by Kent Sterling
Back and forth I go about the predicted fortunes of the Indianapolis Colts. They are projected to win anywhere from six to 12 games, and that’s an unusually huge swath between potential success and failure. Hard to imagine most NFL teams winning more than 12 or less than six (except for the Jacksonville Jaguars, who are strong nowhere).
The Indiana Hoosiers football team returns 19 starters, is a year stronger, and had the fourth best recruiting class in the Big Ten. BTN analyst Tom Dienhart wrote last week that the Hoosiers could win as many as eight or as few as three. Hell of a big difference.
The Purdue Boilermakers weren’t terrible last year, but administrators felt stronger enough to fire Danny Hope and hire Darrell Hazell. What that’s going to mean for the Boiler is anyone’s guess. Hazell needed only two years to turn Kent State into a winner, but this first year in West Lafayette might be a long one.
Indiana University Basketball lost over 80% of nearly every relevant statistic through graduation and early entry to the NBA. Tom Crean has restocked with talented freshmen, but guessing whether Yogi Ferrell, Will Sheehey, and the new blood can continue the ascent the program has enjoyed since hitting rock bottom in Crean’s first season is in question.
The Pacers are undoubtedly stronger than they were during last season’s run to a Game Seven in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat. David West signed a new three year deal, and the second unit was completely reconstructed with the additions of Solomon Hill, Chris Copeland, C.J. Watson, and Luis Scola. Danny Granger’s return will likely mean the addition of Lance Stephenson to that group. Ian Mahinmi will be the lone holdover.
The question with the Pacers is whether the vacancies left by assistant coaches Jim Boylen and Brian Shaw will lead to a disruption of what made the team so proficient last season. Nate McMillan will fill one of the positions, and his resume’ would prompt confidence.
The question with the Pacers is whether they will be ready to win the 60+ games in the regular season needed to secure the top seed in the East. The Heat won 66 last year while the Pacers won “only” 49, so the difference between the two-time defending NBA Champions and the Pacers isn’t really the 48 minutes that sent the Heat to the Finals, but the 17 wins that sent Game Seven to South Beach.
The rest of the Indiana franchises of interest have such a wide margin of expectations that it’s almost impossible to focus on what we believe might happen.
For the Colts, I expect 10 wins. Andrew Luck will become a top five quarterback in the NFL, which may appear ambitious, but after watching him in camp for better than two weeks, I see no physical or psychological flaw. He’s the best young gun I’ve ever seen, and if there are more than three teams you would refuse to trade their current QB for Luck, I would question their sanity.
The rest of the Colts are good enough that they can win more than they lose as long as Luck is healthy. The free agent signings, minus Gosder Cherilous make me a bit nervous. They are okay to good players, and those guys in bulk tend not to be the foundation for champions.
There are enough tools offensively, if Ahmad Bradshaw can run as he did last season, for the Colts to score, and the defense should be a little bit better.
IU Football? I have no earthly idea. They start the season with five consecutive home games, so whatever is going to happen, fans should know early. Anything less than 3-2 in those five, and October/November will see some lonely afternoons in Bloomington. Coach Kevin Wilson called out fans last week for not showing up in Bloomington for the Wisconsin game. Let’s see if he has taken the steps needed to give the fans a reason for enthusiasm.
IU Hoops should be expected to make the NCAA Tournament. A top five recruiting class should be enough to keep the Hoosiers relevant. Noah Vonleh is a unique kid, and the return of Sheehey and Ferrell will give Indiana a quality team. If not, the current void of players in the 2014 class will need to be filled with dynamic newcomers.
Purdue Basketball will go as far as Ronnie Johnson and A.J. Hammons take them. Johnson should be expected to step up and play well, but it’s the play of the occasionally laconic Hammons who will drive the team to a first division finish in the Big Ten or right off a cliff.
As for Boilermakers football, minus the arrival of Hazell, there isn’t much reason for optimism. Like the Hoosiers, there is a wide open quarterback competition, and until we see the QB for either team effectively lead, it isn’t possible to assess anything.
This is a Fall unlike any I can remember, when the ceiling is so high and the floor so low for virtually every team. Strap in.