For the fifth time since Bill Mallory left as Indiana's best football coach in history, the Hoosiers will open with a new leader. Mallory was a bit like Joe Tiller in that he took Indiana to its greatest heights in the last 45 years. But his program slid at the end. Since then we have seen Cam Cameron (excellent NFL assistant, lousy head coach), Gerry DiNardo (solid TV analyst, worse coach), Terry Hoeppner (tragically passed away), and Bill Lynch (incredibly unlucky in close games).
Since DiNardo, the program has been on a slow upswing. Hoeppner came in and had everything going in the right direction. He was the perfect coach for Indiana, and that makes his passing that much more tragic. Lynch finished what Hoeppner started by taking the Hoosiers to a bowl game, and if not for six losses by a touchdown or less in the past two seasons it could have been two more bowls.
Now they have Kevin Wilson. So far, Wilson has done a lot of things right on the job. He was very impressive at Big Ten Media Days and he realizes that the past does not matter if you're going to create a winner in Bloomington. He already convinced a big-time quarterback recruit to come on board (something that especially stings at a place called the Cradle of Quarterbacks). I have to admit that I am impressed by what he has done in a few short months. The winning may not come this season, but changing the entire culture of a program takes time.
2010 Record: 5-7, 1-7 Big Ten
Bowl result: None
Blog Representation: Crimson Quarry
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 70-37-6
Last Purdue win: 11/21/2009 at Indiana 38-21
Last Indiana win: 11/27/2010 at Purdue 34-31 OT
Last Season for the Hoosiers
If not for a play here and there Bill Lynch would likely still have a job. Indiana went through the lightest non-conference schedule in Big Ten history (Towson, Western Kentucky, Akron, Arkansas State) but couldn't pull off a Big Ten win until breaking a 13-game conference losing streak against us in West Lafayette. They were close in several other spots. A modicum of defense could have brought a win against Michigan. They played Iowa tough before falling 18-13. Northwestern earned a tough 20-17 road win in Bloomington. For the second year in a row Indiana was a snakebitten team in close games, but they finally broke through against us with a come from behind win.
Of course, there were a lot of other problems. Wisconsin just scored again after racking up 83 points in Madison. Indiana's homecoming against Arkansas State was way too close. Illinois blasted them in Champaign and they had the deplorable distinction of selling a home conference game against Penn State.
What truly concerns me is that the playing field between Indiana and Purdue is level again for the first time in 15 years. We've enjoyed a solid decade and a half of dominance against our southern rivals. Their three wins in that time have come by 12 points, while our average margin of victory is more than double that at 26 points per win. In college football they only remember you for the full seasons, and right now both schools are on a three-year bowl-less streak. We're projected to finish at the bottom of the new Leaders Division with them, so both schools can only improve.
The Hoosiers must replace Ben Chappell who did a solid job of directing the Indiana offense for the past two seasons. He had over 3,200 yards passing and an impressive 24 touchdowns against nine interceptions. In his place will be either Dusty Kiel or Edwin Wright-Baker. Both know that super-QB Gunenr Kiel (Dusty's younger brother) is waiting in the wings in 2012, but for one season at least there will be a fall quarterback battle. The duo combined for 151 yards on nine completions and one touchdown against three interceptions in 2010. Wright-Baker has a little Antwan Randle-El and Kellen Lewis in him in terms of being a better runner, but Wilson's system calls for more of a drop back passer like Kiel. The Hoosiers have had their most success in the past 15 years with a player like Wright-Baker under center, but I don't think Wilson will compromise on installing his system. the inexperience at the position should be blood int he water for a guy like Ricardo Allen.
Indiana has some solid receivers for the winner of the quarterback derby to throw to. Demarlo Belcher was the Big Ten's reception leader with 78 catches for 832 yards and four scores, thus earning him a trip to Rico Island. Kofi Hughes will step in for Tandon Doss, who was last seen on Purdue's sideline taking the Bucket from us. Duwyce Wilson (32-488-3) will also factor into the passing game with tight end Max Dedmond. Indiana spread the ball around very well last season and that will only be a benefit as the new QB grows with the system.
Darius Willis is back as a solid running back to build around. He only had 278 yards and four touchdowns last year in an injury-riddled season, but he was impressive in 2009 before his injury. Nick Turner and Antonio Banks will help out in the running game while Matt Perez was a Parade All-American before tearing his ACL and redshirting last year as a true freshman. He is expected to play extensively, especially if Willis isn't 100%.
The offensive line last year was solid with only 12 sacks and they were one of the few teams to hold The Kerrigan at bay. Three starters return, but Wilson called two of them "slow and lazy" while declaring all positions open. Center Will Matte will likely head up the line as a two-year starter and two-time captain. Justin Pagan and Andrew McDonald notched double-digit starts last year at the tackles spots. That leaves the guard positions the most open with Marc Damisch, Cody Evers, and Ralston Evans as the likely candidates to start.
This has been Indiana's biggest failing for years. They have been unable to field a defense that can get the stops necessary to close games. Against Wisconsin they weren't even a speed bump, but more like a bicycle cop trying to stop a speeding Ferrari. The entire defense needs a drastic overhaul that will take time.
Darius Johnson could become a solid rush end after taking over for Jammie Kirlew and earning 4.5 sacks. Adam Replogle brings a ton of experience at tackle after getting 32 tackles and four sacks in 2010. Ryan Phillips is projected to be the other end while Mick Mentzer, Larry Black, and Nicholas Siger will rotate at the other tackle spot.
At linebacker Jeff Thomas will be the heart of the unit after stopping the ball carrier 82 times last year and gaining two interceptions. Leon Beckum and Chase Hoobler have the inside at the outside positions, but Hoobler comes in as just a redshirt freshman. Career special teamer Brandon McGhee could earn time in place of Hoobler. This unit does not have a lot of speed, and the Hoosier may go with more of a nickel package to cover that.
Greg Heben is the only returning starter in the secondary that did much of anything last year. Even then, it wasn't that much with 40 tackles and an interception. He is a lot like Logan Link in that he came out of nowhere as a walk-on to start at safety. Chris Adkins and Donnell Jones will also see playing time in the defensive backfield. Lawrence Barnett and Lenyatte Kiles are the projected starting corners, but neither has much experience and could get torched regularly by experienced receivers.
Indiana Special Teams
Mitch Ewald was 16 of 19 on field goals last year including both the tying and game-winning field goals in the Bucket game. He has good range with a long of 49 yards and gives Indiana a dependable option in that spot. Chris Hagerup and Adam Pines will battle for the punting job after Indiana was one of the worst punting teams in the nation a year ago, doing their defense no favors.
Nick Turner and Dre Muhammad will be the primary kick returners now that Doss is gone. Muhammad will also likely handle punts, but Doss will be greatly missed in both areas.
Here is where I definitely put on my Purdue hat in saying that it is still Indiana. For 15 years we have gone into every season expecting to beat the Hoosiers and counting it as one of the six wins we need to get to a bowl game. Even the last three years we have felt that as long as we get to the last game with five wins we'll be safe for a bowl game because we have the Hoosiers waiting at the end of the season for their annual stomping. Only the 2007 game was not a total surprise when Indiana rolled to a 24-3 lead before coughing it up and setting up their dramatic game winning field goal.
That said, I don't think we can afford to count any game as a win now. When you drop two MAC games and a home game against IU in the last three seasons you can't assume anything. After talking with Wilson and a few of the players at Media Days I can tell they are hungry to change the attitude in Bloomington. Unfortunately, I don't know if the talent is there. I do not envy them for having to go into this season with an unproven quarterback and a still lousy defense. I see it as another rebuilding year for Indiana, but if they buy into what Wilson is preaching there is no reason they can't move in the right direction.
The non-conference schedule is still very easy with Virginia being the only team that is marginally difficult. If they go 4-0 again that leaves just two Big Ten wins needed, and you know they will be circling our game as one of those two since they get us at home. Illinois, Iowa, and Northwestern are all teams they are capable of picking off.
This has to be a win for us. Since 1997 we have had a history of taking the Bucket back by force after it has a one year absence in West Lafayette. We blasted them 56-7 in 1997 after losing in 1996. 2002 was a 34-10 win in West Lafayette. Finally, in 2008 was an epic 62-10 stomping that was among the worst in the history of the series after the Hoosiers won in 2007. I don't expect anything along those lines, but I do think this should be a win for Purdue if we play up to our expectations. Purdue 34, Indiana 27