Big Ten Football Preview: Indiana

Story posted August 29, 2013 in Sports, CommRadio by Bradford Conners

2012 was a tale of two seasons for the Indiana Hoosiers. Kevin Wilson’s squad got off to a respectable 4-5 start and impressively kept pace with its most formidable opponent, before falling to Ohio State in a 52-49 shootout. However, the wheels came off at the end of the season, as the Hoosiers lost their final three games by an average of 34 points.

Having finished the 2012 campaign with a 4-8 record, Indiana extended its bowl drought to five straight seasons. Despite finishing in the bottom half of the Big Ten standings yet again, there is some cautious optimism in Bloomington as the 2013 season approaches. The key cogs of a high-octane offensive attack from a season ago will be back, but Indiana will have to make some major improvements defensively in order to end the Big Ten’s longest bowl-less streak.

Offense

There weren’t a ton of bright spots for the Hoosiers in 2012, but their effectiveness on the offensive side of the ball was certainly one of them. Behind a pass-heavy attack, Indiana posted 30.8 points per game a season ago---good enough for fourth in the Big Ten---and also finished second in the conference with 442 yards of offense per game. The Hoosiers accumulated more than 70% of their yardage through the air last season, but the only question that remains is who will be taking the snaps once the season gets underway.

Cameron Coffman was Indiana’s starter last season, but the junior signal caller faces challenges from sophomores Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson for the starting job. Although Coffman was second in the Big Ten in passing yards per game last year, he also tossed 11 interceptions to go along with his 15 touchdowns. Sudfield notched 7 touchdowns to just one interception in 2012, and Roberson threw for two scores and was picked off once, while also adding three scores on the ground.

Whoever prevails in the quarterback battle will be surrounded by familiar faces in the huddle, as the team’s three leading rushers and two leading receivers all return in 2013. The go-to targets will likely be junior Cody Latimer, who led Indiana with 805 receiving yards and 15.8 yards per catch last season, and junior Shane Wynn, who hauled in a team-high 68 passes in 2012.

Senior running back Stephen Houston paced the Hoosiers with 749 yards and 12 TDs on the ground a year ago, but sophomore Tevin Coleman and junior D’Angelo Roberts are expected to get their share of carries as well. Indiana gained nearly 7 yards per pass attempt but only 4 yards per rushing attempt last season, so Kevin Wilson will hope that his running back corps can take a step forward in 2013 to lure defenders closer to the line of scrimmage and open up even more space for the passing game to operate.

Defense

To say that the Hoosiers’ defense struggled mightily in 2012 is an understatement. Indiana allowed 35.2 points and 464 yards per game last season, both of which were worst in the Big Ten by a fairly large margin. The Hoosiers surrendered 40 or more points in half of their 12 games, and they gave up at least 30 points on eight different occasions. They were especially exploited on the ground, allowing 231 rushing yards per game on 5 yards per carry.

The good news for Indiana is that eight of its defensive starters are back in the fray this season, but a big void has been left up the middle following the departure of defensive tackles Adam Replogle and Larry Black, who led the team in sacks and tackles for loss last year. This is a major concern for a team that had such difficulty stopping the run even with these two players in the line-up. Defensive coordinator Doug Mallory will have his work cut out for him in 2013. The Hoosiers aren’t going to win games with their defense, but the unit will need to be better this time around if Indiana has any chance of going bowling.

Overview

Indiana will play eight games at home and four on the road in 2013, and a favorable schedule could potentially end up being the difference-maker in its quest for a six-win season. The Hoosiers will likely be sizable underdogs in their four road contests (Michigan State, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio State), but six home wins isn’t outside the realm of possibility.

In the nonconference season, Indiana will match up with Indiana State, Navy, Bowling Green, and Missouri. The Hoosiers should be able to knock off their in-state rival from the FCS, but the next three games will be trickier. Navy and Bowling Green were both 8-5 last season, and Missouri went 5-7 but played in the nation’s best conference. Though wins won’t be easy to come by in those three contests, each of those games is winnable, and Indiana will probably need to take at least 2 out of 3 to realistically keep its bowl hopes alive.

A 3-1 nonconference record and an 0-4 Big Ten road record would mean that the Hoosiers would need to go 3-1 at home in conference games, and a relatively easy home schedule could give them an opportunity to do so. A home date with Penn State may be difficult, but the three other Big Ten teams that will visit Memorial Stadium this season---Minnesota, Illinois, and Purdue---all posted  sub-.500 records in 2012.

For those who enjoy high-scoring affairs, there is little doubt that Indiana is the team to watch in the Big Ten. Though the defense is still a major concern, last year’s learning experience for a young team could pay dividends on both sides of the ball this season, and it should at least give the Hoosiers a chance to finally go bowling again in 2013.

Bradford Conners is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email btc5082@psu.edu.