Indiana has a soft schedule after opening the season at Wisconsin.
Wake Forest and SMU were ranked 19th and 25th, respectively, in the College Football Playoff Rankings for Week 10 last season. Both dropped out a week later (and Wake Forest never returned) but it was still their first-ever appearances in the six-year history of the playoff rankings, something App State also achieved last year with four straight appearances from Weeks 12-15.
With those first-timers off the board, 60 teams have never made the College Football Playoff Rankings, including 10 from Power Five conferences and five from the Big Ten: Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Purdue, and Rutgers. Illinois, Maryland, Purdue, and Rutgers won’t appear in the 2020 Rankings. Indiana might.
Last year, the Hoosiers opened the season against an eventual five-win team from the MAC. This year, the Hoosiers open the season against a program with five division titles in the last nine years and the seventh-most wins in college football since 2005: Wisconsin.
The last time Indiana visited Madison, they should’ve boycotted the trip and ran into an on-campus brick wall instead to save time and money. Nate Sudfeld was intercepted by Sojourn Shelton on the fifth play of the game, and James White ran 93 yards for a touchdown on Wisconsin’s first offensive snap. The Badgers recovered a Stephen Houston fumble two plays later and led 14-0 three plays later on their way to a 51-3 win.
Indiana has lost 10 straight to Wisconsin, including the last five meetings in Madison, during which they were outscored 167-57. Wisconsin scored more points, 59, in the first three quarters of an eventual 83-20 win in 2010 as Indiana has scored in their last five games in Madison.
After the Wisconsin game, Indiana’s schedule for the next two months:
Week 2: vs. Western Kentucky
Week 3: vs. Ball State
Week 4: at UConn
Week 5: Bye
Week 6: vs. Maryland
Week 7: at Rutgers
Week 8: vs. Michigan State
Week 9: vs. Penn State
Indiana is an early two-touchdown underdog against Wisconsin. They won’t be an underdog again until the Penn State game thanks to a remarkably soft Power Five schedule. The College Football Playoff committee hasn’t announced their rankings release schedule for this season, but they’ve never released the rankings before Week 9. Indiana must beat either Wisconsin or Penn State and run the table elsewhere to make their first-ever appearance. Could they appear with wins Wisconsin and Penn State and a loss to Maryland or Michigan State? Sure, though that seems highly unlikely.
Even if Indiana takes another step forward in 2020, we’re asking for a win against at least one preseason top-15 whom they’ve defeated three combined times since 1993—2-16 against Wisconsin and 1-22 against Penn State over that time. It’s far from a clear path but for a program who’s battled national irrelevance for most of its 122-year existence, it’s a reasonable path that makes Indiana the most likely Power Five team to make their first-ever appearance in the College Football Playoff rankings in 2020.