We've been taking a look at which Big Ten teams will be contenders and which will be pretenders in the 2013 season. Our series does not include Ohio State, Michigan or Nebraska -- three teams that, in our view, have earned the "contender" label entering the fall. For every other league team, we'll make a case for why they're contenders and pretenders and provide our final verdict.
Next up: the Indiana Hoosiers.
Why they're contenders: OK, so Indiana has won two conference games in the past two years combined. But don't overlook the Hoosiers in 2013. Unlike several other Big Ten teams we could name, they have one big thing going for them: they can really pass the ball. IU led the conference in passing yards last season, and that happened despite the loss of starting quarterback Tre Roberson in Week 2 to a leg injury. Roberson is back, along with Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld, as Kevin Wilson arguably has the deepest quarterback group in the Big Ten. The receiving corps is also among the very best in the league, with Cody Latimer, Kofi Hughes and Shane Wynn all posing threats to score every time the ball is thrown their way. After playing several true freshmen the past two years, Wilson now has a more veteran team, with 10 starters back on offense and nine on defense. This is a team that scored 49 points on Ohio State and pushed Michigan State to the brink; now, it's a year older. If that defense can just get to a mediocre or better level, Indiana could make some serious noise in the Leaders Division.
Why they're pretenders: Yes, the Hoosiers can move the ball and score. But can they stop anybody? This is a team that gave up 52 points to Ohio State, 62 to Wisconsin and 56 to Purdue last year. A strong recruiting class should help bolster the ranks, but good luck trying to win in the Big Ten with true freshmen on defense. Indiana didn't lose much in the way of seniors, but two of them were very valuable in defensive tackles Adam Replogle and Larry Black Jr., whose departure left a hole on the defensive line. The Big Ten remains a league where you win by running the ball and stopping the run, and the Hoosiers haven't been very good at either of those things the past two seasons. Then there's the schedule, which sees Wilson's team opening conference play by hosting Penn State before going to Michigan State and Michigan. Later in the year, Indiana has to play at both Wisconsin and Ohio State in back-to-back weeks. The Hoosiers would be bucking a lot of history by winning in those venues.
Verdict: We like Indiana to be much improved this year and contend for a bowl game. We also think the Hoosiers can pull off a few surprises in Big Ten play with that explosive offense. But there are just too many questions marks still on defense, and the schedule is a little too tough. Indiana is a pretender, albeit one with promise.