Last time the Hoosiers and Huskers played, Indiana left the field victorious brandishing their grudge against Scott Frost over a perceived slight. Frost had suggested balancing Big Ten football schedules, noting that the Huskers had played Ohio State six times before playing a second conference game against Indiana. (And twice more since then, making it eight before a third game against the Hoosiers.) During the 2020 COVID season, Indiana once again was offended when the Big Ten selected undefeated Ohio State to play in the conference championship game, mostly because of the Buckeyes 42-35 victory over Indiana.
So mad their equipment staff removed the Big Ten logos from their Outback Bowl uniforms. And the football gods were not pleased with the Hoosiers’ stunts. They lost the bowl game, then in 2021, injuries at quarterback, running back, and the secondary led to a 2-10 nightmare of a season. But with only 12 returning starters, 2022 could also be a struggle for Indiana.
Michael Penix, who suffered yet another season ending injury against Penn State in 2022, transferred to Washington this offseason. The heir apparent is sophomore Connor Bazelak (6’3” 220 lbs.), a transfer from Missouri who completed 66% of his passes for 5,058 yards and 23 touchdowns with 17 interceptions in 20 career starts. Junior Jack Tuttle (6’4” 217 lbs.) started two games in relief of Penix before suffering his own season ending injury; he’s completed 56% of his passes for four touchdowns and six interceptions. Sophomore Donoven McCulley (6’5” 210 lbs.) was pulled out of his redshirt season because of the injuries, but only completed 43% of his passes with two touchdowns and two interceptions. The addition of Bazelak, who was the SEC co-Freshman of the Year in 2020, should significantly upgrade the Hoosiers offense in 2022.
Much like the quarterback room, the running backs were a revolving door of injuries and departures as well. Auburn transfer Shaun Shivers (5’7” 190 lbs.) should be the new featured back; in ten career starts at Auburn, he’s rushed for 1,020 yards, averaging 5.1 yards per carry. North Carolina transfer Josh Henderson (5’11” 214 lbs.) rushed for 209 yards in his career with the Tar Heels. The leading returning back is freshman Charlie Spegal (5’10” 220 lbs.) who rushed for 62 yards in spot duty to save his redshirt. Shivers might give the Hoosiers a bit more of a ground game than they’ve had recently. Might.
Senior slot receiver DJ Matthews (5’11” 160 lbs.) was another injury casualty for the Hoosiers last season; in four games, he caught 13 passes for 165 yards. Prior to that, Matthews started 16 games for Florida State with 809 career receiving yards. Sophomore tight end AJ Barner (6’6” 251 lbs.) caught 14 passes for 162 yards and a touchdown. The only other returning receiver is sophomore backup Javon Swinton (6’2” 191 lbs.), who caught 15 passes for 115 yards and a touchdown. Indiana will need major contributions from North Carolina transfer Emery Simmons (6’1” 187 lbs.; 516 career yards) and junior college transfer Cam Camper (6’3” 201 lbs.)
Three starters return on the offensive line, led by junior right tackle Matthew Bedford (6’6” 308 lbs.) who has 27 career starts. Senior left tackle Luke Haggard (6’7” 303 lbs.) has 15 career starts the last two seasons while sophomore left guard Mike Katic (6’4” 309 lbs.) has 13 career starts. Sophomore center Zach Carpenter (6’5” 304 lbs.) did start two games at Michigan in 2020 before transferring to Indiana last year.
With seven returning starters, there’s a bit more on defense to build on. Up front, senior nose guard DeMarcus Elliott (6’3” 313 lbs.) and senior defensive end Alfred Bryant (6’2” 253 lbs.) return; Elliott and Bryant had 29 and 26 tackles respectively. Senior defensive end James Head (6’5” 258 lbs.) missed nearly half of last season due to injury, but was a starter in 2019 and 2020. Adding to the mix is Cal transfer JH Tevis (6’4” 281 lbs.) at defensive tackle. I suspect that Indiana will be tougher up front in 2022.
Indiana will miss All-Big Ten middle linebacker Micah McFadden, who’s off to the NFL. Miami transfer Bradley Jennings (6’1” 222 lbs.) is the heir apparent; Jennings had 68 career tackles in 11 starts for the Hurricanes. Senior weakside linebacker Cam Jones (6’3” 222 lbs.) is Indiana’s leading returning tackler with 64 last season and 154 career tackles in 18 career starts.
Getting 2020 first team All-American cornerback Tiawan Mullen (5’10” 180 lbs.) back from a 2021 season-ending injury can only help but make the Hoosiers secondary better in 2022. Senior cornerback Jaylin Williams (6’0” 180 lbs.) led the secondary with 11 pass breakups last season, while senior safety Devon Matthews (6’2” 204 lbs.) was the second leading returning tackler from last season with 55. Add in Ole Miss transfer safety Jonathan Haynes (5’11” 205 lbs.) who had 86 tackles in 17 starts for the Rebels, and the Hoosiers secondary should clearly be the strongest point on this year’s Indiana roster.
I hope Tom Allen isn’t reading this column, because while the Hoosiers will be better in 2022, they don’t look ready to challenge in the Big Ten’s east division. There simply are too many questions on both sides of the ball to expect much more than a bowl bid with this schedule, which features a non-conference game against Cincinnati and crossover games against Purdue and the Huskers.
What’s your prediction when the Hoosiers return to Lincoln?
Disrespect fuels Indiana to another win over Nebraska
It’s a close battle, but the Huskers win at home
If Indiana wants to be disrespected, Nebraska rolls up a disrespectful number on the scoreboard.