Big Ten Football Previews - Indiana Hoosiers
The time has come. Admittedly, these will not be the near novels that many of you grew accustomed to back in the heyday with TheFinalScore.net, but it'll be better than last year and maybe a revival for future epics.
As always, I will be working team by team, from worst to first. Feel free to comment away, send to your Big Ten friends, etc. There is no time-table for getting these all in, but one way or another, every team will get an equal review. Without further ado...
Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of my annual summer Big Ten football previews. Stay tuned for the next review at a time and date TBD...
Team: Indiana Hoosiers
2005 Prediction / actual: 3-8, 1-7 (11th) / 4-7, 1-7 (10th)
2004 Prediction / actual: 3-8, 1-7 (T-10th) / 3-8, 1-7 (T-10th)
2003 Prediction / actual: 3-9, 1-7 (T-10th) / 2-10, 1-7 (T-9th)
2002 Prediction / actual: 3-9, 1-7 (T-10th) / 3-9, 1-7 (T-10th)
2001 Prediction / actual: 4-7, 2-6 (T-10th) / 5-6, 4-4 (T-4th)
Returning Starters: 7 offense, 7 defense, 2 kickers
Key Returnees: QB Blake Powers, WR James Hardy, WR Jahkeen Gilmore, WR James Bailey, C Chris Mangiero, OG Justin Frye, S Will Meyers, CB Tracy Porter, CB Leslie Majors, P Tyson Beattie, KR Lance Bennett
Key Losses: RB Chris Taylor, RB Yamar Washington, OG Adam Hines, OT Isaac Sowells, DE Victor Adeyanju, LB Kyle Killion, LB John Pannozzo
Looking Back ... Talk about the perfect, immediate impact. Indiana cans Gerry DiNardo, brings in Terry Hoeppner and viola, the cream and crimson start the 2005 campaign 4-1. Of course, it went downhill from there, with six straight, rather large losses but for at least a month, there was excitement among students, alumni and fans about something other than IU basketball. A nice foundation was set in that hot start and while it might take some time to get Indiana to where it is competing for a bowl bid year in and year out, it was the first real step in the right direction in years.
Outlook - Offense ... The 2006 season should see some improvement out of an Indiana offense that struggled to put points on the board against Big Ten foes. Junior quarterback Blake Powers is back at the helm and he has some company to push him, notably redshirt freshman Kellen Lewis - a mobile signal caller with a strong arm.
Whether it is Powers, Lewis or senior Graeme McFarland tossing the pigskin around, one thing is for sure, there is ample firepower in the wide receiver corps. Six players return that caught at least ten passes in 2005, led by superstar James Hardy.
The question is whether a depleted stable of running backs can keep opposing defenses honest enough for the Hoosiers to have success through the air. There are a handful of players seeking to step into the tailback position, from youngsters like Demetrius McCray, Justin Carrington and Bryan Payton to older role players like Kenni Burns and Josiah Sears or converted receiver Marcus Thigpen.
The front five should be solid, despite replacing two long time starters. A new name to watch is Notre Dame transfer Chauncey Incarnato. Overall there is decent depth for a change, if a bit of inexperience. As long as the line can provide the QB time to pick from the plethora of good receivers and a go-to runner emerges, the Hoosiers should be able to see solid improvements on the offensive side of the ball.
Outlook - Defense ... One thing Coach Hoeppner instilled when he took on the coaching gig in Bloomington was that Indiana would vastly improve its defense. The statistics don't tell the total story so far but the Hoosiers were much better on defense in stretches during the 2005 season than they had been in several years. The new style employs a lot more speed and attacking and despite losing a few solid playmakers, the Indiana defense should be decent this season.
In the Big Ten, you need to have a good front seven or you will get the ball rammed down your throats. I.E. it doesn't matter if you have a great secondary because the good teams will just attack and attack and attack your weakest link. That puts the onus on the somewhat re-tooled front four. All league defensive end Victor Adeyanju has moved on, and steady Ben Ishola is gone as well. A pair of veteran backups (Kenny Kendal and Tyler Altman) return but will have big shoes to fill. Indiana should be solid in the middle, with experience and a little bit of depth.
What the front four doesn't bottle up, a revamped linebacking corps will need to. Two of the top four tacklers are gone and that means senior Jake Powers needs to step up and fill the void. There is some fair experience and skill coming back but any kinks will have to be worked out fast or Indiana will see several more of the 40-plus point efforts that opponents rang up last fall.
The best news for the defense is in the secondary. There is a ton of starting experience at all four spots, though depth might be questionable. Will Meyers is underrated and the corners both have three years of experience, which will be huge in a conference full of great quarterbacks and talented receivers.
Outlook - Special Teams ... Indiana returns a veteran, well-balanced special teams unit. Senior Tyson Beattie is a very good punter and the speedy, diminutive Lance Bennett can be a nightmare return man for any opposing team. Sophomore Joe Kleinsmith needs to be more accurate if Indiana hopes to cash in on all scoring opportunities.
Newcomer to Watch: JUCO LB transfer Vernon Smith
9/2 - WESTERN MICHIGAN
9/9 - at Ball State
9/16 - SOUTHERN ILLINOIS
9/23 - CONNECTICUT
9/30 - WISCONSIN
10/7 - at Illinois
10/14 - IOWA
10/21 - at Ohio State
10/28 - MICHIGAN STATE
11/4 - at Minnesota
11/11 - MICHIGAN
11/18 - at Purdue
Key Games: 9/23 Connecticut, 9/30 Wisconsin, 10/21 at Ohio State, 11/11 Michigan, 11/18 at Purdue
Prediction ... Indiana will come out of the gates fast again in 2006. Of the four out-of-conference tilts, Western Michigan is the only game I see that could spoil an otherwise fantastic start to the season. I also predict early Big Ten success followed by another late season run of tough losses. Indiana misses Northwestern and Penn State this season at a time where both might be more ripe for the picking than last season.
OOC: 3-1 (loss to Western Michigan)
B10: 1-7 (win over Wisconsin)
Overall: 4-8, T-9th in the conference