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1. Bailing sand
Hard jobs remain hard. When Kevin Wilson came to Bloomington in 2011, he had to know exactly what he was getting into. Indiana had been to one bowl in 17 seasons and had finished ranked in the AP twice, never higher than 19th, since 1967.
Wilson was brought in to press the reset button, install a high-powered offense, and figure out how to raise the ceiling. His Hoosiers bottomed out in Year 1, finishing 1-11 and ranking a symmetrical 111th in F/+, but quickly started to get somewhere: 4-8 and 78th in 2012, 5-7 and 48th in 2013. The defense was still an albatross, but the offense had gone from bad to great in two years.
With experience and a new defensive coordinator, Indiana looked (to me, anyway) like a team ready to go bowling in 2014.
The series of tough road games precludes a great record, but Indiana appears set to improve, both in overall quality and in record, for the third straight year. Even if the offense regresses, the defense should improve more, simply from a "can't get worse" perspective.
Wilson's building something pretty impressive. Last year wasn't quite the breakthrough, but the Hoosiers are moving forward and should again in 2014.
Despite one of the most statistically unlikely losses of the season, a 45-42 stumble to Bowling Green, the Hoosiers started 2-1 thanks to a road upset of a Missouri team getting ready to win the SEC East for the second time. But then the Hoosiers laid a massive egg at home against Maryland. And then their quarterback got hurt. And then they bottomed out.
Building a winner from scratch takes about 148 steps, good timing, and good fortune. Wilson got the offense to where he wanted it in 2013, and just as his defense began to improve, his offense got beat up. A team with IU's 2013 offense and 2014 defense would have ranked 30th in S&P+ last year; instead, the Hoosiers ranked 86th and finished 4-8.
The 2015 season was supposed to be when Indiana figures out how to deal with success following a bowl breakthrough. Instead, Wilson and his Hoosiers are trying to figure out whether a breakthrough is still possible. Turnovers killed them in 2013, and an ill-timed quarterback injury did them in in 2014, but at some point you become your record. And no matter what potential Indiana has flashed, this team has won either four or five games for five of the last six years.
Building a winning program is like bailing sand with your arms. For every five pounds you get loaded, you lose four in transit. We'll find out if Kevin Wilson can find a shovel.
2014 Schedule & Results
|Record: 4-8 | Adj. Record: 7-5 | Final F/+ Rk: 88|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|13-Sep||at Bowling Green||98||42-45||L||77%||17.2||96%|
|22-Nov||at Ohio State||1||27-42||L||53%||1.9||11%|
|Points Per Game||25.1||90||32.8||102|
2. ...and then it all collapsed
With about 13 minutes left in the first half of the sixth game, Indiana's 2014 campaign was already disappointing. The sweet taste of the Missouri upset was made bitter by both an unlikely loss at Bowling Green (IU averaged 7.5 yards per play to BGSU's 5.1 and won the turnover battle but blew five scoring opportunities with three turnovers on downs, a lost fumble, and a missed field goal) and a dreadful post-Mizzou performance against Maryland. The Hoosiers were 3-2, but it should have been 4-1, and the Maryland game proved the floor was still awfully low.
Thanks to a pick six, Indiana allowed three touchdowns in three minutes in falling behind Iowa, 21-0, in Iowa City. But the Hoosiers were down just 28-14 and driving when quarterback Nate Sudfeld injured his shoulder. Freshman Chris Covington came in and went 3-for-12 with two picks, and despite an absurd performance from Tevin Coleman (15 carries, 219 yards, three scores), they came up short, 45-29.
The next week, an inspired team fought well against Michigan State with a different freshman quarterback (Zander Diamont, who went 5-for-15 with 11 yards and four sacks). Coleman rushed for 132 yards, and the defense held MSU in check before tipping over in the fourth quarter.
Without Sudfeld, there was no ready-made successor, and everybody knew it. After a solid first half against Michigan State, the team began to look hopeless.
- Average Percentile Performance (first 7 games): 59% (record: 3-4)
- Average Percentile Performance (next 3 games): 7% (record: 0-3)
- Average Percentile Performance (last 2 games): 52% (record: 1-1)
If there was a silver lining, it's that the Hoosiers rebounded. After playing three of the worst games imaginable -- yards per play against Michigan, Penn State, and Rutgers (all teams outside of the F/+ top 40): Opponent 5.9, Indiana 4.3 -- the Hoosiers got their legs back. Coleman rushed for 228 against Ohio State, and Indiana led the eventual national champion by six late in the third before Buckeye Jalin Marshall (four touchdowns in 15 minutes) went crazy. In the season finale, IU scored 23 second-half points to take down rival Purdue.
If 2015 ends up a happier tale, we'll look back to the final two games of last year as the start of the rebound. But Coleman is now an Atlanta Falcon, which means IU gets Sudfeld back just in time to lose its security blanket.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||39.4%||92||Succ. Rt. +||100.8||67|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||30.9||86||Def. FP+||100.0||65|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.4||72||Redzone S&P+||88.0||105|
|Q1 Rk||47||1st Down Rk||37|
|Q2 Rk||106||2nd Down Rk||31|
|Q3 Rk||81||3rd Down Rk||84|
3. Life in a post-Tevin universe
When Sudfeld went down, Indiana's offense bottomed out, and it did so despite the presence of one of the most incredible college running backs of the early 21st century. Coleman turned a crease into an interstate with regularity in his three seasons; most of Indiana's exciting moments involved Coleman, who was more impressive in the open field than even Melvin Gordon.
Coleman was a security blanket, able to craft yards out of what was otherwise decent execution, and his absence will force everybody else to pick up the slack.
On paper, the IU offense still has quite a bit going for it. The Hoosiers get Sudfeld back. Sudfeld was strong in four of his six appearances last year -- against BGSU, Missouri, North Texas, and Iowa, he completed 68 percent, gaining 12 yards per completion, with six touchdowns and one pick. He was less impressive against Indiana State and Maryland, but he's showed his ceiling is pretty high.
Sudfeld has athletes around him. UAB transfer Jordan Howard rushed for nearly 1,600 yards last year; his explosiveness is mortal compared to Coleman's, but it's strong for his size (6'1, 225). But he has to beat out Devine Redding; Redding was semi-efficient, and to the eyes, he appears to have more explosiveness than he got a chance to prove.
And between sophomores Dominique Booth and Marqui Hawkins and a few incoming freshman, IU boasts quite a few former four- or high-three-star recruits in the receiving corps. The youth is scary, but in theory, there is enough athleticism for Wilson to figure out how to move the ball if Sudfeld remains healthy.
Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Nate Sudfeld||6'5, 240||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8759||101||167||1151||6||3||60.5%||8||4.6%||6.3|
|Zander Diamont||6'1, 173||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7917||64||132||515||1||4||48.5%||16||10.8%||2.7|
|Nate Boudreau||6'4, 223||Jr.||NR||NR|
|Danny Cameron||6'1, 204||RSFr.||NR||0.8400|
|Austin King||6'2, 190||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8535|
|RB||6'1, 225||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7956||306||1587||13||5.2||5.0||38.2%||2||2|
|Zander Diamont||QB||6'1, 173||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7917||39||248||2||6.4||9.2||41.0%||4||1|
|Devine Redding||RB||5'10, 195||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8478||29||118||1||4.1||3.2||37.9%||1||0|
|Nate Sudfeld||QB||6'5, 240||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8759||28||147||2||5.3||2.7||53.6%||0||0|
|J-Shun Harris II||WR||5'8, 170||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7733||4||3||0||0.8||1.6||25.0%||2||1|
|Tommy Mister||RB||6'0, 208||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8569|
|Devonte Williams||RB||5'10, 170||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8488|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|J-Shun Harris II||WR||5'8, 170||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7733||30||18||168||60.0%||10.1%||70.0%||5.6||-53||5.1||18.8|
|Simmie Cobbs, Jr.||WR||6'4, 215||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8256||19||7||114||36.8%||6.4%||42.1%||6.0||17||5.8||12.7|
|Dominique Booth||WR||6'1, 208||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9050||19||8||70||42.1%||6.4%||47.4%||3.7||-36||3.9||7.8|
|Michael Cooper||TE||6'5, 257||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8488||9||2||25||22.2%||3.0%||55.6%||2.8||-8||2.9||2.8|
|Ricky Jones||WR||5'10, 185||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7800||8||3||58||37.5%||2.7%||25.0%||7.3||17||8.4||6.5|
|Anthony Corsaro||TE||6'3, 250||Sr.||NR||NR||8||5||39||62.5%||2.7%||25.0%||4.9||-22||6.4||4.4|
|Jordan Fuchs||TE||6'6, 233||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8248||8||3||31||37.5%||2.7%||62.5%||3.9||-10||4.1||3.5|
|Danny Friend||TE||6'5, 261||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8425|
|Isaac Griffith||WR||6'0, 190||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8222|
|Marqui Hawkins (UAB)||WR||6'2, 217||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8707|
|Camion Patrick||WR||6'2, 210||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8644|
|Leon Thornton III||WR||6'1, 195||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8622|
|Isaac James||WR||5'11, 180||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8563|
|Mike Majette||WR||5'10, 195||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8517|
|Nick Westbrook||WR||6'3, 205||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8347|
4. The youth are taking over, ready or not
Indiana had to replace four of its top five receivers in 2014; they combined for 169 catches in 2013, and heading into last season, only Shane Wynn and Tevin Coleman had more than 14. Now Wynn, Coleman, and Nick Stoner (combined: 103 catches) are gone, too.
You can usually see the double-dips coming, and you have time to prepare. Three freshmen got their feet wet last year: J-Shun Harris II, Simmie Cobbs Jr., and Dominique Booth were targeted a combined 68 times, and while they didn't do much (33 catches, 352 yards), they got reps. [Update: Harris is out for the season with a knee injury.] Wilson supplemented them with another UAB transfer (Marqui Hawkins, who committed to Florida out of high school), a few three-star sophomores, and four three-star February signees.
Wilson has one of the most proven offensive minds in college football. He's crafted strong offenses out of less than this, and with Sudfeld running the show, I expect the Hoosiers to move the ball. But 2014 showed that even a great coach will struggle if he doesn't have the right personnel.
The Indiana skill position corps should be awesome in 2016-17. But Sudfeld will have to be spectacular if the Hoosiers are going to get back into the Off. S&P+ top 40 this year. Top 60 is a more realistic goal.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Jason Spriggs||LT||6'7, 305||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8407||34|
|Dan Feeney||RG||6'4, 305||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8444||24|
|Ralston Evans||RT||6'4, 290||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8322||22|
|Jake Reed||C||6'4, 288||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8469||11|
|Jacob Bailey||RG||6'5, 298||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8342||5|
|Dimitric Camiel||LG||6'7, 319||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7900||4|
|Wes Rogers||C||6'4, 300||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8631||3|
|DeAndre Herron||RG||6'5, 305||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8285||0|
|Tim Gardner||RT||6'5, 310||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8000|
|Delroy Baker||LT||6'6, 305||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8409|
|Wes Martin||LG||6'3, 310||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8060|
|Brandon Knight||OL||6'5, 265||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8600|
|Hunter Littlejohn||OL||6'3, 285||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8513|
5. Thinning out the herd
Because a couple younger players overtook veteran starters, IU's line finished 2014 with a unique level of experience. Eight players had started at least nine games, and another three had started at least three.
So now for another unique experience: Indiana loses four starters up front and returns four starters.
It's hard to know how good the Indiana line actually was. The Hoosiers ranked well in opportunity rate, but Coleman was able to create opportunities out of very little. Meanwhile, the passing downs sack rates were awful, but we know that had so much to do with wide-eyed freshman Zander Diamont spending half of the season behind center.
Whatever level of quality the line achieved, I would expect it to do a little bit better this year. The rushing stats will regress without Coleman, and the sack stats will improve with Sudfeld.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||40.7%||60||Succ. Rt. +||99.9||63|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||28.8||95||Off. FP+||97.0||99|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||5.0||118||Redzone S&P+||102.9||51|
|Q1 Rk||28||1st Down Rk||98|
|Q2 Rk||88||2nd Down Rk||94|
|Q3 Rk||100||3rd Down Rk||118|
6. They couldn't get off the field
Granted, the bar for defensive improvement was low, but Indiana absolutely improved.
The progress came in fits and starts -- for every step forward, there was a shove backwards (8 yards per play against Michigan State and, perhaps most damningly, 6.3 against Michigan), and the defense lost its edge when it was clear the offense wasn't going to get the job done, but the Hoosiers both made and prevented more plays under new defensive coordinator Brian Knorr.
The biggest improvement came in the prevention of big pass plays. The Hoosiers were among the nation's worst in 2013, ranking 123rd in Passing IsoPPP+ and allowing 15 passes of 40-plus yards (118th). In 2014, they improved to 66th in Passing IsoPPP+ and allowed just seven 40-plus passes (32nd). The cornerback trio of Tim Bennett, Michael Hunter, and Rashard Fant was solid, and safeties Antonio Allen, Mark Murphy, and Chase Dutra did well in over-the-top defense and play-making (combined: eight tackles for loss, seven interceptions, eight break-ups). [Update: Allen was dismissed from the team.]
That said, there were plenty of glitches. Big run plays were an issue. Open-field tackling was still a concern. The defense simply couldn't close out drives.
Indiana still would have beaten Bowling Green despite blowing scoring opportunities if they had been able to get off of the field -- BGSU converted seven third downs and two fourth downs and stayed on the field for 113 exhausting plays. And due in part to the lack of effective blitzing, opposing quarterbacks found they didn't need to go long to move the ball; they could just go short. Indiana allowed a 61.6 percent completion rate, 97th in the country.
Indiana improved at havoc and play prevention, but when the Hoosiers got the dagger in their hands, they dropped said dagger. And now they have to replace their only decent pass rusher and three of the six primary contributors in the secondary.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Nick Mangieri||DE||6'5, 270||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8575||12||28.0||4.1%||2.0||2.0||1||2||0||0|
|Nate Hoff||NT||6'2, 300||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7500||12||22.5||3.3%||8.5||3.5||0||0||0||0|
|Darius Latham||DT||6'5, 305||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9113||12||20.0||2.9%||5.5||1.5||0||3||0||0|
|Ralph Green III||NT||6'5, 315||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8003||11||15.0||2.2%||4.5||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Shawn Heffern||DE||6'6, 275||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8407||12||12.5||1.8%||1.5||0.0||0||2||0||0|
|Adarius Rayner||DT||6'2, 300||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7333||12||9.0||1.3%||2.5||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Patrick Dougherty||DT||6'5, 285||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7947|
|Nick Carovillano||DE||6'4, 241||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8464|
|Mike Barwick, Jr.||DT||6'0, 290||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8482|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|T.J. Simmons||MLB||6'0, 233||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8104||12||59.0||8.7%||6.5||2.0||0||0||2||1|
|Tegray Scales||MLB||6'0, 220||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8766||12||37.5||5.5%||4.5||2.0||3||1||0||0|
|Marcus Oliver (2013)||WLB||6'1, 238||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8009||11||29.0||3.9%||2.5||0.0||0||0||2||0|
|Zack Shaw||BANDIT||6'3, 252||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8658||12||20.0||2.9%||4.5||1.5||0||1||0||0|
|Clyde Newton||SLB||6'1, 230||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8182||12||12.5||1.8%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Greg Gooch||WLB||6'2, 250||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8422||12||8.5||1.2%||1.5||0.0||1||1||0||0|
|Chris Covington||LB||6'2, 225||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7000|
|Dameon Willis, Jr.||SLB||6'1, 225||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8342|
|Nile Sykes||BANDIT||6'2, 242||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8722|
|Omari Stringer||LB||6'4, 205||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8271|
7. There's a lot to like about this front seven
Rushing the passer was an issue in 2014 and very well could be again this fall. Only one defender logged more than 3.5 sacks (end Bobby Richardson), and he's gone. When your leading sacks guy is a nose tackle (sophomore Nate Hoff), that is probably a problem.
That said, there were quite a few freshmen and sophomores in the rotation last year, and IU still managed to play reasonably efficient run defense. Big plays were an issue at times, but Indiana was able to attack the interior of an opposing line rather well, and it resulted in a lot of run stops in the backfield.
Thirteen Hoosiers had at least 2.5 non-sack tackles for loss, which means Knorr had the athletes he needed and knew how to deceive blockers with them.
Despite the occasional big run, opponents knew patient passing was the safest plan, and it shows in the run-pass percentages above: opponents threw on IU 4.5 percent more than the national average on standard downs and 8.5 percent more on passing downs. They did not fear the pass rush like they feared run stuffs.
And considering the returning personnel, that will probably be the case again. Of the 13 two-point-fivers, eight are back, and the Hoosiers are still trying to figure out who've they've got to attack the passer. Maybe Nick Mangieri's change from OLB to defensive end reaps benefits? Maybe a youngster -- Nick Carovillano? Nile Sykes? Dameon Willis? Greg Gooch? -- finds a pass-rushing niche?
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Antonio Allen||FS||5'10, 205||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8963||12||59.5||8.7%||3.5||1||2||1||0||0|
|Chase Dutra||SS||6'1, 205||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8356||12||30.0||4.4%||2||0||3||5||1||0|
|Rashard Fant||CB||5'10, 175||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8862||12||22.0||3.2%||0||0||0||5||0||0|
|Donovan Clark||CB||5'10, 180||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8382||12||16.5||2.4%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Tony Fields||FS||5'11, 205||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8435||12||11.5||1.7%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Kenny Mullen (2013)||CB||5'10, 180||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8186||12||7.0||0.9%||1||1||0||2||0||0|
|Kiante Walton||SS||6'2, 206||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8056||12||7.0||1.0%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Laray Smith||CB||6'0, 188||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8557|
|Noel Padmore||CB||5'11, 180||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8218|
|Will Dawkins||S||5'11, 198||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8625|
|Tyler Green||DB||6'2, 190||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8668|
8. Blank slate at corner
Antonio Allen was just a sophomore last year, and Chase Dutra was just a freshman. [Update: Allen was dismissed from the team.] That IU was able to prevent big pass plays with young safeties is an encouraging sign, even if then-senior Mark Murphy also played a role. Throw in mid-three-star sophomore Tony Fields, and it appears the Hoosiers have both potential and production in what is still a pretty young set of safeties.
But IU ranked in the 90s in Passing Success Rate+ last year, and that was with two good corners in Tim Bennett and Michael Hunter.
Bennett graduated, and Hunter transferred to Oklahoma State, and they leave behind a hefty set of sophomores. Rashard Fant was one of the most highly-touted recruits of the Wilson era and showed a high ceiling in breaking up five passes as the No. 3 corner, so perhaps he's ready to take on Big Ten No. 1s. But Indiana still needs another corner, and players like Donovan Clark, Laray Smith, and Noel Padmore are mostly unknowns. The return of backup Kenny Mullen after injury will help, and the upside is clear, but with pass rush woes unlikely to be solved, these young cornerbacks are going to be asked to do a lot.
|Erich Toth||6'3, 208||Sr.||77||40.7||7||34||18||67.5%|
|Griffin Oakes||5'10, 197||So.||43||62.6||21||4||48.8%|
|Aaron Del Grosso||5'10, 196||So.||14||57.4||6||2||42.9%|
|Griffin Oakes||5'10, 197||So.||23-23||9-11||81.8%||4-7||57.1%|
|Aaron Del Grosso||5'10, 196||So.||12-12||1-3||33.3%||0-1||0.0%|
|J-Shun Harris II||KR||5'8, 170||So.||19||20.6||0|
|J-Shun Harris II||0|
|Special Teams F/+||89|
|Field Goal Efficiency||60|
|Punt Return Efficiency||94|
|Kick Return Efficiency||66|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||79|
9. Shore up those coverage units
In theory, with a good run defense and the return of Sudfeld, Indiana could have the efficiency to do well in field position. But special teams has to help out more.
Returns were below average, and while kickoffs and place-kicking improved when Griffin Oakes overtook Aaron Del Grosso, punt coverage was abysmal. Despite Erich Toth averaging nearly 41 yards per punt and eliciting fair catches as often as not, any return opportunity went a long way. Toth had 34 fair catches, but opponents still managed five returns of 20-plus yards (116th in the country) and averaged 10.8 yards per return overall (108th). Shore this up and get a little more out of return man J-Shun Harris II [Update: Again, Harris is out for the year.], and you're in business.
2015 Schedule & Projection Factors
|Date||Opponent||2014 F/+ Rk|
|26-Sep||at Wake Forest||101|
|10-Oct||at Penn State||45|
|24-Oct||at Michigan State||11|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-15.1% (89)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||54 / 55|
|2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin*||-2 / -3.0|
|2014 TO Luck/Game||+0.4|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||11 (6, 5)|
|2014 Second-order wins (difference)||5.1 (-1.1)|
10. If the Hoosiers aren't bowling this year...
"But ultimately it's the scoreboard and the total wins and losses. It's all justification and coffee talk until you're winning seven and eight and nine and 10. We haven't won as much as we like for the players and fans. But we're getting better and more competitive and confident. Now that has to translate to making the play." [...]
"We're a work in progress. But we're definitely working and definitely progressing."
The plan went off course. Indiana took multiples steps forward in 2012 and 2013, but injuries poked a hole in the most vulnerable area of the depth chart (quarterback), and outside of Tevin Coleman, not enough skill guys stepped up. And while the defense improved, it didn't improve enough to offset drastic regression.
You can see how Indiana rebounds. There are holes at cornerback and in the pass rush, but IU could make progress on defense -- the run defense in particular should be strong -- and with Sudfeld, a decent line, and a couple of interesting running backs, you can talk yourself into the Hoosiers improving on offense. They won't reach 2013 levels, but 2012 levels (44th in Off. S&P+) aren't out of reach if a couple of young receivers emerge.
The question is, will this be enough? Will the young receivers prevent serious growth? And how high can the defensive ceiling be when the pass defense might not improve?
The schedule will help. Indiana only plays two teams that ranked better than 45th in F/+ and five that, like IU, ranked worse than 80th; if the Hoosiers can bounce back into the No. 60-75 range, there are wins on the table. Get to six, and maybe the program gets its juice back.
But if this ends up another 4-8 or 5-7 campaign, and IU heads into 2016 having to replace Sudfeld, it becomes a lot more difficult to see Wilson pulling Indiana out of the wreckage he inherited.