Way-too-early 2016 look: Indiana
Coach: Kevin Wilson (five years, 20-41)
2015 record: 6-7 (2-6 in B1G)
Biggest losses: Nate Sudfeld, QB; Jordan Howard, RB; Jason Spriggs, OL
Biggest returners: Dan Feeney, OL; Devine Redding, RB; Simmie Cobbs Jr., WR
2016 recruiting class ranking: No. 75, 14th in B1G
Top committed recruit: Three-star JUCO safety Jayme Thompson
2016 strength: Running Game
Usually when a team loses a back as talented as Jordan Howard, the question is who will pick up the pieces. With Indiana, that won’t be a problem. Sophomore Devine Redding showed plenty of promise, most notably when he ran for 227 yards in the Pinstripe Bowl against Duke. Impressive was the fact that when Howard went down against Maryland, Redding racked up 501 rushing yards on 81 carries in his final three games. With the way IU blocks, this shouldn’t have come has much of a surprise. It’s easy to think of the Hoosiers as a high-flying pass-heavy offense, especially with what they’ll return at receiver next year. But IU’s ground game has become Wisconsin-like under Kevin Wilson in the last few years. Three straight years the Hoosiers have finished in the top 30 in rushing, and with a new starter at quarterback, Redding and Mike Majette could easily make it a fourth.
2016 weakness: Pass Rush
IU didn’t have many pass-rushers to begin with. Nick Mangieri and Zack Shaw could get to the quarterback, and Darius Latham applied pressure when he was on the field. But all of those guys are gone. Mangieri, a guy who played with the fire the IU lacked on the defensive side too often, will be the toughest to replace. IU does have a veteran linebacking core coming back with Tegray Scales, T.J. Simmons and Marcus Oliver back. That could easily be the strength of the defense. But IU will have to get pressure from its defensive line if it wants to help out its secondary. That could fall on Ralph Green and Robert McCray, both of whom should step into more prominent roles. An inability to stop the pass — especially in the fourth quarter — prevented IU from getting over the hump against better teams. If the Hoosiers take a step back in that area, this defense will struggle even more against air attacks.
Way-too-early 2016 projection: 6-6 (3-6 in B1G)
Call me crazy, but I’m predicting a little history for the Hoosiers. IU has been to consecutive bowl games just twice in its history. The last time that happened was 1991. In 2016, that skid ends. A lot of IU’s success could be determined by who takes the reins of the quarterback battle. JUCO transfer Richard Lagow would be the likely choice, though Zander Diamont is more experienced in Wilson’s system. Wilson might even go with a mix of the two. Whoever is running the show will have three very winnable non-conference games to get settled in before facing the gauntlet that is the B1G East. But outside of games against Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State — all of whom they competed well against in 2015 — the Hoosiers’ schedule is favorable. IU has young talent on defense, and if it can just be average on that side of the ball, this team should get back to the postseason.