This is the time of year when Indiana fans are focusing on what seed the Hoosiers are going to get in the men’s basketball tournament, but the football Hoosiers are about to open up the spring under a new head coach and plenty of questions to ask going into 2017.
With Kevin Wilson being shown the door amid some controversy with regard to handling players, Indiana promoted defensive coordinator Tom Allen to the role of head coach. If Allen is going to retain the job for the long term, he would benefit by proving he has what it takes to lead the Hoosiers forward in his head coaching debut. What the bar of success for Indiana may be in a fluctuating state right now, but spring is a time for optimism, even in Bloomington.
5 Storylines to Watch During Indiana’s Spring Practice
1. The Tom Allen era begins
As with any program getting a new year started with a new head coach, Allen is hoping to get things off on a positive foot as he takes over this spring. Allen was Indiana’s defensive coordinator last season and now takes over as the head coach following the dismissal of Kevin Wilson. In his first spring as head coach, Allen will have plenty to address on both sides of the football. Being able to set the tone for the new direction of the program will be instrumental in helping the Hoosiers be in contention for a bowl bid in the fall.
2. Who carries the football for the Hoosiers?
Among the chief concerns for Indiana will be running the football. With Devine Redding heading to the NFL, the torch must be passed to Indiana’s next primary running back. That appears to be Camion Patrick, who is working his way back from a torn ACL from last spring. Having newly hired running backs coach Mike Hart in Bloomington should help give the Hoosiers some good coaching at this position, which has been a strength on offense the last few seasons. Last year may have been a down year running the football, but a quick bounce back would not be shocking to see.
3. Will the offensive line be stable?
If Indiana is to continue powering its way on the ground, then the offensive line must address some concerns as well. Dan Feeney was a standout on the line that must be replaced, as will center Wes Rogers. The good news is Indiana appears to have some talent to work with this spring as the Hoosiers look to plug these holes, and if they can mold the line by the end of the spring then there could be some optimism on the ground in the fall.
4. Indiana begins spring with three players suspended
Suspensions are pretty common around college football, so word that three players – junior tight end Jordan Fuchs, sophomore quarterback Danny Cameron and sophomore defensive back Wesley Green – have been indefinitely suspended is not all that shocking. It does put all three a step behind the competition to earn playing time and gives other players more opportunities this spring. For a coach who wants to stress discipline, this can serve as a valuable lesson for the entire program.
5. Will the defensive line hold up?
With Allen at the helm of the defense last season, the Hoosiers showed improvement on the defensive side of the football that was needed in a big way for the program. Indiana’s offense had been capable of being one of the more explosive units in the Big Ten, but the lack of defense haunted the team. The Hoosiers improved defensively last season and bring back a good number of players with experience, except on the defensive line. Consider it an open competition for just about every spot on the line, which will be tasked with finding a way to bring pressure to the backfield to make things more manageable for the linebackers and secondary. If Indiana can’t be effective up front, then the defense could tire quickly.
Pre-Spring Outlook for Indiana in the Big Ten
Indiana once again has the look of a team that could pose a threat to any team in the Big Ten but will struggle to be consistent enough to string together any number of wins that will be required to make any serious run at the Big Ten East, a division stacked with Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and a Michigan State program that likely rebounds from a down year to some degree and what could be a rising Maryland program. Indiana may play spoiler in the conference provided the Hoosiers can solve a few key problem areas. Who is going to be the starting quarterback? Will the running game bounce back? Can Indiana get stronger in the trenches on either side of the football?
There is a lot of ground to cover for Indiana, and one spring may not be enough to cover it all.
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.