Under coach Kevin Wilson, Indiana has made steady progress over the last three years. The Hoosiers went 1-11 and winless in Big Ten play in 2011, but Indiana improved to 4-8 in 2012.
Wilson continued his improvement project in Bloomington in 2013, as the Hoosiers went 5-7 last season and 3-5 in conference play. Just how close was Indiana to playing in a bowl last season? The Hoosiers lost by six to Navy and by three to Minnesota.
After improving their win total in each of the last two years, getting to six victories would be quite an accomplishment for Indiana in 2014.
The Big Ten realigned the divisions with the addition of Rutgers and Maryland, which placed Indiana in the East Division. The Hoosiers are now division rivals with Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State and Ohio State. While the division should produce plenty of games against top-25 teams, getting to a bowl game will be a huge challenge with a tougher schedule.
Indiana’s non-conference schedule provides few breaks in 2014, as Kevin Wilson’s team plays at Bowling Green and Missouri – two potential 10-win teams. North Texas also visits Bloomington, and the Mean Green could be the favorite in Conference USA’s West Division.
If Wilson is able to guide Indiana to a bowl in 2014, he could be one of the top candidates to win coach of the year honors in the Big Ten.
Will Indiana Make a Bowl in 2014?
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Tough call. I think Indiana will be right in the 5-7 win range once again. The Hoosiers should have one of the Big Ten’s most-explosive offenses, but the defense is a huge question mark. In conference play last year, Indiana allowed a whopping 7.4 yards per play. The Hoosiers also gave up 41.9 points per game in eight conference contests. Those two numbers have to improve if Kevin Wilson’s team wants to make a bowl. With 10 starters back, there is certainly potential for this unit to show improvement. However, it’s hard to envision significant growth by the defense in 2014, even with new coordinator Brian Knorr. Once again, the Hoosiers’ bowl hopes will rely on an explosive offense. Quarterbacks Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson are two of the best in the Big Ten and have weapons at their disposal in running back Tevin Coleman and receiver Shane Wynn. And Indiana quietly has one of the Big Ten’s best offensive lines. Despite possessing a dynamic offense, I think the Hoosiers are going to fall short of a bowl. Swing games against Missouri, Rutgers and Iowa are away from Bloomington, and Indiana was one of the losers in the Big Ten’s newly aligned divisions with Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State on the schedule every year. It’s possible the Hoosiers are a better team in 2014 than they were in 2013. However, a bowl will be just out of reach due to a tougher schedule this year.
Brent Yarina, (@BTNBrentYarina), BTN.com Senior Editor
Yes. The Hoosiers have gone from one to four to five wins in Kevin Wilson’s first three seasons, so they’re moving in the right direction. Expect the trend to continue in Year 4 – even in the loaded East Division and with OC Seth Littrell now at North Carolina. We know the offense is going to be exciting and as prolific as any in the Big Ten, with QBs Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson both back, in addition to underrated RB Tevin Coleman and WR Shane Wynn. The defense, well, there’s always the hope a new DC (Brian Knorr) and schematic change (4-3 to 3-4) can do the trick. Thing is, the defense doesn’t even have to be average to get the Hoosiers to six wins; it just has to show some improvement and avoid being the Big Ten’s worst unit for the fourth consecutive season.
Offense was not an issue for Indiana last season (9th nationally in yards gained, 16th in scoring), but defense certainly was. The Hoosiers ranked near the bottom of FBS teams in all four major defensive categories. This is why a team that piled up more than 500 yards and 38 points per game only won five games. In Big Ten play alone, Indiana was out-gained by 71 yards per game and out-scored by a total of 52 points, nearly a touchdown per contest. The defense returns all but one starter this season, but is that a good thing? The offense should be pretty productive once again, but I don't see it putting up big enough numbers to offset what was one of the worst defenses in college football a year ago. Then there's the schedule. The Hoosiers should (hopefully) beat Indiana State and North Texas in non-conference action while Purdue and Big Ten newcomer Rutgers figure to bring up the rear in the East and West divisions, respectively. However, after that I have a hard time finding two more wins. Missouri is the defending SEC East champion and Bowling Green won the MAC last year. Both should be pretty good again in 2014 and these two games are on the road. The rest of Indiana's conference slate consists of Michigan State, Penn State and Maryland at home with road dates against Ohio State, Michigan and a crossover game at Iowa. Maryland may be the other new kid on the Big Ten block, but I actually think the Terrapins are more talented and better than the Hoosiers. So unless Indiana pulls off an upset or two at some point in the season and doesn't lose a game it's expected to win (and I'm not sure I would put the Bowling Green game in that category), I think Kevin Wilson's team will be hard-pressed to put together six wins this fall. In fact, from my perspective, five would be nothing to be ashamed about.
It is hard to not appreciate the work done by Kevin Wilson since his arrival in Bloomington, because he has managed to build something at Indiana. The Hoosiers had nowhere to go but up when Wilson was hired and this season could be the best yet. The Hoosiers return all 11 starters an offense that has become one of the more entertaining units in the Big Ten and 10 on defense that could benefit from the experience. The problem is Indiana has quite the uphill battle to get to the minimum six victories. Road games at Bowling Green (defending MAC champions) and Missouri (defending SEC East champions) could be extremely difficult in the non-conference slate, and North Texas will not be a pushover either. The Hoosiers are also lumped in the same division with both of the Big Ten’s 2013 division winners (Ohio State, Michigan State) and play at Michigan and at home against Penn State in back-to-back weeks (and I suspect Penn State will not unravel the way they did in Bloomington last season). Indiana came close with five wins last year, but five games may be the high mark again unless the defense drastically improves.