INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana opens its 2019 season in the Kickoff Classic on Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis against in-state opponent Ball State. The Hoosiers enter the matchup as solid favorites but mindful that the teams met in the same game in 2011 will Ball State pulling off a 27-20 upset.
TV: Noon ET, CBS Sports Network. LINE: Indiana -17
Indiana defeated Ball State 30-10 in the third game of last season in Bloomington, Ind., but the Hoosiers went downhill shortly after that, losing seven of their last nine to finish below .500 and miss qualifying for a bowl game for the second consecutive year. This season, Indiana is aiming for a rebound based on the strength of nine returning starters apiece on offense and defense. Key returnees include running back Stevie Scott III and linebacker Reakwon Jones. Ball State returns nine starters on defense and eight on offense after staggering to the finish line as Indiana did a year ago, losing four of its final five games.
ABOUT INDIANA (2018: 5-7)
All eyes heading into the opener were on quarterbacks Peyton Ramsey, redshirt freshman Michael Penix Jr. and Utah transfer Jack Tuttle. Ramsey started all 12 games last season and has thrown for 4,127 yards and 29 touchdowns and rushed for 580 yards and seven TDs in 21 career games, but Penix is back from a torn ACL that ended his 2018 season and has displayed a dynamic arm. Indiana's quarterbacks will have fifth-year senior wide receivers Nick Westbrook (42 catches, 590 yards, four touchdowns in 2018) and Donovan Hale (42, 508, six) and junior Whop Philyor (23, 235, one) to work with and can rely on Scott (1,137 rushing yards, 10 TDs as a freshman) in new coordinator Kalen DeBoer's passing-friendly offense.
ABOUT BALL STATE (2018: 4-8)
Drew Plitt (85-of-131 passing, 1,008 yards, six touchdowns, eight interceptions in eight games in 2018) takes over at quarterback for Riley Neal, who left after last season for Vanderbilt. An experienced receiving corps with Justin Hall (69 receptions, 622 yards) and Riley Miller (61, 878, seven) that led the Mid-American Conference a year ago should be one of the top groups in the MAC again this fall. The Cardinals also lost last season's leading rusher, running back James Gilbert (659 yards seven TDs), to a transfer (Kansas State), but Caleb Huntley (1,003 rushing yards in 2017) should be able to step in at the position.
1. Indiana coach Tom Allen is hoping that DeBoer energizes the Hoosiers after he transformed the anemic offenses at Eastern Michigan and Fresno State in his previous two stops before coming to Bloomington.
2. Scott, a sophomore, rushed for 114 yards and two touchdowns in Indiana's 2018 win over Ball State, one of six 100-yard games last season.
3. Indiana returns most of its secondary, including Marcelino Ball (59 tackles last year) and Bryant Fitzgerald (three interceptions), but improved play on the back end will be critical for the Hoosiers to have more success this season after finishing next-to-last in pass efficiency defense in the Big Ten in 2018.
PREDICTION: Indiana 35, Ball State 14