- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Our Best Case/Worst Case series continues today with Indiana, which experienced pretty close to a worst-case scenario in 2011 by going winless against FBS competition. Can the Hoosiers expect better things in 2012? Let's review their best and worst outlooks.
As the old adage goes, the best thing about freshmen is they become sophomores. And Indiana played more freshmen last year than any major-conference school in the country. So things understandably get better this fall. The offense improves as multi-talented Tre Roberson figures things out his second year at quarterback, surrounded by more depth at running back and a stable corps of receivers. New offensive coordinator Seth Littrell airs it out, and the Hoosiers average more than 28 points per game. Meanwhile, the defense takes baby steps forward, helped by junior college imports Jacarri Alexander and David Cooper at linebacker and veterans Adam Replogle and Larry Black up front.
The Hoosiers start to get some positive publicity with a 3-0 start against a manageable schedule that includes games at home against Indiana State and Ball State and a road trip to UMass. They ride that momentum to a surprising upset at Northwestern in the Big Ten opener, as Roberson throws for 400 yards in a 51-49 shootout. IU comes back to earth the following two weeks against Michigan State and Ohio State but manages to win at Navy on Oct. 20 in another high-scoring contest. Suddenly, bowl eligibility is on the horizon. After a disappointing four-game losing streak, the Hoosiers get to 6-6 by winning at Purdue in the regular-season finale, bringing the Old Oaken Bucket back to Bloomington and clinching a trip to the Little Caesars Bowl. No one has ever been happier to see a Little Caesars in Detroit than hungry Hoosiers fans.
There's a reason Kevin Wilson played so many freshmen last year, and why more freshmen are getting long looks in training camp right now: Indiana's roster just isn't where it needs to be. So even though the team makes progress, it still remains a long way from competing in the Big Ten, especially on defense. Roberson struggles under a new coordinator, and a three-way quarterback controversy develops just like last year as Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld battle for playing time. The Hoosiers' offensive line doesn't offer much in the way of protection, and opponents dice up Indiana's defense for a second straight season.
Wilson's team wins the opener against Indiana State on a last-second field goal but loses at UMass and falls to Ball State for a second straight year, meaning Indiana is no better than the fourth-best college football team in its own state. The Hoosiers give up 150 points total in losses to Northwestern, Michigan State and Ohio State and are thoroughly befuddled by Navy's option game in another defeat. The only home games remaining are against Iowa and Wisconsin, so prospects for another victory are bleak. IU staggers into the season-ending game against Purdue and gets blown out before watching the Boilermakers celebrate a surprise Leaders Division championship on the Ross-Ade Stadium field. A second straight 1-11 season makes Wilson 0-22 against FBS competition, putting him on the hottest of hot seats in 2013.
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