- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana led the Big Ten in passing yards last year, and by a pretty wide margin. But receiver Kofi Hughes says the Hoosiers could have done so much more.
"After last year, I thought as receivers we were balling," Hughes told ESPN.com. "But then I looked at the film and was like, 'Oh my gosh, we really weren't that good at all.
"We finished No. 1 in the Big Ten, but what a lot of people don't know is that we left so many plays and so many yards on the field. This year, we want to blow it out of the water."
That could very well happen. While much of the focus this spring centered on the three experienced quarterbacks battling for the starting job, perhaps not enough attention was paid to the guys who will be catching the ball. Indiana -- yes, Indiana -- boasts the most productive group of returning receivers in the league.
Non-believers, you can check the stats. Cody Latimer, Hughes and Shane Wynn finished No. 2, No. 6 and No. 8 in the league, respectively, in receiving yards per game in 2012. Throw in tight end Ted Bolser, who had 41 grabs for 445 yards last season, along with some emerging young players, and no Big Ten team has more weapons right now in the passing game.
"On the outside, we've got some big bodies, which are good targets," quarterback Cameron Coffman said. "And on the inside, we've got small, quick guys who can get open in space."
Leading the way on the perimeter are Latimer and Hughes, who have developed into two of the best wideouts in the Big Ten despite being lightly recruited for their current roles.
Coming out of Dayton, Ohio, the 6-foot-3 Latimer received more interest from colleges as a defensive back or linebacker. But he always wanted to play receiver, and he said he bonded with Hughes and Duwyce Wilson on his IU visit. He knew the Hoosiers had a history of throwing the ball and he loved watching Oklahoma receiver Ryan Broyles. When Indiana hired former Sooners offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson as head coach, he knew he'd made the right choice to go to Bloomington.
The 6-foot-2 Hughes was the 2009 Gatorade Indiana player of the year who led Indianapolis Cathedral to a state title as a quarterback. He was labeled an athlete, and colleges didn't quite know what to make of him. Hughes said he was asked to play defensive back at an Ohio State camp, a position he'd never even lined up at before. He eventually took his only scholarship offer, to IU. He decided to play receiver in college simply because he saw an opening for early playing time.
"I was hard-headed and wanted to play as a true freshman," the senior said. "I was horrible my freshman year, a very sloppy route-runner. I could have probably redshirted and waited, and who knows what would have happened?"
What has happened is the two have become close friends -- and big-time players. Latimer led the team with 805 receiving yards and six touchdowns on 51 catches last year, while Hughes had 639 yards and three touchdowns on 43 receptions. They each made a pact this offseason to be bluntly honest and critical about the other's performance. Here's what they had to say about each other:
Latimer on Hughes: "He's very smart. When you go into the film room, he can tell you everything that's going on. He even gives the coaches ideas."
Hughes on Latimer: "He makes competitive catches. He's so strong. I don't know how the ball always stays in his hands, like whether it hits his shoulder and rolls into his hands or what. But every time you throw it to Cody, he's going to catch it."
Wynn, at just 5-foot-7, completes the lead triumvirate of Hoosier targets. The spark plug in the slot caught a team-best 68 balls last season for 660 yards and six scores. Hughes said Wynn is deceptively strong and wasn't afraid to lower his shoulder into a defender to gain extra yards this spring.
As good as Latimer and Hughes are on the outside, Indiana might have even more options in the middle of the field with the emergence this spring of Isaiah Roundtree and Tevin Coleman to go along with Wynn.
"All three of those guys can play anywhere from the backfield to the slots," offensive coordinator Seth Littrell said. "I think we can create a lot of different matchups that way. If people want to play us man to man, fine. We can always get those guys in the backfield versus a linebacker."
And if all the Hoosiers receivers live up to their potential, they might just blow things out of the water in 2013.
1dDan Murphy and Mitch Sherman
1dSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information
2dMitch Sherman and Dan Murphy