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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

The Countdown

No. 103: Indiana

Now’s the time for Indiana football: Indiana basketball is suffering, thanks to several factors, so the time is ripe for the football team to leap ahead and steal some thunder away from the university’s flagship athletic program. And this window won’t be open forever, so make your move now. Hence the program’s decision to make a coaching move; hence the program’s decision to hire one of the nation’s most acclaimed assistants, even if that move likely didn’t involve too much contemplation. When an Indiana can land a Kevin Wilson, it doesn’t think twice. It pulls the trigger, hands over a contract before the ink dries and sits back, happy and content, knowing its coaching search couldn’t possibly have gone any better. Only one question: What does an Oklahoma assistant know about winning against the odds?

Conference
Big Ten, Leaders

Location
Bloomington, Ind.

Nickname
Hoosiers

Returning starters
13 (7 offense, 6 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 77

2010 record
(5-7, 1-7)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 91

2011 schedule

  • Sept. 3
    Ball St. (in Indianapolis)
  • Sept. 10
    Virginia
  • Sept. 17
    S.C. St.
  • Sept. 24
    at North Texas
  • Oct. 1
    Penn St.
  • Oct. 8
    Illinois
  • Oct. 15
    at Wisconsin
  • Oct. 22
    at Iowa
  • Oct. 29
    Northwestern
  • Nov. 5
    at Ohio St.
  • Nov. 19
    at Michigan St.
  • Nov. 26
    Purdue

Last year’s prediction

It is because of the offense — and solely because of the offense — that I have Indiana ranked in this spot. Well, this schedule helps. Barring injuries, I.U. will land a 4-0 mark outside of Big Ten play; the conference schedule is not easy, but the Hoosiers are talented enough to win a pair of games against Big Ten opposition. Of course, that would give Indiana six wins, most likely enough to land a bowl berth. I think this team is capable of doing so. If Indiana does not, it will be as a result of a questionable defense: gone are the talented rush ends of a year ago, two strong linebackers and three multiple-year contributors in the secondary. It still wouldn’t surprise me to see I.U. squeak into the post-season with six wins.

2010 recap

In a nutshell The final season under Bill Lynch saw more of the same in Bloomington: good play in September, disappointment the rest of the way. I thought that a 4-0 mark outside of the Big Ten would ensure a bowl trip for Indiana, which would then need only two wins against conference opposition to snap a two-year absence from bowl play. Well, the Hoosiers got one, though fans had to wait until the season finale against Purdue to see it. In between, it was a familiar tale: a shootout loss to Michigan; blowout losses to the best in the conference; and two losses — well, at least one — that should gone in Indiana’s favor. At least the offense didn’t disappoint, averaging just a shade less than 29 points per game and leading the Big Ten in passing. And the defense didn’t disappoint, in that it lived up expectations: 408 points allowed, the second time in three years under Lynch it cracked that ignominious barrier. The continued Big Ten failures cost Lynch his job after four seasons, leading Indiana to do the unexpected: land one of the nation’s top assistant coaches – from a national power, no less.

High point A 4-0 mark outside of the Big Ten, which put Indiana on track for a bowl berth. The lone conference win, over Purdue, came in overtime; it was the program’s first victory in West Lafayette since 1996.

Low point Perhaps the most painful four-game stretch suffered by any team in the country in 2010. First: a 30-point loss to Illinois, complete with five turnovers. Second: a 20-17 home loss to Northwestern. Third: an 18-13 loss to Iowa, which the Hawkeyes survived only after I.U. dropped the potentially game-winning score with 28 second left. Fourth: an 83-20 loss to Wisconsin, complete with 576 push-ups from Bucky Badger.

Tidbit Once again, last year’s Hoosiers started the season 3-0. That was the second consecutive time – and third altogether – Indiana had done so under Lynch and the 15th time it had done so in school history. Eleven of these perfect starts have come since 1936: in 1967, 1979, 1985-86, 1990, 1993, 1994, 2005, 2007 and 2009-10. The Hoosiers parlayed seven of these quick starts in bowl trips: 1968 – the Rose Bowl – 1979, 1986, 1990, 1993 and 2007.

Former players in the N.F.L.

12 DE Victor Adeyanju (Cincinnati), OT James Brewer (New York Giants), OG Kris Dielman (San Diego), WR Tandon Doss (Baltimore), WR James Hardy (Baltimore), DE Jammie Kirlew (Buffalo), S Nick Polk (Denver), CB Tracy Porter (New Orleans), WR Antwaan Randle El (Pittsburgh), WR Courtney Roby (New Orleans), OT Rodger Saffold (St. Louis), RB Chris Taylor (New Orleans).

Arbitrary top five list

Best guards in Indiana men’s basketball history
1. Calbert Cheaney.
2. Isiah Thomas.
3. Steve Alford.
4. Quinn Buckner.
5. Mike Woodson.

Coaching

Kevin Wilson (North Carolina ’84), entering his first season. Wilson comes to Bloomington from Oklahoma, where he spent the last nine seasons under Bob Stoops. He was Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator for this entire period, first sharing those duties from 2002-5 before taking on the entire package over the last five years; over this span, Wilson tutored stars like Adrian Peterson, Trent Williams and Sam Bradford, helping the latter land the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore. Wilson also coached the Sooners’ offensive linemen from 2002-5 and the tight ends and running backs from 2006-10, helping him develop an extremely thorough understanding of the various pieces behind an explosive offense. Speaking of explosive: Oklahoma had the most prolific in N.C.A.A. history in 2008, setting new records with five consecutive 50-point games and with 716 total points. So you can see why Indiana – and others – were so interested in Wilson, who more than earned this opportunity based on many, many years of service as Oklahoma’s lead offensive assistant. He also has Big Ten experience: Wilson was the offensive coordinator at Northwestern from 1999-2001, helping the Wildcats to an eight-win finish in 2000 behind a school-record 441-point outburst. Yeah, it’s all about the offense; Wilson has a superb background of success as a game-planner and play-caller, which fits well into what Indiana wanted in a new coach. One thing to watch: Wilson was at Northwestern, to be fair, but the majority of his experience has come at a built-in powerhouse. It won’t be the same in Bloomington.

Tidbit (coaching edition) Wilson’s debut staff has a Big Ten feel. His co-offensive coordinators both come from within the conference: Rod Smith was formerly at Michigan, coaching the quarterbacks, and Kevin Jones was the wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator at Northwestern. Like Smith, offensive line coach Greg Frey comes from Ann Arbor; defensive tackles and special teams coach Mark Hagen from Purdue; and co-defensive coordinator Mike Ekeler – who is going to be a fan favorite, and quickly – comes from Nebraska, which joins the Big Ten in 2011.

Players to watch

Terrance Turner and Tandon Doss are gone, the latter a year early to the N.F.L., only increasing the love Indiana has for senior Damarlo Belcher, who turned down the next level for one final season in Bloomington. How good is Belcher? Good enough that even when sharing the stage with the lost pair, it was he who led the pass-first Hoosiers in receptions (78) and receiving yards (832), though the Hoosiers will miss Turner’s consistency and Doss’s big-play ability. But the cupboard isn’t bare, merely missing some parts: in addition to Belcher, the Hoosiers will start sophomore receivers Duwyce Wilson (32 grabs for 588 yards) and Kofi Hughes and sophomore tight end Ted Bolser (27 for 407, 5 scores). The most intriguing thing about this receiver corps? It’s the size: several players are over 6’2, some over 6’4, so the Hoosiers could present mismatches.

The Hoosiers could have a lead back if Darius Willis remains healthy, but that’s been an issue. He was on pace for a big 2010 season, when he averaged nearly 70 yards per game through September, but he missed the final eight games of the year – and the running game was incredibly pedestrian from that point forward. Without Willis, it will be more of a by-committee approach led by sophomore Nick Turner, but he’s more a speedster than an every down back. Keep an eye on redshirt freshman Matt Perez, though like Willis, he needs to return to full health; Perez probably would have factored in the mix last fall had he not suffered an A.C.L. tear.

Four starters return up front, with right tackle James Brewer the lone departure. It was thought that sophomore Colin Rodkey would step into that spot, but injury issues might cost him the season; due to that, I.U. is considering moving guard Justin Pagan, a three-year starter, out to tackle. Pagan would then team with senior left tackle Andrew McDonald. Juniors Marc Damisch and Will Matte are the latter pair of returning starters, at guard and center, respectively, with redshirt freshman Cody Evers rounding out the starting lineup. Make sense? So, from left to right: McDonald, Damisch, Matte, Evers and Pagan. As of today. Returning talent is nice, but the line does need to do a better job making it happen in the running game.

How bad was the Indiana defense in 2010? Well, we know Michigan was terrible; Indiana might have been worse, at least on a play-by-play basis: the Hoosiers allowed 6.6 yards per play, tied for 114th nationally and a half-yard more per play than the Wolverines. And that should tell you all that you need to know about last year’s defense. It’s a new day, however, and if nothing else, Ekeler and co-coordinator Curt Mallory will have these Hoosiers playing faster, a little more hair-on-fire and with far more confidence. That’s a start.

The defensive line is the most experienced unit on the defense, and perhaps the deepest as well. The Hoosiers are set at tackle with juniors Larry Black Jr., Adam Replogle (32 tackles, 2 sacks) and Mick Mentzer; the latter pair started most of last season, but Black has moved ahead of Mentzer on the depth chart at nose tackle. Senior Darius Johnson (65 tackles, 7 for loss, team-best 4.5 sacks) is locked in at one end spot, though there’s some competition on the opposite side. As of today, undersized redshirt freshman Ryan Phillis leads the way, but he’ll need to hold off Fred Jones and Javon Cornley to maintain that edge.

In no surprise, Jeff Thomas (82 tackles, 7.5 for loss) and Leon Beckum (69, 9 for loss) lead the way at linebacker. They did so last fall, playing alongside departed starter Tyler Replogle, and will battle it out for the team lead in tackles. Speaking of Replogle: the Hoosiers go from battle-tested to woefully inexperienced at one outside spot, unless junior Chad Sherer’s second-team status changes during the fall. As of today, he’s sitting behind redshirt freshman Chase Hoobler and ahead of another redshirt freshman in Ishmael Thomas.

Indiana brings back two players with starting experience in Greg Heban and Donnell Jones, who started five and 10 games last fall at cornerback and safety, respectively – lending a hand to the Big Ten’s worst pass defense. Neither has held onto their starting job, at least coming out of the spring, with seniors Jarrell Drane and Chris Adkins – Adkins is healthy after missing most of 2010 – currently serving as Indiana’s starting safeties. Heban moved to safety this spring, Lenyatta Kyles and Lawrence Barnett to cornerback, and despite their inexperience at the new position that pair are the favorites to start the season. The secondary doesn’t look good, to be honest, and while it could be helped with a stronger pass rush, it doesn’t look like the Hoosiers will be particularly strong in that area either.

Position battle(s) to watch

Quarterback Two players entered the quarterback competition in the spring; two players left, not one, and the competition will live for another day. If Wilson wasn’t already such an accomplished offensive mind we might be able to make the claim that the decision he makes at quarterback could determine what type of offense he wants to run in Bloomington: of those two possibilities, one is a more prototypical pocket passer, the other a dual-threat option. So if we didn’t know what we know about Wilson, we’d say that Ed Wright-Baker’s ability to make plays with his legs would give him an edge. I counter with this: only one of Wilson’s seven quarterbacks at Oklahoma could be deemed anything resembling dual-threat – Paul Thompson – and he took the starting job only after Rhett Bomar lost his spot on the team just prior to the 2006 season. So perhaps the edge sophomore Dusty Kiel, the pocket passer, holds over Wright-Baker isn’t just based on spring performance but on an overall preference for that type of quarterback. Anyway: Kiel played well enough during the spring to earn the edge heading into the summer and fall, but the competition has yet to be resolved. Another two quarterbacks are technically still in the running, as Adam Follett and Teddy Schell got their snaps during the spring, but keep an eye on incoming freshman Tre Roberson, who could move into the competition quickly come the fall.

Game(s) to watch

As always, it’s vital that Indiana finish 4-0 outside of the Big Ten, as there aren’t three wins coming on the conference schedule. Three of those September games should be wins, with Virginia perhaps the biggest game of the season. The season finale with Purdue is always good fun. Take note, because it’s always worth a reminder: just because Indiana is ranked below North Texas doesn’t mean the Hoosiers won’t beat the Mean Green; it just means, in my mind, that U.N.T. will achieve more in 2011 than Indiana — in other words, North Texas might go 5-7, 4-4 in the Sun Belt, which would mean more to me than if Indiana went 5-7, 1-7 in the Big Ten. Now let me have it below.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell Call this an educated – be kind – hunch, one based on the idea that Indiana is not merely a coaching change away from breaking through the five-win bubble and moving onto bowl play. I don’t see it: I see it someday, as I’m high on Wilson – and I’m not alone in this regard – but I don’t see it in 2011, as I feel it’s more likely that the Hoosiers will at best tread water, at worst take a step back under their first-year coach. Let’s touch on the good news first. Wilson is a very, very good hire, and the staff he’s compiled indicates thoroughness and foresight – he added not just good coaches, but coaches familiar with the Big Ten. The receiver corps has talent even with the departure of two leading targets. The offensive line remains largely intact, as does the defensive line. Now, the bad news: quarterback Ben Chappell’s departure looms large, as do the losses in the secondary. There will be the inevitable transition period accompanying any coaching change, good hire or no. And the Big Ten schedule will still find I.U. an underdog nearly throughout; it’s highly unlikely that the Hoosiers win a game on the road, and each of the four teams that come to Bloomington should be better than they were in 2010. So based on a handful of factors, I think those dreaming of a first-year success should temper those expectations: I imagine it will take at least a year before making those bowl plans, and Indiana might not even match last season’s win total, depending on how it fares during non-conference play.

Dream season So a new coach is really all that Indiana needed: 8-4, 4-4 in the Big Ten.

Nightmare season It will take time, but Indiana really bottoms out at 2-10, 0-8 in conference play.

In case you were wondering

Where do Indiana fans congregate? A few good options, though you’re always bound to find more basketball chatter than football talk. If you’re intrigued, try out Hoosier Nation and Inside Indiana for recruiting news. Additional solid coverage can be found at The Hoosier Scoop, a blog from The Herald Times, and The Crimson Quarry.

Word Count

Through 18 teams 47,240.

Up Next

Who is No. 102? One could easily say that tomorrow’s program has been the second-most successful in its conference since the league was established, though recent history might lead some to think otherwise.

You can also follow Paul Myerberg and Pre-Snap Read on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. Eksynyt says:

    I’ll venture a guess and say North Texas is next.

  2. jjtiller says:

    Am I the only one who don’t understand why this game against Ball State in Indianapolis? Like the Miami (Ohio) vs. Kentucky in 2009… Recruiting reasons? It doesn’t make sense to me

  3. David says:

    if they sell a decent amount of tickets, then Ball State will get more $ than they would for a sell out at their home stadium — http://assets0.indy.com/articles/ball-state/thread/ball-state-schedules-indiana-university-at-lucas-oil-stadium

    also from that link, Ball St was 120th in FBS home attendance last year — this game will keep them above the Mendoza line for FBS minimium average attendance

  4. Wes says:

    I think UNT is tomorrow- I remember a number of Sun Belt wins when I was there in the early 2000′s.

  5. [...] leave after he ripped the Gophers for 250 yards in that dark, dark 2007 season. Indiana makes the first B1G teamto hit Paul Myerberg’s The Countdown over at Pre-Snap Read, with PSR musing on IU’s [...]

  6. Bob says:

    Did you notice the photo is backwards?

    Paul: That just blew my mind. Hadn’t noticed.

  7. Pete says:

    UNT is next… I believe they have the second most Sun Belt titles next to Troy…

  8. [...] with FCS Eastern Illinois) that even the most jaded NU fan are earmarking as a “W”.  Then, at #103 is Indiana under former NU OC and Sooners OC Kevin Wilson.  We’re not falling for that one as we [...]

  9. Warden Tressel says:

    Ohio State is next

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