First, a mea culpa. These previews were supposed to go in order of the schedule; you know, the way that would make sense. But it turns out I am extremely stupid and can't read a calendar, so the Ohio preview came before the Indiana one.
Now, with that out of the way: the Indiana Hoosiers. The OTHER other team in Indiana. 2018 will be the fourth matchup between the Virginia Cavaliers and IU, all since 2009. The first two were UVA wins, including a 2011 win in Bloomington that came in memorable fashion.
Indiana got their revenge last year. After the Mendenhall defense held IU in check for the first quarter and a half, a change at quarterback brought in the mobile Peyton Ramsey—and brought about a 34-17 Indiana win.
2017 Season: 5-7 (2-7 B1G Ten)
Indiana hung with Ohio State for half of their season-opener before thumping UVA in Charlottesville once Ramsey took over for Richard Lagow. But conference play was brutal for IU—the Hoosiers were 0-6 in the Big Ten before beating Illinois and Rutgers. A one-score loss at rival Purdue eliminated Indiana from bowl contention in Tom Allen’s first season.
Players to watch:
QB Brandon Dawkins: This game could become a showdown between dual-threat quarterbacks who left Arizona programs. Dawkins graduated from the University of Arizona but lost out to Khalil Tate, and transferred to Bloomington. Whether it’s him or Ramsey under center, the Hoosiers will use option looks to spark the running game.
RB Ronnie Walker Jr.: There are more experienced backs in front of the freshman from Hopewell who picked Indiana over UVA. But none of them are as heralded as the four-star newcomer. Leading returning rusher Morgan Ellison ought to be the bell cow, but Walker could be called on to provide moments of brilliance.
WR Luke Timian: Both of the monsters from last year’s receiving game—Simmie Cobbs, Jr., and tight end Ian Thomas—are gone. Timian was second to Cobbs in targets, catches, and yards in 2017. He’ll likely be WR1 for Indiana this season.
LB Dameon Willis Jr.: There is A LOT of experience gone from last year’s very solid defensive unit, the most notable being linebacker Tegray Scales. Willis has to replace at least some of Scales’ 2017 stat line; if he doesn't, and if none of the other no-names in the linebacking corps step up, the strength of the 2017 Hoosiers could be the weakness of 2018’s.
Mascot grade: Incomplete (and trending down).
IU doesn’t have a mascot. Which is a MASSIVE downgrade from mascots of days past: a bulldog, and a cartoon bison.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME?? You had a real live dog and chose to go with ... NOTHING?!?! Not cool, Indiana. Not cool.
(This is a radar graph. It shows you where a team ranked in various categories. Closer to outer edge = better rank. Lots of area = elite unit.)
Remember what I said above about all of the linebackers being gone? That would worry me if I were on Indiana’s side of things. The pass defense was so good because of how many sacks they got—more than 30 in 2017. But more than 20 of those sacks are gone. Plus the run defense was suspect last year: they weren’t strong at stopping runners for short yardage and tended to allow third-and-short situations. I would guess the 2018 Hoosier defense will be susceptible to the play-action game if a talented corps of defensive backs has to keep one eye on the running game because of the question marks at linebacker.
Road wins are hard. Road wins against Power Five opponents are hard. Road wins for inexperienced teams are hard. So for an inexperienced team going on the road to a Power Five opponent, a win is going to be hard to come by. If Virginia’s difficulties with Indiana’s dual-threat rushing attack last year were more than just not being prepared to face Ramsey, then this could be a fairly lopsided affair. But if the late-season Indiana offense is the unit that shows up, then UVA could sneak an important early-season victory.
I’m going to stick with giving the home team the benefit of the doubt. Virginia closes the gap from 2017 but don’t pull out the win.
Score: Indiana, 24-20.