When you think of Hoosier Football, you probably think of a pretty hapless team that hasn't had a winning season in 12 years. However, last year the Hoosiers were only one win away from going to a bowl game with a 5-7 record. Their conference record was 3-5 which was good enough to help Indiana finish in the middle of the conference in front of Iowa, Northwestern, Michigan State, and Illinois. With nine starters returning on offense and seven returning on defense Indiana has the appearance of a team on the rise, but the recent death of head coach Terry Hoeppner has sent the program into a state of uncertain turmoil.
Last year redshirt freshman Kellen Lewis started out as the number three quarterback on the depth chart. Injuries to Blake Powers and Graeme MacFarland forced him into the lead role just six plays into the second game of the season against Ball State. Lewis went on to lead the Hoosiers to victory from a 23-7 halftime deficit. The QB job was still up in the air until Hoeppner returned from midseason brain surgery and announced Lewis gave the team the best chance to win. Lewis started every conference game and orchestrated wins over Illinois, Iowa, and Michigan State. A dual threat quarterback, Lewis rushed for a team high 441 yards and five touchdowns. Through the air Lewis threw for a very Anthony Morelli-esque 2221 yards. He also completed 54.9% of his passes with 14 TD and 7 INT. All better than Morelli...as a freshman. Wait. What? Is that right? Dammit!
|Sophomore QB Kellen Lewis|
James Hardy returns as the team's leading catcher from last year. He hauled in 51 catches for 722 yards and 10 TD despite missing two games due to suspension. He's a tall 6'7" wide receiver that gives shorter defensive backs fits. His teammate Jahkeen Gilmore is gone this year, but James Bailey returns (40 catches, 401 yards). Freshman Terrance Turner looked very impressive in the spring game and may push for playing time as well. Nick Polk may also take a few offensive snaps as well. He had six catches and 100 yards in the spring game, but he may find himself playing on defense due to a lack of depth at safety. The tight end position is a serious question mark. The leading candidate may be former quarterback Blake Powers who was moved to the position in the spring.
Last year the offensive line featured a converted defensive lineman and two true freshmen. They suffered a few injuries which forced several players to be shifted around. This may be why the running game struggled and they gave up 26 sacks. This year they lose center Chris Mangiero and four year starter Justin Frye. The line has a lot of experience as it is, but Hoeppner recruited a slew of offensive linemen in 2006. With a season on the scout team and an offseason in the weight room some of these guys may find their way onto the field this year. They may be better than last year, but they're a long way from being an offensive line that can dominate a game against a Big Ten defensive line.
In 2006 the Hoosier defense was bad bad bad. Tenth in the league in rushing defense (174 ypg). Eighth in pass defense (228 ypg) and last in scoring defense (32.8 ppg). That ain't gonna win you many games.
The defensive line was the root of many of their problems. In 2006 they had to replace three starters and moved the lone returning starter to the offensive line. The line gave up 5.0 ypc and the defense only recorded 14 sacks. Only five of those sacks came in conference play. They will be vastly more experienced this year only losing Kenny Kendal to graduation, but they will have to drastically improve in order to be competitive.
|Cornerback Tracy Porter|
Last year the Hoosiers were swimming in safety depth. The backfield was so crowded they switched to a 4-2-5 defense, moved Nick Polk to wide receiver and Josh Bailey to linebacker. Despite the depth the Hoosiers finished #114 in the NCAA in Pass Defense Efficiency mostly because the front seven were so weak in getting pressure on the quarterback. Starting safeties Will Meyers and Troy Grosfield were #1 and #2 on the team in tackling last year. They are both gone this year meaning Polk will most likely move back to defense this year. Austin Thomas and Joe Kleinsmith will also be competing for the starting safety spots. Senior Tracey Porter is a solid cornerback that won second team All Big Ten honors last season. The other cornerback spot was a battle between Leslie Majors and Chris Phillips last year with Phillips eventually winning out. Both guys return this year so Indiana has a very experienced set of corners.
Indiana sported a very good punt and kick return team last year. Marcus Thigpen returned three kickoffs for touchdowns last year and averaged an NCAA best 30.1 yards per return. Tracey Porter averaged 18.6 yards at returning punts. This would have been the best mark in the NCAA except he didn't have enough attempts (12). It's too bad the Indiana defense can't stop more people to get the ball in his hands. He's a threat to score every time he gets the ball. Place kicker Austin Starr returns. He did a decent job last year hitting 12-of-15 with a long of 46. The Hoosiers have to replace their punter this year. They only averaged 34 yards net punting last year, so this isn't a huge loss. True freshman Chris Hagerup figures to be the leading candidate. He averaged 44.5 yards per punt in his high school senior season.
Last year the Hoosiers missed Penn State and Northwestern in the conference schedule. This year they get the lucky dog as they miss both Michigan and Ohio State. They get Penn State at home, but the Nittany Lions are the only Big Ten team the Hoosiers have never beaten. The out of conference schedule is pretty manageable with Indiana State, Western Michigan, Akron, and Ball State.
Call it a good year if...
The team rallies around the death of Hoeppner, Lewis becomes the next Troy Smith, the defense somehow manages to hold opponents under 30 points per game, the Hoosiers sweep their out of conference schedule and manage to win three out of four against Illinois, Minnesota, Northwestern, or Purdue. Best case scenario the Hoosiers can go 7-5 and make a bowl game for the first time in 14 years.
Call it a bad year if...
The team goes into complete disarray without Hoeppner. Lewis turns into Reggie Ball. Tracy Porter only gets 12 punt returns like in 2006 meaning the defense can't stop anyone without help from an offsides and holding penalty on the same series. They lose two out of conference games and go winless in the Big Ten. Worst case scenario the Hoosiers go 2-10 and finish at the bottom of the Big Ten standings.
This team is dangerously thin at some key positions. One or two injuries to some key people and they are in serious trouble. Behind Lewis there isn't any proven talent at quarterback. Their best tight end was last year's backup quarterback. The offensive line will probably be one of the worst in the league. The defensive line and linebackers are young and not very good. Opposing quarterbacks will have time to call audibles in Morse Code after the ball is snapped because the front seven can't pressure them.
This is going to be a highly emotional team much like Northwestern last season. Hoeppner was a fantastic motivator and a good football coach. Now he's gone. There will be speeches about "win this one for Terry" to start the season. These speeches are great when you win, but when you lose I think they turn into a downer because you feel like you're letting your old coach down. This team has been dealing with uncertainty through most of last season and the entire spring. I think we'll see Indiana win a game or two to start the season, but then the adrenaline will wear out and they will go on a tremendous slide. I want to see the Hoosiers do well, but I think a 3-9 season is in the cards.