Indiana University's Cream and Crimson Spring Game is on Saturday. If you're interested, the action kicks off from Memorial Stadium at 3:00pm. The Spring Game should be a fun scrimmage that will get Hoosiers fans excited for the team and for the upcoming season. I won't be in town for the game; however, this gives me an opportunity to rehash some of the major storylines for IU football going into the 2014 campaign.
Is Kevin Wilson on the hot seat?
I think he should be, even though I'm generally happy with the direction the program is moving. In the three years that Wilson has been at IU, the team has been gradually improving, from 1-11 to 4-8 to 5-7 last season. In 2011, IU couldn't even beat a single FBS school; last year, we had three B1G wins, including the first-ever win over Penn State in IU's history.
That being said, I think that if Wilson doesn't get us to a bowl game this season, it may be time to move on. This season, Wilson will now have four of his own full recruiting classes in Bloomington, and what was a young team last year is continuing to mature. As a head coach, Wilson needs to mature along with them - last year the decision-making on playcalls was sometimes puzzling, and although the team could be deadly from the hurry-up offense, it looked sluggish when teams wanted to slow them down. Because they have suffered some painful nail-biter games recently (Minnesota in the closing seconds last year comes to mind), the Hoosiers have to prove they are pull out some close victories if they wish to get a bowl berth this season. I don't think six wins and a bowl berth are too high expectations either.
We have a new Defensive Coordinator in Brian Knorr. What's his story, and how can he fix our defense?
Here's a quick stat to show how bad our defense was last year. IU's defense gave up 63 points and a 751 total yards against Michigan. We let Devin Gardner pass for over 500 yards in that game. I was in Ann Arbor for that game so I remember how bad it was, even though our offense was laying waste to the Wolverines as well. Two weeks later, Michigan had negative-48 rushing yards against Michigan State, demonstrating how much work our defense had to go.
This year, former DC Doug Mallory is out, and has been replaced by Brian Knorr. Knorr spent the last six years in the same role as Wake Forest. Although the Demon Deacons' defense got torched by Clemson and Florida State last year (fair enough, as both were torching pretty much every opponent's defense), they were otherwise quite respectable, holding every other team to 28 points or less. I'm cautiously optimistic about Knorr - he had a top-40 defense at Wake, and if he can keep our points against and yards against totals down, as well as improve aspects such as stopping the run and making routine tackles, I think we could be in better shape on that side of the ball. In addition, the defense was very young last year, and will hopefully improve with experience as well.
Who are our biggest losses, and who will replace them? And where will Latimer fall in the draft?
The Hoosiers have been a young team, and last year's seniors would have been freshmen during the Bill Lynch era. As a result, the losses from last year's team were not numerous, but they were difference-makers. The Hoosiers will lose running back Stephen Houston, wide receiver Kofi Hughes, tight end Ted Bolser, kicker Mitch Ewald, and safety Greg Heban, among others, to graduation. Adding to the losses on offense is the fact that last year's offensive coordinator, Seth Littrell, has left the Hoosiers to take the same position at UNC. He was replaced in-house by Kevin Johns.
In addition, junior WR Cody Latimer has declared for the NFL Draft. In some projections, he is considered a first-round pick. Additionally, he's been linked to seven different NFL teams, so the chances that he will make a roster in the fall are pretty good. The draft is a month away, so we'll have more coverage as it gets closer, but in the meantime, head to the great SB Nation blog Mocking the Draft for more analysis.
Hughes and Latimer were the top two WRs on the team and combined for over 1,800 yards and 16 TDs. Bolser was a reliable tight end target that caught 9 TDs, and could be a late-round draft pick himself. Finally, Ewald made all 56 PATs and all but two of his field goals last year, so his productivity will also be missed.
Which players will need to step up in the wake of these losses?
Though the rushing attack loses Houston, Tevin Coleman ended up being the top rusher last year, carrying for 958 yards. Coleman, who is Noah Vonleh's cousin, is joined in the backfield by D'Angelo Roberts. Despite the other losses at WR, Shane Wynn, Nick Stoner, and Isaiah Roundtree still remain. Wynn led the team with 11 TD receptions last year, and could be poised for an even bigger season coming up.
Is there a quarterback controversy? Or can Tre Roberson and Nate Sudfeld co-exist as starters like they did last year?
Last year, Roberson and Sudfeld split time at the QB position for the Hoosiers on an ad hoc basis, with Wilson usually going with whoever had the hot hand at the time. Both bring unique skill sets to IU's spread offense, as Roberson is a dual threat to run or pass, and Sudfeld has the short passes and quick release down. During spring practice, a #1 quarterback on the depth chart still has not emerged. However, I am not too concerned, because regardless of whether a definitive starter emerges, I'm happy to know we have two QBs are are capable of moving the ball down field with ease, and we can switch it up in case things aren't going well.
Can we retain the Bucket for once?
IU has gotten into a pattern of winning the Old Oaken Bucket every three years, including 2007, 2010, and 2013. Last year's final score was 56-36, which demonstrates that we can score at will against any team and can put up as many points as the basketball team can on any given Saturday. On the flip side, we gave up 36 points to a 1-11 Purdue team whose only win was a six-point squeaker against Indiana State. 36 was also the most points the Boilermakers scored all season. Under the second year of head coach Darrell Hazell, the Boilers are poised to get better, but the rebuilding process in college football can be tedious, and right now Purdue is about at where we were in 2012. Take into account that the Bucket game will again be in Bloomington this fall, and we can hopefully get a streak started against Purdue.
What does the rest of our schedule look like? And what's the early prediction for this team? Can Indiana get its first bowl berth since 2007?
Like last year, the Hoosiers have a manageable home schedule and a brutal road schedule. The addition of the two new Big Ten members has led to some schedule quirks for this season. Out are the much-maligned Leaders and Legends divisions (about time). In are the simpler East and West names, with IU being placed in the East with traditional powerhouses Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State, as well as newbies Rutgers and Maryland. IU plays all six of them, plus West division opponents Purdue and Iowa. Nonconference opponents include Indiana State and North Texas at home, as well as Bowling Green and Missouri on the road. Also, we once again play Michigan and OSU on the road this year, while Penn State and Purdue are again home games.
Looking at the schedule, I can see the path to 6-6 and a bowl berth for this Hoosiers team. First of all, our three non-conference games other than Missouri look like wins, even if BGSU and North Texas both had good records last year. As for B1G play, Purdue and Rutgers look like potential victories, and if we could steal a home victory from Maryland or Penn State, or even a road win in Ann Arbor, then voila - we're finally going bowling again. Who cares if it's the Beef O'Brady's Bowl (which sadly no longer exists) or the Heart of Dallas Bowl or even the Rose Bowl - the Hoosiers getting to only their second bowl berth in the past 20 years would be a huge boost to the program. Let's hope it happens. IU better Win Today, as Coach Wilson always says. Otherwise it may be time for yet another change.