BOZICH | Hoosiers bowl bound or same old struggles?
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Getting into a bowl game has become as exclusive as getting into the crowd at Thunder Over Louisville.
Of the 64 programs that play in the Power Five conferences, three have failed to play in a bowl over the last five seasons.
One is Colorado.
Two is Kansas.
And three is Indiana, which is urgently trying to escape the bottom 5 percent in coach Kevin Wilson’s fifth season in Bloomington.
Is this the season the Hoosiers play in a bowl for the first time since 2007?
I’m not ready to make my prediction. I’ve picked the Hoosiers to win six games the last two seasons. There's no rush to look silly again. I'll wait until the first week of September.
Besides, the debate has been raging all summer. I imagine it will not end until Indiana concludes its 2015 season on Nov. 28 at Purdue.
Phil Steele predicts that Indiana University will be the fourth most improved college football team in the nation, more improved than the product Charlie Strong will put on the field at Texas. Big stuff, coming from Steele, one of the game's confirmed gurus.
Sports Illustrated, ESPN and all 17 Republican presidential candidates disagree, assigning the Hoosiers the tag the program is desperate to avoid – last place in the East Division of the Big Ten.
Steele loves Indiana's offensive line, rating it the fourth best in the Big Ten. Reasonable football observers say that tackle Jason Spriggs and guard Dan Feeney will play in the NFL.
The skeptics note that as solid as the offensive line was last season, it could not protect quarterback Nate Sudfeld from a season-ending injury.
The word around IU is that Sudfeld, a senior, is now healthy and throwing lasers. The only Big Ten quarterbacks that Steele ranks ahead of Sudfeld are Connor Cook of Michigan State, Ohio State's J.T. Barrett and Christian Hackenberg of Penn State.
Sudfeld's size, 6 feet 5, 240 pounds, makes him a likely pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
The doubters will remind you that with J-Shun Harris sidelined all season with a knee injury the Hoosiers are without their top four receivers from 2015. Nobody on the roster caught more than eight balls. Wilson is still looking for a full-sized replacement for Cody Latimer.
Can Sudfeld overcome that?
Steele says that his two primary sets of power ratings call for a 7-5 season from the Hoosiers. Indiana fans would storm the field if Kevin Wilson's team could win six times.
How about just six wins? Outline the path where the Hoosiers win six. If they fail to beat both non-conference games against Western Kentucky (at IU) and Wake Forest (in Winston-Salem), they'll need to win three Big Ten games.
Pick the three. Rutgers? Iowa? Maryland? Purdue?
IU lost to Iowa, Maryland and Rutgers a year ago.
Those have to be your choices because Indiana sits at 1-16 over the last five seasons against the other four conference teams on its schedule – Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State and Michigan.
The losses have been by an average of 18.5 points.
Instead of relying on a freshman to replace Coleman, Wilson has a talented sophomore (Devine Redding) and the best veteran transfer who was available. That would be junior Jordan Howard, who ran for nearly 1,600 yards and 13 touchdowns before UAB shuttered its program.
Howard is talented. But he's no Coleman, who was always a threat to twist an eight-yard gain into a 48-yard gain.
Coleman might have eclipsed Anthony Thompson as the best running back to play for Indiana. Replacing Coleman in the backfield will be as daunting as replacing Victor Oladipo has been for the IU basketball program.
The consensus is that Indiana's front seven on defense is improved. Linebacker Tegray Scales has star quality.
The response is that the Hoosiers lost their entire secondary, including junior Antonio Allen, who was the unit's best player last season. The secondary is rarely a kind place to freshmen.
The debate goes on and on as Indiana works to end its bowl drought.
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