Indiana is looking for a postseason breakthrough in Kevin Wilson's third season with the program, and he has no shortage of returning talent on hand to make a push for a bowl bid.
Coach: Kevin Wilson (5-19, two seasons with Hoosiers and overall)
2012 record: 4-8 (2-6 in Big Ten, fifth in the Leaders Division)
Key losses: C Will Matte, DT Adam Replogle, DT Larry Black Jr., CB Antonio Marshall
Key returnees: QB Tre Roberson, QB Cameron Coffman, QB Nate Sudfeld, RB Stephen Houston, WR Shane Wynn, WR Kofi Hughes, OL Jason Spriggs, OL Collin Rahrig, DE Ryan Phillis, DE Zach Shaw, CB Brian Williams, S Greg Heban, LB David Cooper
Newcomer to watch: The Hoosiers don’t have many holes to fill on defense with eight starters returning, but they were hit hard right up the middle with both tackles up front moving on after last season. Wilson didn’t have to look far to find a potential stopgap with an ESPN300 player on the market in Indianapolis, and the signing of Darius Latham was a critical one for the Hoosiers both in terms of the caliber of player and because it came at a position of need.
Stepping in as a true freshman and making an impact in the Big Ten trenches is a tall order, but at 6-foot-5, 291 pounds, Latham at least has the frame to give himself a chance to help the Hoosiers right away.
Biggest games in 2013: If the Hoosiers are going to go bowling, it would certainly help to take care of business outside the Big Ten. Opening the season against Indiana State on Aug. 29 shouldn’t be much of a test, but Navy (Sept. 7), Bowling Green (Sept. 14) and Missouri (Sept. 21) all could provide a test for Indiana even before it steps into the league with a home date against Penn State on Oct. 5. As if drawing both Michigan State and Michigan from the Legends Division wasn’t tough enough, the Hoosiers must face them on consecutive weekends -- both on the road.
Biggest question mark heading into 2013: Maybe it won’t matter who ultimately takes the first snap of the season for the Hoosiers. There are more than enough skilled targets to take advantage of in the passing game, an emphasis on being more physical should yield better results on the ground and Indiana has a coach who has proven his system will put up points.
But a three-man quarterback battle waged throughout training camp has left a pretty significant piece of the offensive puzzle undecided this month, and at some point Wilson is going to have to settle on a guy to lead his attack and point the Hoosiers in the right direction. It’s not like he doesn’t have options, and with each of the candidates bringing something valuable to the table, it’s understandable why Indiana has taken its time.
Roberson is a versatile athlete who can add mobility to the position, Coffman showed off his arm a year ago by throwing for more than 2,700 yards and Sudfield has turned some heads on the practice field this month. But they can’t all play, and sooner or later Wilson will have to make a decision.
Forecast: The buzz is building for a return to the postseason, and after going to just one bowl in the past 19 years and not winning one since 1991, the Hoosiers are definitely overdue.
But even with all the returning talent from a productive offense and a number of veterans back with a chance to improve a porous defensive unit from a year ago, the path to a winning record or even six wins isn’t exactly a smooth one for Indiana. It will benefit from playing eight games at Memorial Stadium, but the schedule wasn’t all that kind for the program within the Big Ten and aside from Indiana State, the games outside of the league are far from sure things.
The Hoosiers showed they could compete against some of the top teams in the conference a year ago, including a thrilling, high-scoring shootout against undefeated Ohio State that offered growing evidence of what Wilson’s attack could be capable of as he adds more talent and athleticism to the roster.
Without significant improvement on the other side of the ball, the Hoosiers will have a hard time making up much ground in the division. But if the defense is able to make a jump and take a little pressure off the offense and whoever winds up winning the quarterback job, a trip around the holidays could be within reach.