Football is finally in the air! As we slowly countdown the days until kickoff the Big Ten Network is airing their annual season preview show, starting with the Indiana Hoosiers. The show gives viewers an insider look at practice while also discussing the strengths, weaknesses, and the expectations for the 2013 Indiana Hoosiers. We are here to decipher what is false hype, coach speak, and just plain old politics from what the actual expectations for Hoosier football are for the upcoming season.
The expectations for the Hoosiers are as high as they have ever been in the last decade for this team. Big Ten Network analyst and former Hoosier head coach Gerry Dinardo claims that this team “could absolutely be the best Indiana team since they went to a bowl game in 2007.” While that does not say very much about the 2013 squad analyst Howard Griffith added that the Hoosiers “have a chance to do some special things.” Hold on a second, is this really happening? Someone is buying into the Hoosiers being good on the football field? As bizarre as this may sound, yes many people are pegging the Hoosiers as the surprise team in the Big Ten. Current Hoosier head coach Kevin Wilson is not quite buying into the external expectations for his team saying, “I don’t know if we get a lot of credit, so we try and stroke the chip on our shoulder.” Although this may be seen as Wilson just playing dumb with the media, it is a smart maneuver for the Hoosiers. He knows they were not good last year even though the team showed improvement, and he wants his team to play with the same “we don’t get any respect” edge that many successful underdogs implore. Wilson is even less transparent about what defines success for this team, stating “we don’t talk about a game, or a number of wins, or a bowl game. You can be a bowl team at 6-6 and lose that game and end (the season) with a losing record.” I don’t by into the thinking of this team can be deemed a success without going to a bowl game. It is the third season under Wilson and it is time for this team to make tangible improvements, have something to put in the trophy case in Bloomington.
As everyone is well aware of by now, the offense is the strength of the Indiana football team. However, there are a few questions surrounding the program as they enter camp. Dinardo points out that “this is a talented offense, they obviously need to make a decision at quarterback and if it’s Tre Roberson it may change the style of the offense.” The quarterback battle is dead even between Roberson, Cam Coffman, and Nate Sudfeld. Coffman says his mindset coming into practice is “just coming every single day to compete and get better.” The guy who is going to be the starter will be the one “who can make plays and go out there and be a leader,” says Indiana offensive coordinator Seth Littrel. While it is nice to have three quarterbacks, who can all play at the Big Ten level, there needs to be a clear cut starter named soon if the Hoosiers are going to have success this season. While most people are focused on the passing game of the Hoosiers, Howard Griffith is excited about the Hoosier running game saying, “I like the running game, this running game is going to be outstanding.” These are words that have not been uttered about a Hoosier squad in decades. As we all know Indiana has not had a 1,000-yard running back since 2001, however Griffith is correct in being excited about the Hoosier run game. Indiana returns three backs who have had significant playing time in the Big Ten and all have proven to be successful. The competition between senior Stephen Houston and sophomore Tevin Coleman should pay off during the regular season as both backs are pushing each other to be better. Junior D’Angelo Roberts is a nice change of pace runner who can put up some decent numbers and take some of the load off Coleman and Houston.
It is time to bring the Hoosier faithful back down to earth a little bit and talk about the defense, which was horrendous in 2012. The story seemingly every season is can the defense make enough stops to win games. Most of the time the answer has been no and this season this defense is replacing its two best players who graduated. This does not mean that the defense cannot improve though. Kevin Wilson touched on gauging improvement in practice saying, “I do think we are stronger and we are staying on our feet better.” Both of these aspects are crucial for a defense he calls “more talented but inexperienced.” How many times have we seen the defense thrown around like ragdolls, especially against team with bigger, stronger offenses? The defense is “still a work in progress” as defensive coordinator Doug Mallory points out but, “we have in going in the right direction” with “a little bit more depth, more competition.” These words are a lot less hopeful than what has been said about the offensive side of the ball, however there is some optimism that can be seen through the negativity. More depth and better competition should lead to more quality practice reps and players should develop quicker, in addition the work in the weight room in the offseason should pay off when it comes time to go up against the big boys from Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio State. This defense does not need to be great it just needs to be good enough to hold opponents to under 30 points a game, limit big plays, and get off the field on third and longs.
This is the most excitement that has surrounded the program since Terry Hoeppner roamed Bloomington, however with great expectations and excitement comes the fear of massive disappointment. From what has been seen throughout practice heading into the fall there is good reason for the Hoosier fans to be legitimately thrilled for this season to kickoff, and not just because of tailgate parties. This team really does have a chance to take the next step in changing the culture around the university and alumni bases. The offence has the talent to be one of the best in the nation if they can continue to improve upon last year’s success and start to finish more drives with touchdowns instead of settling for short field goals. That starts with an inside running game, which by all signs should be a nice addition to this pass heavy offense. While the defense will not be a strength in 2013, it should show enough improvement with the infusion of young talent to not hold back this teams potential. This season sets up beautifully for the Hoosiers who play eight home games for the first time since 2008 and start with the first five at Memorial Stadium. The expectations are rightfully high and those first five games will play a crucial role in whether or not this team reaches a bowl game.