July 8, 2014

Indiana believes best days are coming soon

Indiana football doesn't have any problems scoring these days, under offensive-minded head coach Kevin Wilson. The problem involves giving up 38.8 points for every 38.4 scored, and changing that dynamic could make a big difference.

State of the Program

The Hoosiers have some work to do before reaching the historical elite, according to Matt Weaver of Peegs.com, the Rivals.com Indiana website. In fact, Indiana would have to change history, after decades of bottom-half finishes.

Wilson brought some fireworks and hope, but it's not a quick or easy process, Weaver acknowledged.

"Everybody knows the history of Indiana football," he said. "They've just never been very successful. They've had a lot of losing seasons, and it's not something you're going to turn around in one or two years. I know that's what fans want, but in football, it's just not possible.

"It's going to take three or four recruiting classes. He's starting to get those recruiting classes under him. They've recruited well the last couple of years."

The results are beginning so show as well. The Hoosiers jumped from one win to four victories two years ago, to five in 2013. According to Weaver, it could have been more.

"Quite honestly, they were probably a seven- or eight-win team, if they just had a defense," he noted. "If they even have a bad defense, they win seven or eight games. They had the worst defense in the Big Ten in the last 30 years."

That prompted a change, the Hoosiers bringing in former Wake Forest defensive coordinator Brian Knorr. If he can shave a little off Indiana's average of 38.8 points surrendered per game in 2013, the victories can pile up, Weaver insisted.

"They had a good defense at Wake Forest [No. 38 in the nation in 2013]," Weaver said. "If he gets anywhere near that this year, they'll go to a bowl game. Under Kevin Wilson, you don't worry about offense."

If Indiana doesn't produce a winning season in 2014, its fan base might begin to rumble a bit, Weaver noted. He believes, though, the pieces are in place for a bowl season.

The Michigan Game

Indiana again must travel north to play the Wolverines on the road. There should be some repeat fireworks, following Michigan's wild 63-47 shootout win in The Big House last season.

"Indiana can score on almost anybody," Weaver said. "I'd think it will be another game where there will be a lot of points scored. Last year, that's a game where if Indiana does anything defensively, they've got a chance to win that game.

"They score 47, and lose by two touchdowns. You can't score 47 and still lose by two scores. That's unacceptable.

"I know Michigan has made a change up there with their offensive coordinator. The guy they brought in is pretty renowned. Indiana's offense will keep it in a lot of games. It comes down to this: can it get some stops?"

Weaver does question whether Indiana might suffer a slight drop-off in the passing game. Wideout Cody Latimer bolted early for the NFL, getting drafted by Denver in the second round. Kofi Hughes left after his senior season, and tight end Ted Bolser is also gone.

"They have talent at receiver; it's just young," Weaver noted. "You wonder how long it will take for some of these guys to get up to speed and produce. You won't have the big-time star like you had in Cody Latimer.

"Shane Wynn will be good, and the running game should be good. The O-line is basically all back. They played a lot of guys they didn't expect to play last year because of injury. The projected starters at right guard and right tackle did not take one snap last year, because of injury.

"By the time they played Michigan, they were down to their third- or fourth-string right guard and second-string right tackle."

Nate Sudfeld is back at quarterback, but he won't be supplemented by Tre Roberson, who bolted for greener pastures.

"It's a loss," Weaver said. "He had a good game up there against Michigan. He made some plays. Sudfeld was probably still going to be the starter this year, but Tre was that change-up guy."

Best- And Worst-Case Scenarios

The best and worst for the Hoosiers could swing as many as five games, according to Weaver. He's looking for something on the higher side.

"It all depends on the defense," he said. "If the defense makes a monumental leap and goes top 50 or top 60, eight or nine wins is very possible.

"You look at the schedule. Going to Ohio State will be tough, even if Indiana plays its 'A' game. They went up to Michigan last year and played pretty well, had a chance in that game. They can do that again. Michigan State is going to be a tough game, although Indiana gets them at home. They go to Iowa.

"At Missouri in the non-conference is tough. Eight or nine, if things fall right. Nine wins would take a lot of breaks, and they'd have to play really good defense."

The worst-case scenario would likely involve an injury to Sudfeld, Weaver noted. If that happens, look out.

"They could go four or five wins, three in the non-conference and maybe one in the Big Ten," he said. "They'd be in a little bit of trouble. They have some young guys at quarterback, but they've never taken a snap, and that's not a recipe for success in the Big Ten.

"If they lose him for any period of time, they could be in trouble. I would say four or five wins is probably the low end."

Offensive Players To Watch

Running Back Tevin Coleman: Coleman came up with 958 yards on the ground and a 7.3 per-carry average in 2013, despite missing the final three games of the season with a high-ankle sprain.

"He's a very good, explosive player," Weaver said. "He's a guy to watch for sure."

Quarterback Nate Sudfeld: Sudfeld threw for 2,523 yards and 21 touchdowns a year ago, completing 60.2 percent of his passes. He'll be running the show completely this time around, with Roberson gone.

"He's now the guy," Weaver said. "It's 100 percent his offense. It will be interesting to see how he grasps that role. I think he'll be fine. Nate's a very mature kid. He's very level-headed, confident, works hard.

"It's whether the other players come along with him. At wide receiver and tight end, they're going to be talented but young. It will be interesting to see how the passing game comes along."

Defensive Players To Watch

Defensive Lineman Darius Latham: Latham posted a pair of sacks and three tackles-for-loss among 22 stops last year, with a fumble recovery and three pass breakups. He's an increasingly imposing presence on the Hoosiers' front wall.

"He was a big-time recruit out of Indianapolis who originally committed to Wisconsin," Weaver said. "He was a pretty good basketball player, a really good athlete who looked tremendous in the spring.

"He's got a chance to play at the next level, if he keeps improving. He's 6-5, 320, and athletic. He's got great feet, from playing basketball."

Defensive Back Tim Bennett: Bennett was fourth on the Indiana roster last year with 73 tackles, including 3.5 tackles-for-loss. He picked off one pass but broke up 20, the leader by far in the Hoosiers' secondary.

"He led the nation in pass breakups last year," Weaver noted. "He had a pretty good season. Against Michigan, he had a tough game. The entire Indiana secondary had a tough game that day.

"He's a guy who played corner for the first time last year and was pretty solid. It will be interesting to see how much better he is this year, and whether he can give them that lock-down guy on one side of the field."

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