Indiana would like to forget 2021.

It’s time for the Hoosiers to be able to do so, with the ’22 season proving an opportunity to put the past in the past. But they are going to face a lot of challenges this season, especially if they want to make the postseason like they did in ’19 and ’20.

Let’s take a look at the critical questions facing IU:

Was 2021 a blip?

This is the big question, right?

After IU advanced to back-to-back bowl games under Tom Allen, and appeared poised to be a competitive team in the competitive Big Ten East, the Hoosiers suffered a gigantic backslide in ’21. Not only were they winless in the Big Ten, but they frequently weren’t even competitive. Arguably, IU was only within striking distance of a victory in 2 B1G games (vs. Michigan State and Maryland).

So what is reality? Was it a series of bad luck that led Indiana to finish 2-10 last season, with an accumulation of injuries and other calamity leading to a subpar season? Or did IU return to its mean?

Is Bazelak a capable QB?

Allen wants the Hoosiers to have a quarterback competition in training camp, but let’s be real: If Connor Bazelak isn’t far and away IU’s best option at QB, then the Hoosiers are again going to be challenged mightily offensively.

Bazelak has the ability, one would think based off his previous career at Missouri, to not only win the job — spot-starter Jack Tuttle will also compete — but to bring stability to the position. It was lacking last season, when IU used 4 starting quarterbacks, none with much effectiveness.

Bazelak will want to increase his TD-to-INT ratio, which was only 23-to-17 during his time as a Tiger, but if he can do so, then he’ll represent a serious upgrade under center in Bloomington.

Best chance for an early-season upset?

Indiana has a chance early in the season to get off to a good start, quickly erasing the memory of last year’s mess.

It opens with 3 straight at Memorial Stadium, vs. Illinois, Idaho and Western Kentucky. A trip to Cincinnati that follows will be a challenge, but if IU can start 3-1, then it’ll set itself up well for the final 8 games. And maybe the road game vs. Nebraska in Lincoln can be the kind of game that provides a measuring stick for whether the Hoosiers are improved.

The Cornhuskers almost certainly will be a favorite, but if we’ve seen anything during the Scott Frost Era, it’s that Nebraska is capable of losing winnable games.

Will IU win in November?

Indiana might want to try to be at 6 wins — or at least 5 — by the end of October, because the November schedule is rough.

Starting Nov. 5, the Hoosiers get Penn State at home, then Ohio State and Michigan State on the road before hosting rival Purdue. Barring something unforeseen out of one of those opponents, IU is likely to be an underdog, maybe a heavy ‘dog, in each. Is there a November victory?

After having finished 0-4 last November, being outscored 146-31, the Hoosiers will want a much better end. It won’t be easy.

Can Mullen return to form?

In what might have been one of the biggest disappointments of last season, cornerback Tiawan Mullen looked human. But injuries will do that, and the former All-America cornerback suffered plenty of them last year.

The senior was limited to only 4 starts last season due to injuries, making him a shell of what he had been the year before, when he totaled 3 interceptions, 3.5 sacks, 4 pass breakups and a forced fumble as part of the great 2020 Indiana defense. For the Hoosiers to return to that, or at least close to it, they’ll need Mullen to again play at an All-Big Ten level. When he can control his half of the field, it puts tremendous pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Mullen came back to Bloomington for this opportunity: Both a chance to get the Hoosiers rolling again, but also a chance to show the NFL that he’s healthy and ready to play at a high level.

Where’s the offensive skill?

As Indiana readies for the season, there are not many proven perimeter playmakers on the offense, and that has to be a huge concern for new coordinator Walt Bell.

Having DJ Matthews back, after he missed most of last season with an ACL injury, at least will give Bazelak a safety value in the slot. And a man who is capable of turning a 5-yard slant into a 30-yard gain. Who else? Well, junior wide receiver Javon Swinton is the leading returnee, after having 15 receptions but for only 115 yards and a touchdown in ’21. Otherwise, the Hoosiers will probably need a newcomer — North Carolina’s Emery Simmons, Tennessee’s Andison Coby or Trinity Valley’s Cam Camper — to break out.

If nobody does, then the Hoosiers are unlikely to be able to keep up with the high-scoring offenses in the Big Ten East.

Can Indiana replace McFadden?

Micah McFadden was Mr. Everything for the Hoosiers’ defense during his career, and he’s one of the few players who had an excellent 2021 season.

But now the linebacker is departed — he was a 5th-round pick of the New York Giants — and IU will have to find someone else to lead the defense. Maybe that’s senior Cam Jones, who had 64 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a recovery last season. But IU is also hoping for big things from transfer Bradley Jennings Jr., who was a productive player at Miami when he was healthy.

The 6-1, 222-pounder fits the mold for the Hoosiers, able to move around the field to make plays from sideline-to-sideline. If he can stay injury-free, maybe he finally capitalizes on his potential.

Is it an audition at running back?

Indiana’s running game was stuck in the mud much of last season, averaging 3.2 yards per rush with only 13 touchdowns.

It’s changed over the personnel. The Hoosiers are likely to do it by committee this season, with a couple of transfers leading the way in Auburn’s Shaun Shivers and North Carolina’s Josh Henderson. The duo might be a good 1-2 combination, with Shivers (5-7, 190) being more shifty and Henderson (5-11, 214) having more power. Without proven offensive skill, Bell will want to lean on the running game a little harder, but he’ll be limited if Indiana doesn’t show any more than it did last season.

What’s reasonable?

Indiana has to shoot for 6 wins and a return to the postseason.

Anything more than that would be a bonus.

The Hoosiers can start 3-0, but the problem becomes picking up the next 3 victories. Where do they come from? Maybe IU can upset Nebraska and it gets Maryland at home in mid-October. A trip to Rutgers the next week might be the best chance for a road W. And IU gets Purdue at home in a rivalry games 2 days after Thanksgiving. The Hoosiers likely will need wins in 3 of those 4 to get to 6 in the regular season. It’s a narrow path.

Is Allen’s seat hot?

Not right now.

But if Indiana does in 2022 what it did in 2021, then there will be growing concern in Bloomington.

Allen has recruited well to the Hoosiers, maybe better than what could have been expected, but if the increase in talent doesn’t lead to an increase in wins, then there’s no other choice than to look at the coaching staff. Allen already made big changes following last season’s disappointment, firing his offensive coordinator then also needing to replace the defensive one.

Indiana would rather not be facing those kinds of questions in December.