Dust has yet to settle on Ohio State’s national championship trophy; already, though, it’s time to look ahead at 2015, with a peek at three items to address in the offseason for each Big Ten team.
Up next is the Indiana Hoosiers:
1. Replace the offensive firepower: Tevin Coleman is gone. Let it sink in. The Hoosiers’ superstar running back, who rushed for 2,036 yards as a junior, is off to the NFL. And to make matters worse, gone also is top backup D’Angelo Roberts in addition to leading receivers Shane Wynn and Nick Stoner. But quarterback Nate Sudfeld, whose shoulder injury forced him out of the final six games of 2014, is back as a senior. And more good news, Indiana landed a pair of impact transfers from the UAB fallout in running back Jordan Howard and receiver Marqui Hawkins. Howard rushed for 1,587 yards last fall as a junior to earn first-team All-Conference USA honors. The 6-foot-2 Hawkins, who began his career at Florida, should quickly turn into one of Sudfeld’s top targets alongside J-Shun Harris II, who showed explosive potential as a true freshman, and Dominique Booth.
2. Refine the defensive system: Coach Kevin Wilson didn’t expect a miracle when he hired coordinator Brian Knorr from Wake Forest, introducing a 3-4 scheme in Bloomington. The Hoosiers made marginal progress in 2014. Still, they allowed 32.8 points per game to rank 100th nationally and didn’t fare much better in other categories. Four of the top six tacklers are gone, including two-time academic All-America safety Mark Murphy. But an infusion of youth last year provides reason for optimism. Sophomores Antonio Allen at safety and linebacker T.J. Simmons performed well, as did true freshman linebacker Tegray Scales, redshirt freshmen Nate Hoff at tackle and safety Chase Dutra. With continued improvement and the comfort level that comes with another offseason in Knorr’s scheme, next season could legitimately bring notable improvement on defense.
3. Continue to upgrade recruiting: The past two years have marked key improvement for Wilson and his staff on the recruiting trail. The coach, entering the fifth season of a seven-year contract, has begun to get prospects who can make a difference -- and do it early in their careers. The emergence last year of Harris and Scales is a step in the right direction. Howard and Hawkins count as recruits in the 2015 class and may represent two of the most important Indiana additions. Indiana needs to clear hurdles on the field. It needs to qualify for a bowl game, and it won’t happen without more wins in recruiting, particularly on the defensive side. Work remains in this area over the next two weeks.