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The big 2014 Indiana football preview: This is the year (maybe)!

Indiana has the most explosive running back and maybe the most deeply experienced offensive line in college football. As long as a reconfigured defense doesn't somehow get worse (if that's even possible), the Hoosiers should be both fun and more successful in 2014.

SB Nation 2014 College Football Countdown

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. Keep chipping away

In what would be the final loss of the Bill Lynch era in Bloomington, Indiana found itself tied with Penn State, 24-24, late in the third quarter in Landover, Maryland, on November 20, 2010. Penn State's Andrew Dailey blocked a Hoosier punt, however, and James Van Fleet returned it for a touchdown. Three plays later, Penn State picked off a pass, and the rout was on. The final score was 41-24, symbolic of both the hints of promise and ultimate disappointment the Lynch era delivered as a whole.

The Hoosiers won seven games in his first year and went to their first bowl since 1993, but they won just 12 games over the next three seasons. Lynch's time on the job ended like Gerry DiNardo's (3-8 in 2004), Cam Cameron's (5-6 in 2001), and Bill Mallory's (3-8 in 1996) before.

The meaning of last October's win over Penn State, then, was rather obvious. Indiana led the Nittany Lions by four points, 21-17, heading into the fourth quarter. But this time, the fourth-quarter rout went in the other direction. Indiana scored, Penn State failed on a fourth-down attempt, and Indiana scored again. Penn State fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and Indiana scored again. In four minutes, Indiana's lead went from four points to 25. The Hoosiers won, 44-24, to move to 3-2 on the year, and it seemed as if the Hoosiers had turned a corner under third-year coach Kevin Wilson.

Wilson had stripped the program to its foundation and gone about rebuilding the hard way. He built the house with impressive (relatively speaking) recruiting, slapped on a new paint job (literally and figuratively), and three years later, the labor was paying off.

It seemed that way, anyway. In reality, what we think is symbolic often isn't. Following this corner-turning win, the Hoosiers lost five of their next six games and finished 5-7. Reality isn't always as good as the story book.

Wilson now enters his fourth season in Bloomington. Improvement continues apace. After a 1-11 debut, Wilson's Hoosiers have taken clear, definable steps forward for two straight years, but the steps have come on offense. The defense has lagged behind, and a bowl bid in 2014 will hinge on a new defensive coordinator figuring out ways to simply make more stops than the Hoosiers did a year ago. Because wow, was the Indiana defense bad over the last half of the season.

2013 Schedule & Results

Record: 5-7 | Adj. Record: 6-6 | Final F/+ Rk: 56
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L 5-gm Adj. Avg.
29-Aug Indiana State N/A 73-35 W 34.0 - 20.9 W
7-Sep Navy 58 35-41 L 35.0 - 36.9 L
14-Sep Bowling Green 47 42-10 W 53.6 - 16.3 W
21-Sep Missouri 14 28-45 L 31.0 - 30.7 W
5-Oct Penn State 61 44-24 W 33.8 - 20.0 W 12.5
12-Oct at Michigan State 6 28-42 L 38.4 - 36.6 W 10.3
19-Oct at Michigan 37 47-63 L 45.2 - 54.9 L 8.7
2-Nov Minnesota 55 39-42 L 33.8 - 40.0 L 0.0
9-Nov Illinois 71 52-35 W 42.6 - 32.2 W 2.0
16-Nov at Wisconsin 19 3-51 L 22.5 - 43.6 L -5.0
23-Nov at Ohio State 9 14-42 L 25.4 - 35.3 L -7.3
30-Nov Purdue 114 56-36 W 35.1 - 58.2 L -10.0
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk Spec. Tms. Rk
F/+ +14.0% 16 -11.1% 106 -0.6% 84
Points Per Game 38.4 16 38.8 117
Adj. Points Per Game 35.9 17 35.5 110

2. Total defensive collapse

The Indiana defense was by no definition good over the first half of the 2013 season. The Hoosiers allowed 444 rushing yards to Navy, 340 passing yards to Penn State, and 623 total yards to Missouri. In three of six games, they allowed at least 6.1 yards per play. Hell, they allowed 6.1 per play to Michigan State, and before the Spartans really found their offensive groove, no less.

So yeah. Not good. However, the defense made just enough plays to avoid completely wrecking the team's early chances. The offense was strong and capable of keeping up in shootouts. But it had almost no hope of keeping up over the second half of the season.

Adj. Points Per Game (first 6 games): Indiana 37.6, Opponent 26.7 (plus-10.9)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 6 games): Opponent 44.0, Indiana 34.1 (minus-9.9)

Indiana allowed 6.7 yards per play to Illinois on November 9. That was the lowest average of the last six games. They allowed 7.4 per play to Minnesota, 7.9 to Purdue (!!), and 8.4 to Ohio State. They allowed 9.1 to Michigan. They allowed 10.4 to Wisconsin. 10.4! Wisconsin gained 676 yards in just 65 plays.

This was just devastatingly awful. Indiana was undefeated when allowing fewer than 41 points in 2013 ... but allowed fewer than 41 points only five times.

To no one's surprise, then, Wilson made a coordinator change in the offseason. Doug Mallory is out, and Brian Knorr is in. Knorr is an interesting choice. A 50-year-old Ph.D at Jim Grobe's University of Underdog Tactics, he served as Grobe's defensive coordinator at both Ohio and Wake Forest and was regarded highly enough to briefly succeed Grobe at Ohio in 2001. He brings to Bloomington a pretty fun 3-4 defense, and he inherits a unit that kind of fits the size profile of your normal 3-4.

His Demon Deacons ranked 44th in Def. F/+ last year, and let's just say that the No. 44 defense combined with Indiana's offense would win quite a few games. Baby steps first, though.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.36 6 IsoPPP+ 128.3 1
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 45.0% 45 Succ. Rt. + 106.5 41
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 26.9 12 Def. FP+ 105.4 14
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.9 13 Redzone S&P+ 103.9 43
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 18.3 ACTUAL 20 +1.7
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 10 16 41 3
RUSHING 30 9 35 6
PASSING 17 21 46 11
Standard Downs 14 61 1
Passing Downs 17 19 19
Q1 Rk 45 1st Down Rk 21
Q2 Rk 33 2nd Down Rk 24
Q3 Rk 14 3rd Down Rk 12
Q4 Rk 3

3. The big plays were enormous

But seriously, it won't take much defense to make Indiana a noteworthy team. Wilson, one of the best, most innovative offensive coordinators in football during his stints at Northwestern and Oklahoma, has figured out what buttons to push on that side of the ball, and without the type of blue-chip recruits he had at his disposal in Norman.

Indiana ranked 16th in overall Off. F/+ in 2013; the Hoosiers were ninth in Rushing S&P+ and 21st in Passing S&P+, and while efficiency was still an issue -- one that could work itself out thanks to the most experienced line in college football -- big plays constantly bailed them out. Only three teams broke off more 30-yard gains than the Hoosiers' 42: Baylor (56), Auburn (45), and Miami (44). Indiana had more 30-, 40-, and 50-yard gains than Oregon, Florida State, and Ohio State, and without the luxury of postseason games. This team was dynamite when it created open-field opportunities, and Wilson is pretty good at figuring out how to create those exact opportunities.

Indiana ranked first in IsoPPP+ (an opponent-adjusted measure designed to look at the magnitude of a team's successful plays) but only 41st in Success Rate+ (opponent-adjusted efficiency). If the Hoosiers can figure out how to stay on schedule just a little bit better, the return of running back Tevin Coleman, receivers Shane Wynn and Nick Stoner, and others, could make for top-10 offensive output.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Nate Sudfeld 6'5, 230 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 194 322 2523 21 9 60.2% 15 4.5% 7.2
Tre Roberson 6'0, 200 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 83 138 1128 15 4 60.1% 1 0.7% 8.0
Cameron Coffman 2 9 29 0 1 22.2% 1 10.0% 2.5
Zander Diamont 6'1, 175 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
Opp.
Rate
Tevin Coleman RB 6'1, 205 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 131 958 12 7.3 12.0 35.9%
Stephen Houston RB 112 753 5 6.7 7.7 45.5%
Tre Roberson QB 6'0, 200 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 84 433 5 5.2 3.8 46.4%
D'Angelo Roberts RB 5'10, 205 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 52 232 0 4.5 3.9 40.4%
Nate Sudfeld QB 6'5, 230 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 23 73 1 3.2 1.7 39.1%
Anthony Davis RB 5'8, 203 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 10 65 0 6.5 2.2 70.0%
Andrew Wilson RB 5'11, 222 So. NR 8 45 1 5.6 6.8 37.5%
Laray Smith RB 6'0, 188 So. 3 stars (5.5) 4 6 0 1.5 1.3 50.0%
Shane Wynn WR 5'7, 170 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 4 12 1 3.0 6.3 25.0%
Tommy Mister RB 6'0, 210 Fr. 3 stars (5.6)

4. Tevin Coleman is awesome

First things first: Indiana's receiving corps goes into 2014 fresh off of a facelift. Four of the top five targets are gone, including second-round draft pick Cody Latimer. Latimer and Kofi Hughes combined for 16.5 targets per game and 9.3 yards per target and gave Indiana's awkward two-headed QB arrangement an opportunity to succeed. Plus, tight end Ted Bolser gave quarterbacks Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson a decent underneath option.

It's hard to worry too much about the skill positions, however. First of all, they're led by Wilson and offensive coordinator Kevin Johns. Wilson has been figuring out unique ways to move the ball for more than a decade now. Beyond that, receiver Shane Wynn is a high-efficiency jitterbug, and the receiving corps gets supplemented by quite a few exciting youngsters, including Dominique Booth, a four-star in-state receiver.

But the primary reason I can't worry too much about Indiana's offense is Tevin Coleman. Highlight Yards basically look at a runner's explosiveness once he reaches the second level of a defense. Combining that with Opportunity Rate (the frequency with which you reach said second level), we get a pretty good idea for what kind of back you are. Coleman's 35.9 percent Opportunity Rate was nothing special, but no one in the country was more explosive.

Of the 199 FBS players with at least 100 carries in 2013, only seven averaged 8.0 highlight yards per opportunity or greater. Boston College's Andre Williams and Missouri's Henry Josey averaged 8.0, Maryland's C.J. Brown and Ohio State's Braxton Miller averaged 8.4, West Virginia's Dreamius Smith and UL-Lafayette's Elijah McGuire averaged 8.6 ... and Tevin Coleman averaged 12.0. His average was 40 percent better than the second best. He had 14 carries of at least 20 yards (only 12 players had more), and he had eight of at least 40 (most in the country). He is unlit dynamite every play he's on the field.

With Baylor's Lache Seastrunk now in the pros, Coleman might be the nation's best angle buster. Safeties think they have the angle to catch him and bring him down. They do not.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Cody Latimer WR 110 72 1096 65.5% 24.2% 62.1% 10.0 231 10.8 158.7
Kofi Hughes WR 88 47 739 53.4% 19.3% 58.7% 8.4 111 8.2 107.0
Shane Wynn WR 5'7, 170 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 65 46 633 70.8% 14.3% 68.2% 9.7 101 9.8 91.7
Ted Bolser TE 54 35 320 64.8% 11.9% 47.6% 5.9 -102 6.5 46.3
Duwyce Wilson WR 30 15 167 50.0% 6.6% 54.5% 5.6 -41 4.3 24.2
Nick Stoner WR 6'1, 182 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 26 12 226 46.2% 5.7% 40.0% 8.7 52 6.7 32.7
Isaiah Roundtree WR 5'11, 195 Sr. NR 23 14 136 60.9% 5.1% 66.7% 5.9 -38 5.1 19.7
Tevin Coleman RB 6'1, 205 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 23 19 193 82.6% 5.1% 52.4% 8.4 -11 6.9 28.0
Stephen Houston RB 20 11 113 55.0% 4.4% 76.9% 5.7 -32 4.2 16.4
D'Angelo Roberts RB 5'10, 205 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 12 7 57 58.3% 2.6% 33.3% 4.8 -32 0.7 8.3
Anthony Corsaro TE 6'1, 252 Jr. NR 4 1 0 25.0% 0.9% 0.0% 0.0 -22 0.0 0.0
Kevin Davis WR 5'11, 190 So. 3 stars (5.7)
Danny Friend TE 6'5, 255 So. 3 stars (5.5)
Isaac Griffith WR 6'0, 194 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)
Dominique Booth WR 6'1, 200 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)
Jordan Fuchs TE 6'6, 230 Fr. 3 stars (5.7)
Simmie Cobbs WR 6'4, 210 Fr. 3 stars (5.6)

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 100.5 3.03 2.43 42.0% 64.7% 20.9% 143.5 2.4% 5.3%
Rank 69 51 122 36 83 86 24 12 44
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Career Starts Honors/Notes
Bernard Taylor LG 6'2, 295 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 25
Jason Spriggs LT 6'7, 297 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 24
Collin Rahrig C 6'2, 285 Sr. NR 23
Peyton Eckert RT 6'6, 310 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 18
Ralston Evans RT 6'4, 285 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 12
Dan Feeney RG 6'4, 310 So. 3 stars (5.6) 12
Jake Reed RG 6'4, 291 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 6
David Kaminski RG 6'4, 300 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 5
Jacob Bailey RG 6'5, 301 So. 2 stars (5.4) 3
Cody Evers LG 2
Wes Rogers C 6'4, 293 So. 3 stars (5.6) 2
Pete Bachman LT 0
Dimitric Camiel RT 6'7, 304 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0
DeAndre Herron OL 6'5, 330 Jr. 3 stars (5.6)
Tim Gardner OL 6'5, 320 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)
Delroy Baker OL 6'6, 290 Fr. 3 stars (5.6)

5. Six returning starters

From a numbers perspective, Tre Roberson was a more successful quarterback than Nate Sudfeld. Their interception and completion rates were almost identical, but Roberson took almost no sacks and did more with his completions (13.6 yards per completion) than Sudfeld (13.0). Plus, Roberson is an efficient, if not particularly explosive, runner who can potentially either deflect attention for Coleman or take advantage of it.

Still, Sudfeld took more snaps behind center in 2013, and spring football gave no indication that one has permanently surpassed the other. Regardless, if Coleman isn't either quarterback's best friend in 2014, it might be the line. Because for all intents and purposes, the line returns six starters. Both tackle Peyton Eckert (back) and Dan Feeney (foot), 2012 starters, missed all of 2013 with injuries. That gave the Hoosiers a younger-than-expected front five, and while its pass protection numbers were solid (mostly because of Roberson), its run-blocking numbers left something to be desired.

To the extent that experience can fix the run issues, Indiana's line could improve dramatically. The Hoosiers now return 10 players with starting experience and six players with at least 12 career starts. They begin the season with more career starts up front (130) than most teams have at the end of a season. If they can help to create more opportunities for Coleman and company, this offense won't miss Latimer and Hughes much at all.

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.18 80 IsoPPP+ 97.0 80
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 49.4% 117 Succ. Rt. + 92.7 90
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 31.1 45 Off. FP+ 102.5 32
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.7 109 Redzone S&P+ 107.7 34
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 24.9 ACTUAL 17.0 -7.9
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 123 94 90 112
RUSHING 117 75 75 75
PASSING 120 100 98 123
Standard Downs 91 87 67
Passing Downs 91 80 106
Q1 Rk 79 1st Down Rk 91
Q2 Rk 77 2nd Down Rk 103
Q3 Rk 95 3rd Down Rk 91
Q4 Rk 105

6. Bending with less breaking

Knorr's 2013 Wake Forest defense was good against the run and sketchy against the pass; perhaps the biggest draw for Wilson, however, was the fact that Wake was ninth in IsoPPP+, excelling as a bend-don't-break unit. That identity brings its own set of liabilities to the table, but Indiana's defense broke far too much last year, especially through the air, and one could see why Wilson might be drawn to a coach with solid big-play prevention tactics.

Indiana really wanted to be aggressive in 2013 but just didn't have the personnel for it. We'll see what Knorr can do with what is now a wonderfully experienced (if still lacking) unit.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 103.4 3.13 3.35 47.2% 64.8% 16.0% 81.5 3.3% 8.6%
Rank 49 92 70 120 50 101 100 99 29
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Bobby Richardson DE 6'3, 288 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 12 29.5 4.0% 3.5 0.0 0 3 0 0
John Laihinen DE 12 18.5 2.5% 7.0 4.5 0 0 0 0
Zack Shaw DE 6'3, 264 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 12 18.5 2.5% 4.5 1.5 0 0 0 0
Ralph Green III DT 6'5, 325 So. 3 stars (5.5) 12 18.5 2.5% 4.5 1.0 0 0 1 0
Darius Latham DT 6'5, 325 So. 4 stars (5.8) 12 15.0 2.0% 3.0 2.0 0 3 0 0
Ryan Phillis DE 12 13.5 1.8% 2.5 1.0 0 1 0 0
Adarius Rayner DT 6'2, 309 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 11 8.0 1.1% 4.0 2.0 0 0 0 0
David Kenney DE 6'2, 265 So. 4 stars (5.8) 7 6.5 0.9% 0.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Shawn Heffern DE 6'6, 264 So. 3 stars (5.5) 7 1.5 0.2% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Alex Todd DT 4 1.5 0.2% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Christopher Cormier DT 6'2, 315 Sr. 2 stars (5.2)
Patrick Dougherty DT 6'5, 291 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)
Mike Barwick, Jr. DT 6'0, 290 Fr. 3 stars (5.6)

7. Size? Check

When a team moves from a 4-3 base defense to a 3-4, the first thing we tend to look at is the size of the linemen. Are they big enough to occupy blockers and free up linebackers to make plays?

While we don't yet know if Indiana has the requisite play-making linebackers, the Hoosiers certainly have the size up front, especially after everybody packed on a few pounds in the offseason. The top seven returnees from last year average 6'4, 291; the top three returning tackles average 6'4, 320. There's beef here.

And at the very least, there are options at linebacker. If we're including DE-turned-OLB Nick Mangieri as a linebacker, last year's top seven tacklers all return. Only Mangieri and David Cooper had more than 3.5 tackles for loss, and for all we know, any of three three-star freshmen could quickly work into the rotation, but there are at least options.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
David Cooper ILB 6'1, 237 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 12 68.5 9.2% 6.0 2.5 0 1 0 0
T.J. Simmons ILB 6'0, 228 So. 3 stars (5.5) 12 55.0 7.4% 3.5 1.0 0 2 0 0
Forisse Hardin OLB 6'1, 230 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 10 49.0 6.6% 3.5 0.0 0 1 3 1
Marcus Oliver ILB 6'1, 238 So. 3 stars (5.6) 11 29.0 3.9% 2.5 0.0 0 0 2 0
Clyde Newton OLB 6'1, 230 So. 3 stars (5.5) 12 25.5 3.4% 1.0 0.5 0 0 0 0
Nick Mangieri OLB 6'5, 265 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 12 20.5 2.8% 6.0 3.0 1 5 1 0
Steven Funderburk OLB 6'3, 230 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 8 16.0 2.1% 0.0 0.0 0 2 1 0
Jacarri Alexander OLB 12 9.5 1.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
Jake Michalek ILB 12 8.5 1.1% 1.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
Griffen Dahlstrom OLB 4 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Kyle Kennedy LB 6'3, 240 Jr. 3 stars (5.5)
Tegray Scales LB 6'0, 205 Fr. 3 stars (5.7)
Greg Gooch LB 6'2, 245 Fr. 3 stars (5.6)
Dameon Willis LB 6'1, 210 Fr. 3 stars (5.6)

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Greg Heban S 12 69.0 9.3% 1.5 0 3 4 1 0
Mark Murphy S 6'2, 210 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 12 67.5 9.1% 0.5 0 1 1 1 0
Tim Bennett CB 5'9, 186 Sr. NR 12 67.0 9.0% 3.5 0 1 20 0 1
Michael Hunter CB 6'1, 194 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 12 38.0 5.1% 3 0 1 7 1 0
Antonio Allen S 5'10, 205 So. 4 stars (5.8) 7 29.5 4.0% 1.5 0 0 0 0 0
Ryan Thompson CB 11 15.0 2.0% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Kenny Mullen CB 5'10, 183 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 12 7.0 0.9% 1 1 0 2 0 0
Jake Zupancic S 7 3.5 0.5% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Brian Williams CB 2 1.5 0.2% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Brandon Grubbe S 5'11, 205 Sr. NR
Rashard Fant CB 5'10, 162 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8)
Chase Dutra S 6'1, 200 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7)
Noel Padmore CB 5'11, 172 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6)
Kris Smith S 6'2, 211 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)
Will Dawkins DB 5'11, 195 Fr. 3 stars (5.6)
Tony Fields DB 5'11, 210 Fr. 3 stars (5.6)
Donovan Clark DB 5'10, 175 Fr. 3 stars (5.6)

8. All or nothing

Good sign: cornerback Tim Bennett was first in the country with 21 passes defensed last season. He only intercepted one pass while breaking up 20, but he still got his hands on more passes than any other defender in the country.

Bad sign: Bennett also made 67.0 tackles, an obscenely high number for a cornerback that suggests that either a) he was tremendous in run support or b) his man was also catching a lot of passes. That Bennett had 3.5 tackles for loss is encouraging when it comes to the former, but knowing what we know about Indiana's pass defense, there was plenty of the latter at play as well. Almost no defense gave up a higher frequency of big pass plays than Indiana, and that takes the shine off of Bennett's prolific break-up abilities.

Bennett and Michael Hunter both return; again, they've at least proven aggressive, if prone to breakdowns. But for the first time, Indiana might actually have a full two-deep of players worthy of playing time in the back. Four of last year's top five return, including four-star sophomore Antonio Allen, and they are joined by four-star redshirt freshman Rashard Fant, two high-three-star redshirt freshmen, and three high-three-star true freshmen.

Youth doesn't tend to solve breakdown issues, but there is more athleticism on this defense, top to bottom, than has been the case at any point in the Wilson era. That's something.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Erich Toth 6'3, 206 Jr. 52 40.6 3 18 18 69.2%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Mitch Ewald 77 63.3 38 3 49.4%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Mitch Ewald 56-56 8-8 100.0% 1-3 33.3%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Shane Wynn KR 5'7, 170 Sr. 18 23.1 0
Stephen Houston KR 13 21.8 0
Shane Wynn PR 5'7, 170 Sr. 7 14.0 1
Mitchell Paige PR 5'7, 180 So. 3 10.7 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 84
Field Goal Efficiency 66
Punt Return Efficiency 96
Kick Return Efficiency 72
Punt Efficiency 106
Kickoff Efficiency 12
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 7

9. Great field position despite special teams

Despite all the big plays allowed on defense, Indiana was one of the Big Ten's best field position teams. In conference play, the Hoosiers' average drive started at the 31.5, and opponents' average drive started at the 26.9. The plus-4.6 yard margin was third in the conference behind Ohio State (plus-7.3) and Michigan State (6.3). And to be sure, decent kick returns from Shane Wynn and strong kickoffs and kick coverage were contributors in this regard. (Lord knows there were a lot of kickoffs in Indiana games.)

Still, Indiana stunk at punt coverage and was inconsistent at punt returns; more steadiness here could have meant another yard or two in field position margin ... and perhaps another win or two as well.

2014 Schedule & Projection Factors

2014 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
30-Aug Indiana State NR
13-Sep at Bowling Green 52
20-Sep at Missouri 22
27-Sep Maryland 51
4-Oct North Texas 72
11-Oct at Iowa 34
18-Oct Michigan State 13
1-Nov at Michigan 32
8-Nov Penn State 37
15-Nov at Rutgers 78
22-Nov at Ohio State 4
29-Nov Purdue 108
Five-Year F/+ Rk -9.7% (87)
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 42
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* -3 / 6.6
TO Luck/Game -4.0
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 17 (8, 9)

10. Another step forward

Despite the horrendous defense, Indiana still needed some woeful turnovers luck to end up under .500. The Hoosiers lost nearly four points per game to the turnovers fairy in a season that saw them go 0-2 in games decided by one possession. They still ranked 56th overall, and if the defense improves, this could quite easily turn into a not only a top-45 team, but a top-45 team that actually has a little luck on its side.

With this schedule, a top-45 team could go 5-1 at home and between 0-6 and 2-4 on the road. Regardless, either beat Michigan State at home or take down Bowling Green or Rutgers on the road, and the Hoosiers are likely bowling for just the second time in a decade.

The series of tough road games probably precludes a great record even if the Hoosiers improve by a solid amount, but the bottom line is that Indiana indeed appears set to improve, both in overall quality and in record, for the third straight year. Even if the offense regresses a bit with a receiving corps reset (and honestly, I don't expect that to happen to any major degree), the defense should improve more, simply from a "can't get worse" perspective.

Wilson's building something pretty impressive in Bloomington. Last year wasn't quite the breakthrough it appeared it might become, but the Hoosiers are moving forward and should again in 2014.

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