Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Best case-worst case: Indiana
By ESPN.com staff
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The second installment in a series examining the best and worst outcomes, within reason, for each Big Ten squad.
Better depth and better health has the folks in Bloomington asking, "Kellen, who?"
After a season where Indiana couldn't catch a break, the team gets luck back on its side and maximizes what head coach Bill Lynch feels is a deeper and more talented roster. Lynch's confidence in quarterback Ben Chappell pays off, and the junior executes the pistol offense to perfection. The pistol formation energizes Indiana's rushing attack, and heralded recruit Darius Willis blossoms to become the team's featured back. Left tackle Rodger Saffold anchors an improved offensive line, and young wideouts Damarlo Belcher and Tandon Doss torch opposing secondaries. The biggest changes come on defense, which turns the page on its dreadful past to finish in the top half of the league. Defensive ends Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton each reach double-digits in sacks, and linebacker Matt Mayberry stuffs the run. Cornerback Ray Fisher, a converted wide receiver, rediscovers himself in the secondary and records four interceptions.
The Hoosiers send an early warning shot to new Purdue head coach Danny Hope by thumping Hope's former team, Eastern Kentucky, by 30 points in the opener. A much improved defense then shuts down Tim Hiller and Western Michigan in Week 2, gaining confidence before a tricky trip to Akron. Indiana improves to 3-0 by zipping through the Zips, and shocks Michigan in the Big Ten opener for its first win at the Big House since 1967.
After keeping things close for a half against Ohio State, a 4-1 Hoosiers team heads to Charlottesville and knocks off a beatable Virginia team, pushing head coach Al Groh further out the door. Indiana then enters its toughest stretch of the season, against five teams all projected to have winning records.
Things start well,
as Mayberry sacks good friend Juice Williams four times in an upset of Illinois. Indiana drops three of its next four but secures bowl eligibility, not to mention Lynch's immediate future at the school. In the regular-season finale, the Hoosiers avenge their 52-point loss last year at rival Purdue and pound the Boilers 40-10 before a large crowd at Memorial Stadium. Several fans hold up a makeshift signs reading: "We Love Bill Lynch." Indiana continues its strong recruiting push from the summer -- the team already has 21 commits for the 2010 class -- and top players marvel at Indiana's new end zone facility.
Indiana caps a surprising season by beating Colorado in the Insight Bowl. The Hoosiers win nine games for the first time since 1967, when they captured a Big Ten title under John Pont.
The injury bug bites again, the pistol misfires and Indiana is searching for yet another coach by November.
Indiana isn't nearly as deep as Lynch thinks and Chappell struggles as the full-time starting quarterback, completing just 50 percent of his passes. Without Kellen Lewis, the Hoosiers lack a dynamic playmaker who defenses have to respect, and Chappell spends most games with his face in the turf. The run game stalls and injuries once again crop up on the O-line. Despite a veteran presence on defense, Indiana's holes on the interior line and in the secondary doom the unit, which once again finishes last in the league.
Indiana survives its opener against Eastern Kentucky but needs overtime to do so. Much like last season, the Hoosiers' downhill slide begins against a solid MAC team, and this time Western Michigan exposes the flaws in IU's defense. Hiller passes for 375 yards and four touchdowns as the Broncos roll. After a win at Akron, Indiana heads to Ann Arbor and can't keep pace with speedy Wolverines quarterbacks Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson. Things only get worse the next week as Terrelle Pryor runs wild.
The Ohio State loss lingers the next week as Indiana falls behind Virginia early and never recovers. Williams and the dynamic Illini offense hang 50 on Indiana, and the sparse crowd at Memorial Stadium filters out, leaving only a smattering of boo-birds. Lynch's future becomes a major question for athletic director Fred Glass, who says a decision will be made at the end of the season.
Indiana drops its final five games, including a 31-28 overtime decision to Purdue. With a 2-10 mark, Lynch's fate is sealed. Attendance steadily declines and Glass begins the search for the team's fifth head coach since 2001.