Tom Allen was dealt some bad luck in his first season as Indiana's head coach. The Hoosiers were hit hard by injuries on both sides of the ball, posted a minus-seven turnover margin and lost four games by eight points or fewer against a tough schedule. The schedule is more forgiving this year, but a bowl trip will require new playmakers to emerge on both sides of the ball. A defense that limited opponents to 25.3 points per game must replace a couple of standouts, most notably linebacker Tegray Scales. The Hoosiers also will need more out of an offense that averaged only 23.2 points in Big Ten games last year. Arizona graduate transfer Brandon Dawkins will push Peyton Ramsey at QB, and the passing attack will benefit from the return of receiver Nick Westbrook from injury.
Previewing Indiana Football's Offense for 2018
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Tom Allen took over at Indiana last season with solid credentials on defense but questions on offense. Those questions linger. The Hoosiers struggled with inconsistency at quarterback, failed to produce a 1,000-yard back for the first time in four seasons and had more holes than usual on the line. Critics wondered why the Hoosiers played with a slower, more traditional tempo under coordinator Mike DeBord.
The QB dilemma grew during the spring when the Hoosiers added former Arizona starter Brandon Dawkins four days before their spring game. Peyton Ramsey was solid as a part-time starter but is returning from a knee injury and lacks arm strength. Freshman Nick Tronti and Michael Penix have not taken snaps in college. But Penix, who picked IU over Florida State, threw 61 TD passes in high school.
Nick Westbrook went down on the opening kickoff of the season, and the Hoosiers need him to return to his 2016 form when he led the team with 995 receiving yards for six touchdowns. Undersized Whop Philyor has game-breaking speed. Luke Timian is not a deep threat from the slot, but his 68 receptions make him Mr. Reliable. Ryan Watercutter is likely to replace Ian Thomas at tight end because of his blocking skills.
Indiana's best offensive player could be halfback Morgan Ellison, who averaged nearly 5.0 yards per carry and had a pair of 100-yard games. The offensive line should benefit from the addition of center Nick Linder, a graduate transfer who started at Miami (Fla.) before losing his job because of a shoulder injury.
Previewing Indiana Football's Defense for 2018
Allen upgraded IU's defense to sixth best in the Big Ten last season in total yards allowed, but the challenge to maintain that improvement will be considerable because eight starters must be replaced.
Jacob Robinson will anchor the line, which needs Nile Sykes to return from injury to supply a pass rush on the edge. Linebacker is a bigger issue because Tegray Scales and Chris Covington played the position as forcefully as any IU pair in three decades, and both are gone. However, both units received good news this summer. Syracuse graduate transfer Kayton Samuels joins the mix up front, and linebacker Dameon Willis decided to rejoin the team.
Allen's most talented player, Marcelino Ball, returns at the hybrid Husky -- a defender who shifts between linebacker and safety. Ball should emerge as a team leader after missing nine games to injury. Freshman Bryant Fitzgerald was considered the most talented player in the 2017 recruiting class and used a redshirt season to improve his athleticism.
Three secondary starters depart, but Allen has made improving IU's athleticism at cornerback a priority. Andre Brown and A'Shon Riggins step in with experience, but Indiana must generate more turnovers after intercepting only five passes last season.
Previewing Indiana's Specialists for 2018
Allen was so concerned by the loss of placekicker Griffin Oakes that he recruited and awarded a scholarship to Charles Campbell, rated the ninth-best kicker nationally in the 2018 recruiting class. The coach is convinced IU needs elite special teams to win and believes the Hoosiers have another weapon in Australian punter Haydon Whitehead. Timian is a solid, but not spectacular, punt returner, while Philyor shows potential returning kickoffs.
Allen landed Indiana's best recruiting class in years and has upgraded the program's athleticism. But depending on freshmen to win against Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State is not a winning formula. With questions at quarterback, the offensive line and across the defense, the ceiling for this team could be six wins.