Skeptic's guide to Indiana's 2022 football season
After a 2-10 season that left many around Bloomington scratching their heads — or, more likely, beating it against a wall — there’s plenty of reason for skepticism around whether the Hoosiers’ can rebound quickly in 2022.
ESPN’s College Football Power Index isn’t overly optimistic, predicting IU will finish around 4-8 (if wins/loses are rounded from its 4.3-7.7 estimate) and giving the Hoosiers an 18.4% chance of earning 6 victories. Considering where Coach Tom Allen had the Hoosiers 2 seasons ago, when they were arguably the second-best team in the Big Ten East, and where he wants them to be, getting back to the postseason should be the goal. But can IU get to 6? Can it get to ESPN’s prediction of 4? Can it even hit last year’s mark of 2?
Let’s point out 5 reasons Hoosiers fans should be skeptical of a bounceback:
Mass personnel turnover
Indiana is replacing nearly all of its offensive skill players from a year ago.
One could argue that’s a good thing, as the offense labored significantly in almost every major category, like scoring (17.3 per game, 13th in the Big Ten) and yardage (289.9/game, last). But having to replace the whole entourage — Indiana returns only 3 starting offensive linemen — in one season, plus having a new coordinator, could spell even more sour results.
New quarterback Connor Bazelak had success at Missouri, but who will be his leading receivers at IU? No matter the answer, they’re unlikely to have much experience. And who runs the ball? Allen hit the transfer portal hard in the offseason, bringing receiver Emery Simmons (North Carolina) and running backs Shaun Shivers (Auburn) and Josh Henderson (North Carolina). But how quickly can they adapt, if at all?
Transfers aren’t always a magic pill, although they do at least provide options.
Speaking of turnover
Turnover wasn’t limited to Indiana’s player personnel.
It hit the coaching staff hard, too.
Almost immediately after Indiana was nuked by rival Purdue in the Old Oaken Bucket game last fall, Allen fired offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan, then hired Walt Bell, the former head coach at UMass. But that wasn’t the only change. On offense, IU Craig Johnson replaced Deland McCullough as running back coach, and Adam Henry, who is also a co-coordinator, took wide receivers role from Grant Heard.
On defense, coordinator Chad Wilt, a former D-line coach at Minnesota, took the position after Charlton Warren left for North Carolina, and Paul Randolph is the assistant on the D-line, replacing Kevin Peoples.
Six coaches marks significant turnover, atypical of a head coach who is entering his 6th season at a program. Could it be indicative of a program in decline? Perhaps.
IU wasn’t close
Not only was Indiana 2-10 last season, it wasn’t close to competing in most of the losses.
The Hoosiers finished 0-9 in the Big Ten, during which they scored 94 points, including 35 in one game, a 3-point loss at Maryland. IU’s average margin of loss in the other 8 conference games was more than 27 points. Even if Indiana is improved this season, what will that mean?
A marked improvement might still mean closer losses.
Why the secrecy?
No one outside of those involved in the football program saw even a moment of Indiana’s spring practices.
The 15 sessions, which ended with an April 23 scrimmage, were closed to the public, meaning only Allen, his coaches, players and select administrators witnessed what happened. Some might say, “Who cares?” Others might wonder why such a harsh move to shut down during a time generally reserved for optimism?
It seems panicky, and might not bode well for a team seeking a big jump back up the Big Ten standings this fall.
Defense up to challenge?
Even in the Hoosiers’ successful 2020 season, when it won 6 (of 7) regular-season games, then lost to Ole Miss in the Outback Bowl, the defense carried a bulk of the load.
It was great, turning the opponent over 20 times, including with 17 interceptions, which ranked among the nation’s leaders. Injuries and an inconsistent offense led the defense to take a major step back last season; it was unable to carry as big a burden as in 2020.
What will the Hoosiers get in ’22?
IU has a strong secondary, led by former All-America cornerback Tiawan Mullen, and veteran linebacker Cam Jones, but there are significant questions about the defensive front, both in its ability to slow the rush and in its ability to rush the passer. If Indiana isn’t up to the task in the front 4, then it’ll be a long, long season again in the B1G East.