carries with the departure of Scott.

PROSPECTS FOR 2021

IU is still developing depth on both lines of scrimmage, but there is enough talent at quarterback, the skill positions and in the secondary to make big plays on both sides of the football. A tough road schedule includes games at Iowa (Sept. 4), at Penn State (Oct. 2) and at Michigan (Nov. 6). If IU can get through that gauntlet and beat Cincinnati at home (Sept. 18), a home game against Ohio State (Oct. 23) could wind up being the biggest football game for the Hoosiers in decades. Based on the talent and experience returning, the window is open for IU to contend for a Big Ten title.

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