From the hunter to the hunted. That’s the transition Indiana is making entering the 2021 season after an impressive 6-2 last fall, which included victories over Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State.

There’s a lot of hope and excitement surrounding the Hoosiers this fall, a rare occurrence in Bloomington. Tom Allen’s team is ranked No. 17 in the Associated Press Poll to start the year, it’s first time being ranked in the preseason Top 25 since 1969.

Suddenly, after winning seasons in back-to-back years, there’s an expectation for Indiana to be a major challenger to Ohio State and Penn State in the B1G East. Allen has made it clear that the goal for the Hoosiers this fall is to win a conference title.

It’s kind of a big deal.

There’s a different vibe relating to Indiana football heading into the 2021 season. The change in attitude should result in a really fun season. But before the party begins, I’ve got 5 bold predictions for the Hoosiers in 2021:

1. Indiana establishes a legitimate rushing attack

This is probably the highest I’ve been on Indiana’s ground game in Allen’s 5 years in charge. The Hoosiers have size and experience on the offensive line, added USC transfer Stephen Carr to the backfield via the transfer portal and landed new running backs coach Deland McCullough from the Kansas City Chiefs.

Even with Sampson James transferring out of the program, Indiana has solid options in Tim Baldwin Jr. and David Ellis behind Carr.

Running the football has been a big problem for the Hoosiers the past 4 seasons and it reached a new low in 2020 with an average of 108 yards per contest. Indiana’s offense isn’t going to be confused for Wisconsin’s anytime soon, but it does have all the pieces to establish some sort of presence on the ground.

2. Freshman Donaven McCulley sees the field in multiple roles

The coaching staff has been impressed with McCulley’s quick acclimation to the college game and likes the athleticism he brings to the field. There’s a good chance the freshman quarterback sees the field quite a bit, even if it’s not in a quarterback role.

Maybe McCulley is used in certain packages offensively. He could be used in the run game, as a receiver or in trick-play situations. The freshman might even take some snaps under center. I’m not exactly sure what he’ll be doing for the Hoosiers this fall, but it’ll be surprising if he’s not on the field in some capacity.

3. The Hoosiers are closer to 3-3 than 6-0 when Ohio State arrives

This one won’t sit well in Bloomington. When you look at the schedule, though, it’s hard to envision the Hoosiers entering the game against Ohio State with an unblemished record.

Indiana plays No. 18 Iowa on the road to open the season, returns home to host No. 8 Cincinnati then travels to Happy Valley to play No. 19 Penn State within the first 6 games. Those are all difficult tests.

Could IU win all of those games? Absolutely. The Hoosiers could just as easily lose all of them. It’s an incredibly tough schedule and it’s tough to envision Allen’s squad getting through that gauntlet unscathed.

4. A defensive player earns a major B1G award for the first time in history

No player in Indiana’s history has received a major B1G award. That should change this year. It doesn’t mean the Hoosiers will have the Defensive Player of the Year on the roster, but there are some candidates capable of winning a position award.

Micah McFadden returns as one of the top linebackers in the B1G. Last season, he piled up 58 tackles, 2 interceptions and had a conference-best 6 sacks. Defensive backs Tiawan Mullen and Jaylin Williams combined for 7 of Indiana’s 17 interceptions in the secondary last season. All three are solid candidates to receive an award with another big year. One of those guys will break IU’s drought and make program history.

5. Three consecutive bowl appearance for the first time since the 1980s

Let’s stop and appreciate what Tom Allen has done for a minute. He’s taken the worst program in college football history and turned it into a competitor in the B1G East, one of the toughest divisions in the sport. It’s only taken him 4 years to get the Hoosiers to that level.

It’s incredibly impressive.

I’m not sure if Indiana hits that elusive 9-win mark this year or is a serious contender to Ohio State in the division. This is a team that should be back in the postseason for a third straight year, though. That hasn’t happened in Bloomington since Bill Mallory led the Hoosiers to back-to-back-to-back bowl games from 1986-88.