Kevin Wilson enters 2015 in a make-or-break season for the Hoosiers. This program had been building momentum under Wilson, but last season saw a major backslide, largely because of quarterback injuries. However, a program like Indiana’s is always at risk for a backslide to progress into a full-on deluge, so the Hoosiers desperately need a bounce back campaign in 2015 to stop the slide.
Nate Sudfeld’s injury pretty much doomed Indiana’s bowl hopes halfway through last season. Indiana was 3-2 in games that Sudfeld started and finished. (They also lost the game in which he got hurt making his starting record 3-3). The Hoosiers proceeded to win only one of their last six games without him. He’s back and healthy now, and hopefully can stay that way. Sudfeld is also the ideal quarterback for the team’s up-tempo, pass-heavy attack.
Sudfeld should also be protected by a reasonably solid and experienced offensive line. Seven offensive linemen have starting experience, and three have twenty-two or more career starts. The star of the line is RG Dan Feeney, and Indiana also boasts an experienced player at the most important position on the line for a pass-happy offense. Left tackle Jason Spriggs has 34 career starts to his name already.
Losing 2,000-yard rusher Tevin Coleman will be tough, but Indiana does benefit from UAB’s program woes by gaining a 1,500-yard rusher, Jordan Howard, from them. Howard also rushed for 13 touchdowns as a Blazer last season. Devine Redding will likely back Howard up after rushing for 118 yards and a touchdown as a freshman last season.
For a team that wants to pass the ball as frequently as Indiana does, it would be nice to have some proven returning receivers. The Hoosiers don’t have that luxury. J-Shun Harris II and Simmie Cobbs, Jr. are the only receivers to top 100 yards receiving last season. Fortunately, both of them were freshman last season, so they still have plenty of time to blossom in Bloomington. That can also be said for fellow sophomore Dominique Booth, who caught eight passes for 70 yards last season.
T.J. Simmons and Tegray Scales are the stars of this defense at linebacker. The two combined for 11 tackles for loss and four sacks last season. Scales also pitched in an unlikely coverage contribution at linebacker with three interceptions. Clyde Newton and Zack Shaw are expected to fill out the linebacking corps. Shaw did his part as the “Bandit” linebacker last season with 4.5 tackles for loss.
The secondary will be starting over at cornerback this season, but in all honesty that might not be a bad thing. As of now, sophomores Ben Bach and Noel Padmore are expected to start at corner. Neither of them played last season, so forecasting the secondary play is next to impossible, but given what this defense looked like last year new faces in starting roles isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Antonio Allen does return at free safety where he co-led the team in tackles last season with 59.5.
Bobby Richardson is the only significant loss on the defensive line. Richardson led the team in both tackles for loss and sacks last season, though. Nate Hoff should be a force on the interior defensive line. Hoff was second on the team with 8.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. That speaks both to Hoff’s ability to get to the passer from his nose tackle position, and to the team’s relatively weak pass rush overall.
A hot start will be critical for this team if they want to be successful this season. Indiana has three very winnable games in September with Southern Illinois, Florida International, and a trip to Wake Forest. They also play Western Kentucky, which will not be an easy game, but should be wildly entertaining. Opening conference play with Ohio State may be a rude awakening though, and the wins don’t get much easier as the season progresses. If Indiana wants to get back to bowl contention then they will likely have to win at least one of their final two games of the season, which are road trips to Maryland and Purdue.