Despite another disappointing record (4-8) in 2009, Indiana finished the season with several reasons to believe things will get better soon.
Those reasons could be found in Indiana's offensive meeting room.
From quarterback Ben Chappell to wide receivers Tandon Doss and Damarlo Belcher to running back Darius Willis, Indiana boasted plenty of weapons to attack its opponents. And for the most part, they're all coming back in 2010, as the Hoosiers lose only three offensive starters, two of whom played on the line.
But offensive firepower rarely is the problem at Indiana. Defensive struggles have doomed the Hoosiers for the last decade, as they finished no better than 71st nationally since 2000. Despite a veteran-laden unit in 2009, Indiana ranked 10th in the Big Ten in points allowed (29.5 points per game), ninth against the pass (241.9 yards per game), ninth against the run (159.1 ypg) and 10th in total yards allowed (401 ypg).
The Hoosiers also lose seven starters on defense, including All-Big Ten end Jammie Kirlew, former national sacks leader Greg Middleton, standout middle linebacker Matt Mayberry and three-fourths of the secondary. Even if IU lights up the scoreboard in 2010, it could have major problems stopping anyone on defense.
That's why head coach Bill Lynch plans to move several offensive players to defense, including versatile wide receiver Mitchell Evans.
Recruited as a quarterback and a safety, Evans began his college career at safety, moved to quarterback for preseason camp in 2008 and eventually switched to wide receiver. He ranked fourth on the team with 33 receptions for 366 yards and three touchdowns in 2009, but he was perhaps best known for being the trigger man on the Wildcat offense, or, as Indiana folks called it, the Wild-Mitch. Evans took 69 snaps in the Wild-Mitch and rushed for 131 yards on 32 attempts.
This fall, Evans will be patrolling the secondary as a safety.
"He played safety for us as a true freshman," Lynch told me last week. "We're looking at some other guys that we may move to compete at corner and see how they do, knowing that they could go back to offense if it didn't work out."
Last year, wide receiver Ray Fisher moved to cornerback and became Indiana's top cover man. Fisher still contributed on kick returns, recording two runbacks for touchdowns. Evans also could maintain a role on offense, even though he'd be primarily a defensive player.
"He's the kind of kid that could [play both ways]," Lynch said. "It takes a mature guy that's a quick learner and doesn't need a lot of reps, and he's one of those kinds of guys. He's very unique that way."
Wide receiver Matt Ernest, who played safety in high school, also will switch over to defense for 2010. Indiana expects two junior college players, Andre Kates and Lenyatta Kiles, to fill in at cornerback.
"We don't want to count on freshmen coming in and doing it," Lynch said. "Kates and Kiles will compete right away, and then the next step is some of the guys we're going to move this spring."