Monday, July 20, 2009

Big Ten Football Previews – Part II

Editor's Note: This is the second 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 five year trend is 3, 4, 5, 7, 3 ... wins that is. The Hoosiers have been two two bowl games in the lifetime of most current players on the roster.

Past Predictions/Results:
2008 Prediction / actual: 7-5, 3-5 (T-7th), Motor City / 3-9, 1-7 (11th)
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: 7 offense, 9 defense, 1 kicker

Key Returnees: QB Ben Chappell, DE Greg Middleton, LB Will Patterson, FS Nick Polk

Key Losses: QB Kellen Lewis, RB Marcus Thigpen, DT Greg Brown, K Austin Starr

Looking Back ... How soon the success of one, emotionally charged season can wane. One year after making a run to postseason play for the first time in well over a decade, Indiana was slammed to reality. An injury-riddled 2008 campaign and continuous turmoil from supposed star Kellen Lewis led the Hoosiers from the brink of something consistent to the cellar once more. Maybe we should have seen it coming - the letdown from that season-ending high in 2007. Regardless, there is work to be done in Bloomington this season, or IU will reside in the basement once more.

Outlook - Offense ... Kellen Lewis is gone. So is Marcus Thigpen. Both were big-time playmakers for the Indiana offense. That said, is the loss of Lewis a blessing in disguise? His me-first attitude kept him out of important spring action in 2008 and this go around, it was the end of the road. Ben Chappell has plenty of experience, an offensive front that returns four of five starters and a big trio of wide outs to find down field. The key will be the Indiana ground game. Can Darius Willis go from redshirt to superstar? This offense is going to need Willis - or another back - to balance the attack if the Hoosiers are going to have any sustained success this year.

Outlook - Defense ... Indiana returns nine starters on defense. Ordinarily, that's a good thing. But this is a defense that gave up 42, 55, 45, 55, 34 and 62 in Big Ten tilts a season ago. There are some solid players here, but this unit must gel and come together as one if Indiana is to improve at all on last year's woeful defensive performance. Teams scored 27 times on the ground against IU last fall. The key is for the experienced front seven, led by DEs Greg Middleton and Jammie Kirlew and three-year starting linebacker Will Patterson to return to the form they flashed in 2007. Get some pressure up front and the secondary can gets its licks in. If that front seven flounders, look out - the numbers that seemed bad in '08 could turn catastrophic in '09.

Outlook - Special Teams ... Indiana entered the Big Ten as one of the best in this category last season. But, Austin Starr is gone and so is game-breaking return man Marcus Thigpen. Yes, punter Chris Hagerup returns, but the place-kicking falls to an untested freshman and the Hooisers will be hard-pressed to find a returner with the same speed and knack for finding the holes as Thigpen.

9/19 - at Akron
9/26 - at Michigan
10/10 - at Virginia
10/17 - ILLINOIS
10/24 - at Northwestern
10/31 - at Iowa
11/14 - at Penn State
11/21 - PURDUE

Key Games:
9/12 - WESTERN MICHIGAN, 10/10 - at Virgina, 11/21 - PURDUE

Prediction ... Indiana’s bowl berth in 2007 ended a 14-year drought. The Hoosiers’ last winning season before last year came in 1994. Will it be 2020 before IU has another winning season? The recruiting class that comes in was actually a decent haul by Indiana standards and I do like Bill Lynch as the Indiana coach. The key is not to jump the gun and start over - again - if the season plays out as I expect. The OOC slate is much tougher than last year, and the only in conference "break" is no Michigan State. Don't be surprised to see this team pull off a shocker or two, but it might be a lot of the same in 2009...

OOC: 2-2 (Someone call up last year's foursome instead. Wins over EKU and Akron.)
B10: 1-7 (win over Purdue)
Overall: 3-9, 10th in the conference

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