College football is quickly approaching -- we’re 29 days away from the Gophers’ season opener on Aug. 30. So, with that in mind, I’ll take a look at Minnesota’s 12 opponents by asking five questions to a beat writer covering that team. Today’s installment is Game 8, Indiana.

Opponent: Indiana

When, where: Friday, Oct. 26, 7 p.m., TCF Bank Stadium. TV: FS1

2017 record: 5-7, 2-7 Big Ten

Opponent’s beat writer: Zach Osterman, Indianapolis Star

Five Questions for Zach Osterman on Indiana

1. Will Brandon Dawkins, a transfer from Arizona, win the starting quarterback job, and if so, what can we expect from him?

I can't say that for sure, having not seen Dawkins in an IU uniform of any kind yet. But I think it's safe to say IU doesn't recruit Brandon Dawkins, and Brandon Dawkins doesn't reciprocate with IU, without there being a strong chance he wins the job (or at very least is a serious contender). He was a productive Rich Rodriguez quarterback in college, who only lost his job when he was injured on a questionable hit and his backup (Kahlil Tate) turned out to be a Heisman-caliber player. Indiana will want him to be more accurate passing the ball, but in an offense geared less heavily toward Rodriguez's option, he should have more passer-friendly route combinations. If he can be accurate to the point of completing say, 63-65 percent of his passes, while still retaining his mobility, I think he turns out to be what IU wanted. 

2. Indiana returns only three starters on defense. Who must step up for the defense avoid regressing in 2018?

Well, it's hard to see a world where the defense doesn't regress at least a little bit. You don't just replace eight guys. Now, to answer your question, it's really 5-6 guys Indiana has to replace, given that it lost three would-be starters either in the preseason (DE Nile Sykes) or very early in the regular season (CB A'Shon Riggins, S/LB Marcelino Ball) to injuries. Those three, plus seniors Jacob Robinson, a defensive lineman, and Jonathan Crawford, a fourth-year starter at safety, will need to set the tone both with their words and their actions. In terms of production, Ball and Sykes are two I'm really interested in. The former was a revelation as a freshman playing Tom Allen's hybrid "husky" position in the 4-2-5 and can make plays against the run and the pass. The latter is maybe the best pure pass rusher IU has and missed all of last season because of an injury sustained in summer workouts. 

3. The Hoosiers were one win from bowl eligibility last year. Do you expect them to reach at least six wins this season?

That's the annual $64,000 question for IU, isn't it? If last year's team had this year's schedule, with Purdue and Maryland at home, I'd probably say yes. But in the seemingly unavoidable way IU football runs into bad luck, it had a senior-laden team facing an unsually steep schedule last season, and now those seniors are gone. If you can factor in losses to Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State -- I don't know if Indiana can beat any of those teams, but for the purposes of this conversation, it's probably best to assume those are losses -- then you have eight more to play with: at FIU, Ball State, Virginia, at Rutgers, Iowa, at Minnesota, Maryland, Purdue. The three in the nonconference are musts. Can the Hoosiers get three more in conference? Right now, I'd say no, but that's conditional based on my needing to see what this team can turn itself into, in the wake of all those departures, before I'm confident in any postseason prediction.

4. Indiana will beat the Gophers if …

I don't see a scenario wherein IU can win on the road in the Big Ten without three things it rarely had last season: a) health, b) a consistent running game serving as the platform for a turnover-free offense, ideally one bolstered by quarterback mobility, and c) a defense that doesn't just get sacks -- something it will be a challenge to sustain this season -- but also creates the takeaways Allen craves. If by Oct. 26 Indiana can tick those boxes, I think the Hoosiers have a chance in Minneapolis. If not ... 

5. The Gophers will beat Indiana if …

... then you know my answer to this question.

Looking for more on the upcoming college football season? Check out some previous posts:

Older Post

Wisconsin offensive lineman Cooper commits to Gophers

Newer Post

Breaking down the Gophers' opponents: Illinois