Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Big Ten Football Previews – Part IV

Editor's Note: This is the fourth in a series of my annual summer Big Ten football previews. Check back often to see who’s next...

Team: Indiana Hoosiers

Tidbits … Indiana’s bowl berth last season ended a 14-year drought. The Hoosiers’ last winning season before last year came in 1994. IU is one of only three programs not to win at least a share of the Big Ten title in the last decade. Indiana was last in the Rose Bowl in 1968.

Past Predictions/Results:
2007 Prediction / actual: 6-6, 3-5 (T-7th), Motor City / 7-6, 3-5 (T-7th), Insight
2006 Prediction / actual: 4-8, 1-7 (T-9th) / 5-7, 3-5 (T-6th)
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)

*Note, bowl shown only from 2004 on as I did not predict the bowl berths prior to that season.

Returning Starters: 6 offense, 7 defense, 1 kicker

Key Returnees: QB Kellen Lewis, RB Marcus Thigpen, WR Andrew Means, WR Ray Fisher, DE Greg Middleton, LB Will Patterson, FS Nick Polk

Key Losses: WR James Hardy, C Ben Wyss, DT Joe Kremer, LB Adam McClurg, CB Tracy Porter, CB Leslie Majors,

Looking Back ... 2007 marked perhaps the most emotional season in Indiana football history. Beloved coach Terry Hoeppner passed away in the summer and the team rallied around their lost leader, with a winning season and bowl berth - both firsts in over a decade. Kellen Lewis burst onto the scenes in combination with James Hardy, arguably the most dangerous receiver in the conference last fall. While the season ended with a tough loss to Oklahoma State in the Insight Bowl and the off season had its turmoil (suspension of Lewis), the cream and crimson hope to use last year as a spring board and avoid another long spell of losing seasons...

Outlook - Offense ... Kellen Lewis has served his time (suspension not jail) and looks poised to prove that last year was no fluke. While he won't have the tall, sure-handed James Hardy in his arsenal, he has plenty of options, notably Fisher and Means. IU isn't all pass no run though. Lewis ran for more than 1000 yards last year and could do so again this year and his backfield mates - Thigpen and Bryan Payton return. The key will be the offensive front. Two starters return but the unit is young, even if very talented. The Hoosiers will not sneak up on people this year but should still be able to rack up the yards and points against the easiest schedule in the Big Ten conference.

Outlook - Defense ... Indiana will be able to score, but will they be able to stop people from scoring? Only in the season opener last year - a romp over 1-AA Indiana State - did the Hoosiers allow less than 20 points. Ouch. With both starting corners gone from that defense, how will this year's version fare? The strength should be the front seven, led by end Greg Middleton, and all Big Ten performer that led the nation with 16 sacks. Four others return to start in the front seven, notably Will Patterson, the team's second leading tackler. The key lies in the secondary. Nick Polk is back but replacing seasoned corners is not an easy task in a conference that is no longer all about three yards and a cloud of dust.

Outlook - Special Teams ... Indiana is arguably the best of the Big Ten in this area. Austin Starr is among the best place kickers in the nation and Marcus Thigpen is a game breaker on the return side. Teams got smart and kicked away from him last year, after he led the nation with over 30 yards per return. Oh and he also managed three returns for scores. If games come down to a big kick, look for Starr to shine brightly...

10/4 - at Minnesota
10/11 - IOWA
10/18 - at Illinois
11/15 - at Penn State
11/22 - at Purdue

Key Games:
9/27 - Michigan State, 10/18 - at Illinois, 11/8 - Wisconsin, 11/22 - at Purdue

Prediction ... If ever a schedule was sent from Heaven, this might be it. Eight home games. EIGHT! No Michigan or Ohio State. No BCS league foes out of conference. Eight of the first ten at home. Anything less than a bowl eligible final record will frankly be an embarrassment for the Hoosiers. IU has enough weapons back and enough rising talent to make some serious noise - if not in the title chase, in the upper levels of the league. The season won't end pretty and that will be all that stands between IU and one heck of a follow up to 2007...

OOC: 4-0 (Who went to the Minnesota school of scheduling?)
B10: 3-5 (win over Minnesota, Iowa and Northwestern)
Overall: 7-5, T-7th in the conference, Motor City Bowl


BruceS said...

I agree with the cupcake OCC and a "soft" B10 slate. Yes, the Hoosiers will outscore a few conference teams and may get enough wins to become bowl eligible. Can they win in E. Lansing to open the conference slate. That game will tell a lot about this team and possibley how the remainder of the season will play out.

mayo170 said...

Ah, this is nice to see again. Excellent predictions so far Andy, and I can't find flaws in the research you've made. I had my annual tests out at Mayo Clinic last week and we had the good fortune to stop by some great places.

While in Minnesota, we stopped by to take a look at the construction for the Gophers new stadium, then went through Champaign-Urbana and took a look at the updates going on at Memorial Stadium on our way to Cincinnati for a family gathering.

It put my Spartan wife and I into a "Can't wait for football season" mode.

Hopefully everyone has been having a great summer so far!