Indiana expects offensive, defensive linemen to pace improvement

CHICAGO -- Optimism runs high in July. Just ask Adarius Rayner, the Indiana defensive tackle who refused to concede an inch Thursday in sharing his vision for the Hoosiers this football season.

"National championship," Rayner said as Indiana players made the interview rounds at Big Ten media days. "We want to be undefeated. That's what we're going for. That's what we see in the schedule."

Yes, the Hoosiers host No. 1 Ohio State and play at No. 6 Michigan State in October. Yes, Indiana lost to Bowling Green a year ago. Sure, it beat only Purdue in Big Ten play in 2014 and has qualified for one bowl game in the past two decades.

Save the skepticism for another day, though; the Hoosiers are bullish on this season in large part because of their growth at the line of scrimmage. The Indiana offensive and defensive lines may rank as the strengths of coach Kevin Wilson's team to enter his fifth season in Bloomington.

When Wilson took over, just two Indiana players could bench press 400 pounds. Last week, eight offensive linemen reached that weight, while Nate Hoff and Wes Martin benched 500.

"This is the Big Ten," Wilson said. "It's big, strong and physical. It's not for the faint. It's not for the frail.

"I really like being more mature at the line of scrimmage. It gives us a lot of confidence, a lot of positive hope in the direction that we're going."

Defensively, seniors Rayner, Nick Mangieri and Zack Shaw, junior Darius Latham and Hoff, a sophomore, return with extensive experience. On the offensive side, left tackle Jason Spriggs has started 28 straight games and 34 of 35 in his career. Dan Feeney has allowed one sack in 24 starts at right. Senior center Jake Reed also returns as a starter.

"I think it's something that the rest of the team can put their trust in," Spriggs said. "They know that we're going to be the hardest-working group out there. They know that we're going to be the group that they can rely on to get the job done.

"They can believe that we're going to do what we need to do."

The Hoosiers, of course, must correct a few problems. They allowed sacks last year on 7.7 percent of passing plays, 102nd nationally. Defensively, Indiana allowed 32.8 points per game and ranked last in the Big Ten in passing yardage allowed per game at 251.1.

Rayner said he knows fans and media will doubt the Hoosiers.

"It's just fuel to the fire," he said. "We hear stuff every year, but we've made consistent improvement. People will act like they can't see it."

Indiana players and coaches see the progress. In July, it's all that matters.