Are you sitting down? You probably should be, because I'm optimistic about the Indiana Hoosiers for the first time that I can remember. They seem to be on the right track after winning four games in 2012, and I'm going to spoil the surprise and say that I think Indiana goes bowling this year.
But I don't cover the Hooisers, so I thought it would be best to get the scoop on them from someone who has their finger on the team's pulse. Matthew Weaver is a staff writer for Peegs.com, which covers the Hoosiers for Rivals.com. I asked him a few questions about Indiana's prospects as a bowl team, and his answers are included below.
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How much progress has Indiana made since Kevin Wilson came to town in 2011? What parts of the program did he need to change in his first two years, and what are the Hoosiers looking to build on in year three?
Matthew Weaver: I think there has been a significant amount of progress made. The program certainly is not where Coach Wilson and his staff want it to be, but the program today is light years better than it was his first year in Bloomington.
The biggest thing the staff had to change when they came in was the mindset and the culture of the program. There was a sense of entitlement with many of the older players and the staff did what they had to do to change that. They also wanted to build their program on guys who are tough and physical and they have preached that and tried to recruit to that since the first day they arrived at IU.
I think in year three they just want to continue to improve and continue to make strides as a program. They went from 1 win in Wilson's first season to 4 wins last year and I think a similar improvement in number of wins is a very realistic possibility.
Indiana led the conference in passing offense last year, and it seems like they have three quarterbacks who could all help them win games this year. Which quarterback will start the season under center for the Hoosiers, and what skills does that person bring to the table?
MW: I don't think the starting quarterback will be determined until at least a few weeks into fall camp. Cameron Coffman, Tre Roberson and Nate Sudfeld are all right there to win the job. If I had to pick one today I would probably go with Roberson because of his dual-threat ability, but the guy who wins the job will be the guy who throws it the best in fall camp. The IU offense is a passing offense so it is very important that they have a guy under center that makes good decisions with the ball and has good accuracy. The quarterback who does that the best in fall camp will be the guy when they open the season on August 29th.
Defense has always seemed to be an Achilles heel for the Hoosiers. How do you see their defense performing in 2013, and what else do the Hoosiers need to do on defense to shoulder more of the burden during games?
MW: The good news for the IU defense is they have nowhere to go but up and I think they will show improvement. I am not saying they will be one of the better units in the Big Ten, but I think they will take a pretty solid step in the right direction this fall. The staff has played of a lot of young guys on defense the last two years and I think the experiences they have gone through will pay off this fall. On top of that the 2013 recruiting class has a number of highly rated defensive prospects that will immediately upgrade several positions the minute they step on the practice field.
They don't have to be the best defense in the league this fall to shoulder more of the burden, but they also can't be one of the worse again. If they can move up to the middle of the pack that should be enough to get IU to a bowl game because the offense should be one of the top two or three in the Big Ten. The biggest things they need to improve on is being better on 3rd downs and forcing more turnovers. To do that they need to make improvements in the early downs, especially against the run, so that they can get teams in more 2nd and long and 3rd and long. They also need to force teams to settle for field goals more when they get down in the red zone. If you look back at last season there were three or four games where getting one more stop or giving up a field goal instead of a touchdown would have meant a win. If they can do that this fall they have a great shot to go from 4 wins to 7 or 8.
Which games do you think will make or break Indiana's season? Is their schedule going to help or hurt them this year?
MW: In the non-conference portion the key games for me are Navy in week two and Missouri in week four. The other two non-conference games are Indiana State and Bowling Green. Bowling Green won't be an easy game but it is one that Indiana has to win if they want to be a bowl team. At worst they need to go 3-1 in the non-conference.
In league play the road games - Michigan State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State - are all going to be very difficult so holding serve at home will be crucial. They have Penn State, Minnesota, Illinois and Purdue at home so it sets up pretty favorable for them to get the 6 or 7 wins they will need to go bowling.
With 8 homes games there is no doubt that the schedule is a big help for them this year. Add to that the most winnable conference games are at home and it sets up well for them to have a winning season.
Will Indiana make it to a bowl game this year? That seems like a logical next step for the program, but do the Hoosiers have what it takes to get back there for the first time since 2007?
MW: I believe they will make it to a bowl game. I think the offense is good enough to win them 5 or 6 games, and if they can get anything at all from the defense they have a chance to pull out another victory or two. Obviously staying healthy is important as it is for all teams, but if they can avoid any significant injuries they have a great shot to go bowling this year.
Thanks again to Matt for giving us his take on the Hoosiers. Be sure to check out more of his work at Indiana.Rivals.com.