by Kent Sterling
Rebuilding college football teams can take a lot of time. The spoils of the first recruiting class of a new coach can’t really be assessed until the coach’s fourth year on the job. Guess what year Indiana coach Kevin Wilson is looking toward.
This is the year of reckoning – the year when fans can judge whether the Hoosiers have just continued to spin their wheels in the muck of mediocrity or has taken bonafide strides toward the sort of respectability and success that IU students haven’t witnessed in two decades.
That’s right – seniors on the Bloomington campus the last time Indiana was any good are now in their 40s, old enough that many likely have children who are now students at IU.
There is no question that recruiting has improved, and that the Hoosiers have been very, very young. The offense is explosive, and the defense has been brutal. Wilson fired defensive coordinator Doug Mallory, but the defensive woes stretch back far beyond Mallory’s three year tenure in Bloomington. Indiana’s defense has been ranked 71st or worse since 1999.
The replacement is Brian Knorr. Indiana was able to hire him away from Air Force only a week after he accepted the defensive coordinator gig there. Nice that Indiana is in a position to win the bidding for their guy.
Indiana lost offensive coordinator Seth Littrell to North Carolina, where he accepted the same position. Not so nice to lose a guy to a school willing and able to pay more Co-offensive coordinator Kevin Johns was promoted to replace Littrell, and his cupboard is not bare. Indiana returns eight starters, but lose their best player – wide receiver Cody Latimer, who declared for the NFL Draft.
The coach leading the defense has changed, but the players haven’t. The Hoosiers return 10 starters, including four true freshmen who figured prominently in 2013. Sure, the defense couldn’t have been much worse, so everyone coming back isn’t a guaranteed road to improvement, but they can’t very well backslide from where they where – or have been since Y2K scared the hell out of everyone.
As of today (1/30/14), Indiana has 22 commits in the 2014 class. Dominique Booth is a four-star wide receiver from Pike High School in Indianapolis, and the other 21 commits are three-star kids. There is room for a few more, and signing day is just six days away. Right now, IU’s group would rank near the middle of the Big Ten pack.
Including this year, Wilson has brought in 8 four-star recruits, and 63 rated three stars. Prior to his arrival, Indiana had never netted a four-star recruit as far back as I can check.
In Wilson’s first three seasons, Indiana has improved from one win to four wins to five wins. Anything but a trip to a bowl will be judged as a step back. Despite Indiana’s inclusion in the Big Ten East with Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, and Rutgers, fans are likely to be less patient with Wilson and the Hoosiers if the ball bounces the wrong way and they fall short of a 13th game.
Indiana plays six home games – two less than the eight they played in 2013, and the opponents are tough. The non-conference slate includes Indiana State and North Texas at home, and road tilts against Missouri and Bowling Green. The conference games will not present many opportunities for walkovers. Sure, there are home games against Maryland and Purdue, but Michigan State and Penn State are going to be very tough. The road games against Iowa, Michigan, Rutgers, and Ohio State will all be tough wins.
The one favor done by the Big Ten for Indiana is that Wisconsin is gone from the schedule. There isn’t a Hoosier fan, coach, or player who wants to see the Badgers again. Navy too.
No question that under Wilson the Hoosiers have moved in the right direction. The problem with heading in the right direction is that there will be 13 other Big Ten teams busting their asses to head there more quickly.
Indiana AD Fred Glass said all the right things about the Hoosiers fortunes for improvement when I asked him for his thoughts. Click on the arrow below to listen.