Indiana coach Kevin Wilson signed a six-year, $15.3 million contract over the offseason, so job security is not an issue here. The big question now: Can Wilson continue to build upon the Hoosiers’ recent success?
The sixth-year head coach, already the longest-tenured Indiana coach since Bill Mallory (1984-1996), is coming off the Hoosiers’ first bowl game since 2007. Indiana is now trying to make it to back-to-back bowl games for the first time since 1990-91, and it’s certainly not going to be easy. Wilson is without three-year starting quarterback Nate Sudfeld and explosive running back Jordan Howard.
“We will miss a couple good players,” Wilson said last month. “But we’ve got a good core of guys back.”
The offensive line features four fifth-year seniors, and the defense can’t get much worse. Wilson hired a new defensive coordinator in Tom Allen, who utilizes the 4-2-5, and Wilson said he’s been encouraged by the progress on that unit.
What can fans expect out of the Hoosiers this season? Here’s a preview of the 2016 season:
2015 record: 6-7 (2-6 Big Ten)
Key losses: QB Nate Sudfeld, RB Jordan Howard, TE Michael Cooper, TE Anthony Corsaro, OT Jason Spriggs, OL Jake Reed, DL Darius Latham, DL Adarius Rayner, DL Nick Mangieri, LB Zach Shaw, P Eric Toth
Key returners: RB Devine Redding, WR Simmie Cobbs, WR Mitchell Paige, WR Ricky Jones, OG Dan Feeney, OT Dimitric Camiel, LB T.J. Simmons, LB Marcus Oliver, LB Tegray Scales, CB Rashard Fant, CB Andre Brown, S Jonathan Crawford, S Chase Dutra, K Griffin Oakes
Instant impact player: QB Richard Lagow. At 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds, Lagow certainly looks the part of the Hoosiers’ starting quarterback -- and he’s currently leading the QB race. He was ESPN’s No. 1-rated junior-college quarterback, with scouts noting that, “He has a lot of wow type throws given his arm talent.” And Wilson has been very pleased with Lagow’s development since enrolling in January. He has big shoes to fill when it comes to Sudfeld, but he fits the system and could be in for an impressive season.
Key stat: Zero -- the number of times Indiana has cracked the top 99 in scoring defense since Wilson took over in 2011. For as good as the Hoosiers’ offense has been -- it finished No. 24 nationally in scoring last year -- it’s been entirely the opposite on defense. Wilson is now on his third defensive coordinator at Indiana, and his team never has been ranked better than No. 100 in scoring defense.
Upset special: Nov. 12 vs. Penn State. Last season, Indiana scored at least 26 points in 12 out of 13 games. The only contest it let up? Against Penn State, when both Sudfeld and Howard were injured. That, in part, is what makes this meeting unique. Indiana matches up well, and Penn State’s offense could struggle putting up the points that a healthy Indiana team is capable of. Indiana was able to upset Penn State as recently as 2013, so a win here would hardly be Indiana breaking new ground.
Best-case scenario: Lagow and Redding pick up right where Sudfeld and Howard left off, establishing a top-25 offense and starting off 3-0 through the nonconference schedule. But, perhaps more importantly, Allen’s 4-2-5 defense proves to be just what the Hoosiers need. The defense remains below average, but it takes a clear step forward and is no longer the liability it has been. Indiana makes its second straight bowl with seven or eight wins in the regular season, then pulls off its first postseason win since 1991.
Worst-case scenario: Lagow and Redding are both good, but it’s clear they’re not quite what the Hoosiers are used to. The offense takes a step backward, and the defense once again is one of the nation’s worst. The Hoosiers steal two nonconference wins that are much closer than expected, but they get trounced by the Big Ten’s best. In the end, they finish with no more than four wins and fail to build off a 2015 season in which they made the Pinstripe Bowl. Attendance falls below 40,000 per game.