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1. Moments matter
In the absence of titles, national and conference, we strive for great wins. And in the absence of those, we aim for moments. If nothing else in 2012, Indiana had a moment. In an early-November Numerical, I wrote this following Indiana's 24-21 win over Iowa:
61. Months since Indiana had won back-to-back conference games. The Hoosiers beat Iowa and Minnesota in late-September and early-October 2007, then lost 36 of their next 40 Big Ten games before pulling out wins over Illinois (31-17 on October 27) and Iowa (24-21 on November 3). Kevin Wilson's squad is now 4-5 and, yes, still has a chance of representing the ineligibility-plagued Big Ten Leaders Division. If they can beat Wisconsin at home this Saturday, in their biggest game since who-knows-when, they will actually possibly become the favorites to do so ... at least until they lose at Penn State the next Saturday.
For a week in November, it looked as if Indiana might make it to the Big Ten title game. Sure, it would have been on a technicality (Ohio State and Penn State being ineligible for the postseason). And sure, the feeling lasted only a week before Wisconsin absolutely destroyed the Hoosiers.
But for a week, there was buzz. The last time there had been any hope for quality football in Bloomington was in 2007, when the Hoosiers were making a run to the Insight Bowl. And the last time there had been hope for a conference title in November, no matter the technicalities, was probably 1993, when they entered November at 7-1 (4-1 in conference) and 17th in the polls before dropping heartbreakers to No. 19 Penn State (38-31) and No. 5 Ohio State (23-17) on the road.
It had been a while, in other words. Head coach Kevin Wilson enters his third year on the job with just a 5-19 record to show for his efforts. Granted, the product improved greatly in 2012 (from 1-11 and 105th in the F/+ rankings in 2011 to 4-8 and 74th last fall), but the defense has yet to even threaten to come around -- it ranked 99th in Def. F/+ in 2010 and has ranked 117th and 110th, respectively, in Wilson's first two years; still, the offense has life, and the 2013 team has enough experience to take another solid step forward.
With Ohio State once again eligible for the postseason and Wisconsin still being Wisconsin, the tiny window for a conference title game bid has probably closed for quite a long time, but there are plenty of other, more reasonable and realistic goals on the table moving forward. The first one: six wins.
2. Recruits noticed
There are 62 returnees listed below. One received a four-star rating from Rivals.com. Meanwhile, in Indiana's incoming class of 23 recruits, there are five. Wilson reeled in three of the state's six four-star recruits (a five-star linebacker went to Notre Dame), and four of the top nine recruits overall. That is rather unprecedented. (Meanwhile, in-state rival Purdue nabbed one of the top nine.) And of the five four-star recruits in this class (including players from Florida and Georgia), at least three, and maybe four, will play on the defensive side of the ball, where the most help is needed.
Wilson will need to win more games to keep up this increased pace, but he is raising the ceiling in Bloomington, even if his 2013 squad won't quite be ready to reach that ceiling.
2012 Schedule & Results
|Record: 4-8 | Adj. Record: 5-7 | Final F/+ Rk: 74|
|Date||Opponent||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L|
|1-Sep||Indiana State||24-17||W||24.7 - 38.4||L|
|8-Sep||at Massachusetts||45-6||W||28.1 - 26.1||W|
|15-Sep||Ball State||39-41||L||27.6 - 23.8||W|
|29-Sep||at Northwestern||29-44||L||35.0 - 43.3||L|
|6-Oct||Michigan State||27-31||L||34.2 - 32.5||W|
|13-Oct||Ohio State||49-52||L||35.5 - 32.5||W|
|20-Oct||at Navy||30-31||L||28.3 - 24.3||W|
|27-Oct||at Illinois||31-17||W||17.7 - 34.5||L|
|3-Nov||Iowa||24-21||W||30.1 - 30.4||L|
|10-Nov||Wisconsin||14-62||L||22.3 - 45.8||L|
|17-Nov||at Penn State||22-45||L||33.0 - 39.6||L|
|24-Nov||at Purdue||35-56||L||28.7 - 47.5||L|
|Points Per Game||30.8||51||35.3||104|
|Adj. Points Per Game||28.8||59||34.9||112|
3. The fade had begun before Wisconsin came to town
The loss to Wisconsin put a humbling set of punctuation marks at the end of Indiana's meager conference title hopes. But after playing at a reasonably average level over the first half of the season, the Hoosiers had already begun to fade as they were beating Illinois and Iowa. (They benefited mostly from the simple fact that Iowa wasn't very good and Illinois was terrible.
Adj. Points Per Game (first 7 games): Opponent 31.6, Indiana 30.5 (minus-1.1)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 5 games): Opponent 39.6, Indiana 26.4 (minus-13.2)
Despite the late, drastic fade, this was a truly interesting, competitive team for most of the season's first two months. The Hoosiers lost by four to Michigan State and by three to Ohio State, and the home loss to Ball State didn't end up looking as bad as we began to learn that Ball State was pretty decent. A 2-4 record in one-possession games prevented the Hoosiers from sneaking out a 6-6 record and bowl eligibility, but there was promise in the Hoosiers' early-season play.
(And yes, part of that promise simply comes from the low bar that Indiana has set in recent decades. Still, as I like to say, improvement is improvement.)
|Q1 Rk||35||1st Down Rk||44|
|Q2 Rk||55||2nd Down Rk||80|
|Q3 Rk||86||3rd Down Rk||72|
4. Kevin Wilson knows offense
From his days as Randy Walker's offensive coordinator at Northwestern to his nine seasons as offensive coordinator (or co-coordinator) at Oklahoma, Kevin Wilson has been both innovative and successful. At Northwestern, he helped to design the modern spread offense, and at Oklahoma, he pushed the tempo in a way that no other team could (until Oregon came along). The odds are good that he is going to produce no matter where he goes.
After ranking 60th in Off. F/+ in Bill Lynch's final season as head coach, Indiana sank to 82nd in Wilson's first season, but with some new pieces in place, the Hoosiers improved to 42nd in 2012, powered mostly by a solid passing game and wonderful redzone efficiency.
Wilson and offensive coordinator Seth Littrell coaxed 311 passing yards and 31 points per game out of a unit made up mostly of unheralded recruits and a revolving door at quarterback. The Hoosiers had high-paced, pass-first offense that distributed the ball well (three players rushed at least 50 times, six were targeted with at least 40 passes), and considering that virtually everybody returns on offense, the production should improve further in 2013. Opponents were able to adjust as a game unfolded (Indiana was 35th in the first quarter, 55th in the second, and worse in the third and fourth), and talent levels will still form a glass ceiling, but there's no reason to think this can't be at least a Top 30-35 offense.
Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Cameron Coffman||6'2, 203||Jr.||*** (5.5)||247||407||2,734||60.7%||15||11||13||3.1%||6.4|
|Nate Sudfeld||6'5, 234||So.||*** (5.6)||51||82||632||62.2%||7||1||4||4.7%||7.2|
|Tre Roberson||6'0, 200||So.||*** (5.6)||33||50||368||66.0%||2||1||1||2.0%||7.0|
5. QB vs. QB vs. QB
Granted, the competition level was awful, but in the first two games of the year, Tre Roberson put together some intriguing stats; he completed two-thirds of his passes and showed some explosive running ability. But in the second quarter against UMass, he suffered a gruesome leg injury and missed the rest of the season. In his absence, Cameron Coffman started the final 10 games of the season, and Nate Sudfeld got quite a few snaps as well. Sudfeld produced the better stats of the two, but Cameron maintained his (loose) grip on the starting job through 2012.
And now, Indiana has a bit of a quandary. All three are back, and none of the three really delivered any separation this spring. To no one's surprise, Roberson was a bit rusty, but since he beat out Coffman and Sudfeld a year ago, he could eventually do so again. There are worse things in the world than having two solid backup quarterbacks, but the hope here has to be that somebody seizes control of the job in August.
Combined, Indiana's three-headed quarterback still had a hell of a year: Treron Sudmanson threw for 3,734 yards with 24 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, and a 61 percent completion rate. Considering the uncertainty and shuffling, that's not bad. Still, one guy separating himself from the others would be a very positive development. Sudfeld and Roberson seem to have higher ceilings (and more remaining years of eligibility).
Whoever wins the job from week to week will have quite a few familiar faces around him. Most of Indiana's skill position players produced at pretty average (or below-average) levels, but in running back Stephen Houston and receiver Cody Latimer, there is a couple of keepers. Houston was explosive in a way that the other runners were not, and while Latimer disappeared at times, he had a few breakout games -- four catches for 115 yards and two scores versus Ball State, four for 97 versus Northwestern, seven for 113 and three scores versus Iowa. For the season, he managed a rare, elite combination of a 79-percent catch rate and 15.7 yards per catch. His upside seems higher than the more frequently-targeted players in the receiving corps (Shane Wynn, Kofi Hughes).
And speaking of upside, if freshman Taj Williams wanted to pretty quickly prove his four-star rating, there is certainly playing time available.
|Stephen Houston||RB||6'0, 225||Sr.||*** (5.5)||161||749||4.7||6.1||12||-3.7|
|D'Angelo Roberts||RB||5'10, 200||Jr.||*** (5.6)||83||300||3.6||3.2||3||-11.1|
|Tevin Coleman||RB||6'1, 208||So.||*** (5.7)||50||212||4.2||2.2||1||-6.0|
|Isaiah Roundtree||WR||5'11, 195||Jr.||NR||33||159||4.8||2.7||1||-0.5|
|Cameron Coffman||QB||6'2, 203||Jr.||*** (5.5)||24||64||2.7||2.5||1||-5.9|
|Tre Roberson||QB||6'0, 200||So.||*** (5.6)||11||124||11.3||20.0||3||+8.3|
|Nate Sudfeld||QB||6'5, 234||So.||*** (5.6)||11||23||2.1||0.9||0||-3.1|
|Daryl Chestnut||RB||5'10, 190||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
|Shane Wynn||WR||5'7, 167||Jr.||*** (5.7)||95||67||648||70.5%||6.8||18.7%||67.4%||6.9||86.1|
|Kofi Hughes||WR||6'2, 215||Sr.||** (5.4)||81||43||639||53.1%||7.9||15.9%||54.3%||7.8||85.0|
|Cody Latimer||WR||6'3, 215||Jr.||*** (5.7)||65||51||805||78.5%||12.4||12.8%||60.0%||12.4||107.0|
|Ted Bolser||TE||6'6, 254||Sr.||*** (5.6)||63||41||445||65.1%||7.1||12.4%||60.3%||7.1||59.2|
|Stephen Houston||RB||6'0, 225||Sr.||*** (5.5)||49||37||381||75.5%||7.8||9.6%||55.1%||7.9||50.7|
|Duwyce Wilson||WR||6'3, 203||Sr.||*** (5.7)||45||23||230||51.1%||5.1||8.8%||55.6%||5.3||30.6|
|Nick Stoner||WR||6'1, 173||Jr.||*** (5.5)||27||13||118||48.1%||4.4||5.3%||63.0%||4.3||15.7|
|D'Angelo Roberts||RB||5'10, 200||Jr.||*** (5.6)||26||15||152||57.7%||5.8||5.1%||65.4%||6.1||20.2|
|Isaiah Roundtree||WR||5'11, 195||Jr.||NR||14||6||68||42.9%||4.9||2.8%||71.4%||4.3||9.0|
|Tevin Coleman||RB||6'1, 208||So.||*** (5.7)||11||10||71||90.9%||6.5||2.2%||54.5%||5.9||9.4|
|Ricky Jones||WR||5'10, 190||RSFr.||** (5.4)||2||1||2||50.0%||1.0||0.4%||0.0%||0.4||0.3|
|Anthony Corsaro||TE||6'1, 250||So.||NR|
|Kevin Davis||WR||5'11, 188||RSFr.||*** (5.7)|
|Taj Williams||WR||6'4, 175||Fr.||**** (5.8)|
|Chase Dutra||WR||6'1, 190||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
|Will Matte||C||45 career starts|
|Peyton Eckert||RT||6'6, 295||Jr.||** (5.4)||18 career starts|
|Bernard Taylor||LG||6'2, 303||Jr.||*** (5.5)||16 career starts|
|Collin Rahrig||LG||6'2, 281||Jr.||NR||13 career starts|
|Jason Spriggs||LT||6'7, 280||So.||*** (5.5)||12 career starts|
|Dan Feeney||RG||6'4, 305||So.||*** (5.6)||12 career starts|
|Cody Evers||RG||6'4, 305||Jr.||** (5.3)||1 career start|
|Pete Bachman||RT||6'5, 288||Jr.||*** (5.5)|
|Ralston Evans||LT||6'4, 295||So.||*** (5.6)|
|David Kaminski||LG||6'4, 295||So.||** (5.2)|
|Wes Rogers||C||6'4, 300||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Dimitric Camiel||RT||6'7, 310||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Jacob Bailey||RG||6'5, 300||RSFr.||** (5.4)|
6. The line was so young that it's still young
Indiana returns six players with starting experience and five with at least one year's worth of starting experience. That's impressive, but what's even more impressive is that none of the six players are seniors. Last year's rotation featured four-year starting center Will Matte and a ton of freshmen and sophomores.
The quick-passing nature of Indiana's attack resulted in solid sack rates, but while the line was solid at keeping defenders out of the backfield against the run, it failed to produce too many good opportunities for the running backs. (And yes, the backs themselves might have had a role to play in that.) Regardless, there is good seasoning here, and the numbers should improve at least a little bit ... and then a little bit more when, in theory, everybody returns yet again.
|Q1 Rk||107||1st Down Rk||115|
|Q2 Rk||84||2nd Down Rk||111|
|Q3 Rk||123||3rd Down Rk||107|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Larry Black, Jr.||DT||12||28.5||3.9%||12||4||0||2||0||1|
|Ryan Phillis||DE||6'3, 260||Jr.||** (5.4)||12||25.0||3.5%||3.5||3||0||0||0||0|
|Zack Shaw||DE||6'3, 253||So.||**** (5.8)||12||23.5||3.2%||5||2||0||0||0||0|
|Bobby Richardson||DE||6'3, 275||Jr.||** (5.4)||12||21.0||2.9%||5||2.5||0||1||1||0|
|John Laihinen||DE||6'4, 253||Jr.||NR||10||13.5||1.9%||3.5||0.5||0||1||0||0|
|Nick Mangieri||DE||6'5, 261||So.||*** (5.7)||10||11.0||1.5%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Adarius Rayner||DT||6'2, 300||So.||** (5.2)||7||3.0||0.4%||2||1||0||3||0||0|
|Alex Todd||DT||6'3, 300||So.||** (5.4)||8||2.0||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Mike Replogle||DE||6'2, 243||Jr.||** (5.4)||10||1.0||0.1%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Ralphael Green||DT||6'5, 312||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Jordan Heiderman||DT||6'3, 283||Jr.||** (5.4)|
|Christopher Cormier||DT||6'2, 315||Jr.||** (5.2)|
|David Kenney||DE||6'2, 250||Fr.||**** (5.8)|
|Darius Latham||DT||6'5, 291||Fr.||**** (5.8)|
7. Indiana could rush the passer
Indiana's defense was good at almost nothing in 2012. The Hoosiers ranked worse than 100th in every S&P+ category above and was almost the worst defense in the country at preventing big pass plays. This defense had issues too significant for a few new four-star freshmen to magically rectify. But they were strong in short-yardage situations, and they could rush the passer.
Tackles Adam Replogle and Larry Black, Jr., were as active a pair of interior linemen as you're going to find, combining for 25 tackles for loss and one-third of Indiana's 27 sacks. Plus, Replogle had an astounding 56.0 tackles, ridiculously high for a defensive lineman.
8. Help wanted
The problem for Indiana, of course, is that Replogle and Black are both gone. The ends all return, including four-star sophomore Zack Shaw, and a couple of four-star freshmen indeed show up to fill out the rotation. But returning defensive tackles combined for just 5.0 tackles last year, which means the pressure will be on youngsters like redshirt freshman Ralphael Green, freshman Darius Latham, and a pair of two-star junior college transfers -- Jordan Heiderman and Christopher Cormier -- to produce immediately.
Losing your two best players is typically going to be problematic no matter who you are or how good you are, but the loss of Replogle and Black is particularly worrisome, simply because they were just about the only play-makers Indiana had. Linebackers David Cooper and Griffen Dahlstrom combined for a relatively impressive 16 tackles for loss and four sacks, and safety Greg Heban was an occasional wrecking ball (seven tackles for loss, 11 passes defensed), but if Indiana wasn't making a stop in the backfield, the Hoosiers were getting burned in a major way. There just isn't enough talent here yet. The 2013 recruiting class will help immensely, but it will only help so much in 2013.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|David Cooper||MLB||6'1, 235||Jr.||*** (5.5)||12||68.0||9.4%||9||3||0||3||1||0|
|Forisse Hardin||SLB||6'1, 220||Jr.||*** (5.6)||12||39.5||5.5%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Griffen Dahlstrom||WLB||6'3, 235||Sr.||** (5.1)||12||38.5||5.3%||7||1||0||1||1||0|
|Jacarri Alexander||LB||6'1, 240||Sr.||*** (5.5)||6||25.5||3.5%||3||0||0||0||1||0|
|Chase Hoobler||SLB||6'2, 240||Jr.||*** (5.5)||6||20.0||2.8%||1||1||0||0||0||0|
|Kyle Kennedy||WLB||6'3, 235||So.||*** (5.5)||6||2.5||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jake Michalek||MLB||6'2, 235||Jr.||NR||11||2.0||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Steven Funderburk||WLB||6'3, 231||Jr.||** (5.4)|
|T.J. Simmons||MLB||6'0, 235||Fr.||*** (5.5)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Greg Heban||S||6'1, 203||Sr.||NR||12||79.5||11.0%||7||1||3||8||0||1|
|Mark Murphy||S||6'2, 210||Jr.||*** (5.5)||12||59.5||8.2%||3||1||0||2||0||1|
|Brian Williams||CB||6'0, 192||Jr.||** (5.4)||12||50.0||6.9%||0.5||0.5||1||8||0||1|
|Antonio Marshall||CB||5'11, 195||Sr.||*** (5.7)||11||32.0||4.4%||2.5||0||2||1||0||0|
|Kenny Mullen||CB||5'10, 184||Jr.||** (5.4)||11||30.5||4.2%||3||0||0||4||0||0|
|Tim Bennett||S||5'9, 190||Jr.||NR||11||14.5||2.0%||1||1||0||3||0||0|
|Michael Hunter (2011)||CB||6'1, 188||So.||*** (5.5)||12||11.0||1.5%||0||0||0||2||0||0|
|Ryan Thompson||S||5'10, 198||Sr.||*** (5.5)||7||2.5||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Dawson Fletcher||S||6'0, 203||So.||** (5.3)||2||1.0||0.1%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Antonio Allen||DB||5'10, 205||Fr.||**** (5.8)|
|Rashard Fant||DB||5'10, 165||Fr.||**** (5.8)|
9. The promise of early playing time
One thing Kevin Wilson had to offer, of course, was a direct path to playing time. For four-star Indianapolis native Antonio Allen and Georgia "athlete" Rashard Fant (who might play offense, but I'm guessing ends up a defensive back), that certainly had to be part of the draw. The two could both end up in the immediate rotation if they play reasonably well in August, as could the freshmen on the line.
And lord knows Wilson can continue using the "early PT" line as part of his recruiting pitch for quite a while, even on offense.
|Erich Toth||6'3, 196||So.||48||39.5||2||18||7||52.1%|
|Mitch Ewald||5'10, 174||Sr.||68||61.5||31||45.6%|
|Mitch Ewald||5'10, 174||Sr.||42-43||10-12||83.3%||5-8||62.5%|
|Tevin Coleman||KR||6'1, 208||So.||24||23.6||1|
|Shane Wynn||KR||5'7, 167||Jr.||8||22.5||0|
|Kofi Hughes||KR||6'2, 215||Sr.||4||16.0||0|
|Nick Stoner||PR||6'1, 173||Jr.||13||5.8||0|
|Special Teams F/+||46|
|Field Goal Pct||45|
|Kick Returns Avg||56|
|Punt Returns Avg||96|
2013 Schedule & Projection Factors
|12-Oct||at Michigan State||18|
|23-Nov||at Ohio State||10|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||98|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||52|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||-3 / +0.9|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||19 (10, 9)|
10. A schedule meant for a bowl bid
Of Indiana's obnoxious eight (!) home games, six are against teams projected 66th or worse in the Football Outsiders Almanac 2013, and the other two are against teams that combined for just a 13-11 record last year. If the Hoosiers can just manage minimal improvement on each side of the ball, they could pretty easily end up with six wins and a bowl bid, even if they get blown out in each of their four road games.
Of course, one of those six lowly-ranked home opponents (Navy) beat the Hoosiers last year, and Bowling Green could potentially be the best team in the MAC not named Northern Illinois -- as good as, or better than, the Ball State team that beat the Hoosiers last year. There is still quite a bit of work to be done here, especially considering Indiana had the fourth-worst BCS defense in the country in 2012 (ahead of just Colorado, Duke, and Kentucky).
I do expect Indiana to pull off marginal improvement on both offense and defense, however, and I do figure the Hoosiers reach at least five wins, probably six. Until Wilson can bring in a couple more recruiting classes with the upside of the 2013 class, Indiana's ceiling is going to still be lower than most of the teams in the conference, but the Hoosiers should be good on offense for years to come, enough for Indiana to matter in the college football universe.
Wilson may have won only five games in his first two years, but he's brought some hope to Bloomington. Overall quality aside, that's a hell of an accomplishment.
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