SBNation football analyst Bill Connelly projects heavy conference competition for IU football in 2017.
Connelly, one of the most respected football analysts in the country, ranked the Hoosiers No. 10 out of the Big Ten's 14 teams. That slates Indiana in what Connelly calls the Big Ten's third tier along with No. 5 Northwestern, No. 6 Minnesota, No. 7 Iowa, No.8 Nebraska, No. 9 Maryland and No. 11 Michigan State.
"Here's where things get messy," Connelly writes while analyzing IU and the other six teams in the second tier. "Wisconsin is vulnerable to be challenged by somebody in the West, but I go back and forth on who that is. I think Northwestern has the highest floor, Nebraska has the highest ceiling, Minnesota (with its massive change in coach and personality) has the widest range between ceiling and floor, and Iowa has the smallest range."
The good/bad news (depending on how you want to read it) for Indiana is that the top three teams in Connelly's Big Ten Power Rankings all reside in the Big Ten East.
Those teams are, in order, No. 1 Ohio State (IU vs. OSU on Aug. 31 to open the season in Bloomington), No. 2 Penn State (IU @ PSU on Sept. 30), No. 3 Michigan (IU vs. Michigan on Oct. 14).
Then, as if that wasn't tough enough, it just so happens that the No. 4 team, Wisconsin, is one of the Big Ten West teams on the Hoosiers' schedule this year. The Badgers come to Bloomington on Nov. 4.
The definite good news for IU is that the final three games of the regular season come against the three teams Connelly projects to be the worst in the Big Ten. That means the Hoosiers could pick up consecutive victories against No. 13 Illinois, No. 14 Rutgers and No. 12 Purdue to close out the season and perhaps lock up bowl eligibility as needed.
The other two remaining Big Ten teams IU will face are No. 9 Maryland and No. 11 Michigan State.
In the non-conference world, FIU is ranked No. 10 in the Conference-USA rankings, Georgia Southern is ranked No. 4 in the Sun Belt and Virginia has yet to be placed into the ACC, but those rankings should be coming soon.
As for how the season will shake out, Connelly projects Indiana to win 6.6 games and finish fourth in the Big Ten East behind No. 1 Ohio State (10.2), No. 2 Penn State (9.6) and No. 3 Michigan (8.9). He then expects the standings to finish with Michigan State (5.7), No. 6 Maryland (4.1) and No. 7 Rutgers (3.7).
In the West, Connelly projects Wisconsin (9.7) to win ahead of Northwestern (7.2), Minnesota (6.6), Nebraska (4.4), Iowa (5.9), Illinois (3.7) and Purdue (3.4).
Individually, Connelly names redshirt junior receiver Simmie Cobbs IU's best offensive player and senior linebacker Tegray Scales the best defensive player. He also notes that Scales is the best overall defensive player in the conference.
• Subscribe to our podcast on iTunes
• Follow us on Twitter: @IndianaRivals
• Like us on Facebook.