My look at stretches that could make or break the 2010 season for Big Ten teams continues with the Indiana Hoosiers.
Key stretch: Arkansas State (Oct. 16), at Illinois (Oct. 23), Northwestern (Oct. 30).
Breakdown: Indiana's most pivotal game comes against Michigan on Oct. 2, but this stretch, following what will be a tough trip to Ohio State, should determine whether Bill Lynch's squad goes bowling or not. Arkansas State gave Iowa all it could handle last year, but the Red Wolves lose several key pieces, including defensive end Alex Carrington and running back Reggie Arnold. The Hoosiers must find a way to sweep a soft nonconference schedule before re-entering Big Ten play. Indiana notched its only Big Ten victory last year against Illinois and played some of its best ball on the road, only to lose leads against Michigan, Northwestern, Iowa and Penn State. Indiana should be able to put up points in Champaign, but must find a way to finish off the game. The Hoosiers upset Northwestern two years ago in Bloomington and built a 28-3 lead last year in Evanston before Northwestern mounted the biggest comeback in team history. A 3-0 mark is realistic for Indiana, and anything less than 2-1 would be extremely disappointing.
Prediction: I really like Indiana's offense heading into 2010, and despite a lot of concerns on defense, the Hoosiers will score enough to notch two wins during this stretch. A 1-2 or 0-3 run would really hurt Indiana's bowl chances, as the closing stretch won't be easy against Iowa (home), Wisconsin (road), Penn State (neutral, but virtual road game) and Purdue (road). Arkansas State should take a step back this year, and Ben Chappell and his receivers will take advantage at home. Indiana played well against both Illinois and Northwestern in 2009 and finds a way to split those two games, setting up a chance to reach the postseason with a big win or two down the stretch.
More key stretch