- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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The conference media days parade is underway, but as usual, the Big Ten will ride the anchor leg late next week. As we while away the days to the unofficial kickoff to the season, we're taking a look at the reasons why each league team will or won't reach a specific goal in 2015.
Getting to a bowl game doesn't require much these days, as there are now 41 postseason contests and just about any team with six wins is guaranteed a spot. For Indiana, however, a bowl game has become an elusive goal. The Hoosiers last went bowling in 2007 and hadn't been to the postseason before that since 1993. That's an almost impossible string of futility.
The program has gotten closer under Kevin Wilson, going 5-7 in 2013 before backsliding to 4-8 last year. Is this the season when the Hoosiers finally make it back to a bowl, or do they keep swinging at that windmill?
Why Indiana will make a bowl game in 2015:
Revived passing game: Indiana had the Big Ten's top passing offense in both 2012 and 2013. Last year? The Hoosiers finished dead last in the league. Wilson didn't suddenly forget how to draw up plays. A season-ending shoulder injury to starting quarterback Nate Sudfeld left the team without an experienced quarterback, and the aerial attack became virtually nonexistent for the back half of the season. Sudfeld is healthy now, and the senior should be one of the league's top quarterbacks this season. Though Tevin Coleman and his 2,000 rushing yards are gone, UAB transfer Jordan Howard and a strong offensive line should keep the ground game moving. Indiana figures to get back to its high-scoring ways in 2015.
Softer nononference schedule: Beefing up the nonconference schedule is an admirable goal -- unless you're a program with the ignoble bowl history of Indiana. Then it makes no sense. The 2013 Hoosiers won five games despite losing to Missouri and Navy out of conference. Just scheduling four non-league patsies would have gotten them to a bowl. Even last year, IU probably made things too hard on itself by playing at Missouri (where it unexpectedly won) and at MAC power Bowling Green (where it lost). This year, the nonconference schedule is much more manageable, with home games vs. Southern Illinois, FIU and Western Kentucky and a lone road game at struggling Wake Forest. If the Hoosiers can win all four of those, they can get to 6-6 simply by beating Purdue and finding one other conference scalp.
Why Indiana won't make a bowl in 2015:
That indefensible defense: Indiana played a little better defensively in 2014, especially considering how feeble its own offense was down the stretch. Yet, the Hoosiers still allowed more than 32 points per game. The last time an IU team gave up fewer than 30 points per game during a season was the 2007 squad, which was, not coincidentally, the program's last bowl year. Complicating matters this offseason was the dismissal of one of the best players on defense, safety Antonio Allen. Indiana looks more like a Big Ten defense than it did a few years ago, with some 300-pounders up front like Darius Latham and Ralph Green III. But the never-ending search for true difference-makers on that side of the ball continues.
Unproven receivers: While Sudfeld's return is encouraging, the truth of the matter is that Indiana's passing game was underwhelming last year before he got hurt. A young wideout corps limited the offense, and the team's top receiver in 2014, Shane Wynn, graduated. Wilson has high hopes for the still-maturing crew, which includes Simmie Cobbs, J-Shun Harris and Dominique Booth, while UAB transfer Marqui Hawkins and junior-college import Camion Patrick are expected to provide immediate boosts. But until they go out and do it against Big Ten competition, these receivers remain a question mark. And Wilson's offense needs top-flight pass-catchers to really take flight.
650dBrad Bournival and Tom VanHaaren