Written By Sammy Jacobs (@Hoosier_Huddle)
The Indiana Hoosiers will hold their first fall practice on Aug. 6. This is the official start of the 2015 football season. Heading into fall practice there are several storylines that should be the focus of Hoosier fans. Here at HoosierHuddle.com we try and bring you storylines that are beyond the dime-a-dozen "Nate Sudfeld needs to stay healthy" plots (although it is very true and cannot be ignored.
1. Replacing J-Shun Harris
The Hoosiers struggled with their receiving corps last fall and when news broke last week that leading returning receiver and kick return specialist, J-Shun Harris, would miss the season with a torn ACL it was immediately a red flag on who is going to have to step up.
Head coach Kevin Wilson had this to say about the depth at that position, "between Isaac James and Mike Majette and some of the young guys coming in between the guys we've got returning, whether it be Mitchell Paige or Ricky Jones or Damon Graham, we'll be three, four deep there."
Harris will also be missed on special teams as he was the leading kick returner for the Hoosiers in 2014. Devonte Williams, Damon Graham, and a handful of other candidates could be involved in a revolving door in the return game.
2. Can Sudfeld Finally Put it All Together
The key to a successful Indiana football season rest squarely on the surgically repaired shoulder of quarterback Nat Sudfeld. Now that he is healthy, there are no excuses. However, in the six games that Sudfeld did play he was wildly inconsistent. He showed flashes of brilliance against Bowling Green, Missouri, and North Texas, but struggled mightily against Indiana State, Maryland, and in the first half against Iowa. Sudfeld does not need to throw for 300 yards and four scores every game, but he needs to avoid the stinkers and become a better game manager. IU cannot afford for him to throw for 111 yards and no touchdowns (his stats vs. Indiana State) and come out of 2015 with at least six wins.
We have all seen what the senior quarterback can do. It is not time for Sudfeld to put everything he has learned together and vault IU into a bowl game and solidify his spot amongst the best quarterbacks in IU history.
3. Kevin Wilson's Job Security
Sure the Hoosier head coach laughed off the question in Chicago last week and joked about how much coordinators make. People in tough situations need that sense of humor to keep from losing their minds. However, the facts are the facts and Kevin Wilson is heading into his fifth year with just 14 wins and just six Big Ten victories (no bowls) under his belt, the vaunted recruiting class of 2013 has not panned out like it should have, and recruiting has all but stalled out for in-state recruits. Oh yeah and he will likely need an extension after the season to show his staying power in Bloomington.
All this ads up to a "Bowl or Bust" season for Kevin Wilson. His seat should be on fire. These results (14-34, 6-26) aren't good enough to deserve an extension and are probably short of his own personal goals for the program. Yes, the Hoosiers need stability at the helm, but if the program cannot get six wins with the resources that are currently in place in year five then how long should it take? Ten years? Fifteen?
4. Fan Support
Bloomington is one of the most beautiful places in the country to be on a fall Saturday and should be the setting for epic tailgate parties and a gathering place for IU fans and alumni to gather to root on their Hoosiers in Memorial Stadium. Instead, Memorial Stadium is half full at kickoff and leaving National TV camera crews scrambling to avoid massive patches of grey steel bleachers and beige limestone in the second half. Of course all of this could be avoided if the Hoosiers start winning ball games.
Wilson was asked dead on about fan support at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago. Here is his response:
"I'd like it to be better. But at the same time, I think our fans have been through it enough that we need to get some more Ws. We've played exciting ball. We've had good -- we've got a great home schedule this year. First three at home, Big Ten games of Ohio State, Rutgers, Iowa, Michigan. It's a very enticing slate if you're a fan. It's our job to play the brand of ball. We've done a lot, whether it be window dressing and all the things we do to make it more, quote, fan-friendly. But you're coming to the game. Everyone wants to see you win and we need to win football games."
The bottom line is if IU wins, the fans should show up.
5. What Will The Secondary Look Like?
This may be the biggest question mark on this team. The Hoosiers lose four starters from last year's squad. However, when asked about it Wilson took a shot at the departing players saying, "As far as replacing production, we need not only replace those four starters but we were last in the league in pass defense. So we expect a significant improvement in that regard. So sometimes graduation is upon you and it is what it is So, if we're losing a couple first-round picks and a Thorpe winner, I have a different opinion. "
It is a fair point he makes as far as replacing starters. It was a unit that ranked at the bottom of the conference, so fresh faces may not be the worst thing in the world. But who will those face be is a whole other question? The answer lies in the youth recruited in the last two classes. "We're going to rely on some young guys. The strength of our football team will be up front. The game is played in space a lot. We're going to have to have great secondary play. We'll have to have a lot of young people step up." Wilson said.
The youngsters include Tyler Green, Jonathan Crawford, Andre Brown, and Jameel Cook. Other skill position players such as Mike Majette and Isaac James could be transitioned to defense as camp starts up.