The off-season is a long and tiresome trudge, so how can we best get through it? By looking ahead to next year, of course. So, in the spirit of forward thinking, we present a team-by-team look at Iowa's 2010 football opponents (with looks at Illinois and Purdue thrown in for good measure so our Big Televen brethren don't feel ignored). Next up: What is a goddamn Hoosier? I still don't know.
INDIANA HOOSIERS (@ Bloomington, IN; November 6, 2010)
Where the devil do they play? At the Big Ten's other Memorial Stadium, which is now new and improved and much nicer-looking after a multi-million dollar renovation project. The dozens of hobos that sneak in on fall Saturdays to enjoy the warmth and masquerade as football fans are no doubt very appreciative of their snazzy new digs.
What did they do last year? They started off promisingly with a three-game winning streak (albeit with a pair of uncomfortably close wins against Eastern Kentucky and Western Michigan)... and then had the bottom fall out, losing eight of their last nine games, stumbling to a 4-8 season and yet another bowl-less season in Bloomington. The nadir was a 47-7 shitkicking at the hands of a hapless Virginia team; in hindsight, that loss was probably a good sign that Indiana wasn't going bowling.
On the other hand, there was a certain element of hard luck to many of Indiana's defeats in 2009. They had a back-and-forth game with Michigan, led in the fourth quarter, and a late chance to tie or win the game taken away by a controversial interception call. They blew a 28-3 first half lead against just Northwestern and lost on a near-last second field goal. They blew a 10-0 lead in Happy Valley and were mounting a solid challenge until Ben Chappell threw an ugly interception that Navarro Bowman ran back for 73 yards to give Penn State a lead they would never lose. And we know quite well their issues in the Iowa game. Flip the result in two of those games and the Hoosiers are another 6-6 team heading to a middling bowl -- but their fanbase is hell of a lot happier and Bill Lynch's job security is a hell of a lot more stable.
So do they have, like, history with Iowa? Well, they've played fairly regularly since 1912; Iowa owns a 40-27-4 series advantage. And even closer than that recently: UI and IU have split the last ten meetings at five apiece. Still, if you asked most Iowa fans to rank the other Big Ten football programs in terms of who really got them fired up, there's about a 95% chance that Indiana would rank dead last on that list. Geography, heartbreak, and/or memorable/competitive games get passions roused and Indiana ranks pretty low in all three categories for Iowa. It doesn't help that Indiana football fans are so rare they might as well ride unicorns to the games and the ones that do exist are so beaten down that you just want to give them a hug and get them some tea; they're like Cubs fans without the delusions of grandeur.
What's the one thing you should know about Indiana? James Hardy doesn't have any more eligibility left, thank god. Also: what's a fucking Hoosier? Turns out the explanation isn't that exciting, although the idea that it's a term derived from some mangled interpretation of "who's there" has a certain idiotic charm.
How many of these fools were around a year ago? Eight on offense, four on defense, and a punter.
What should we expect when Indiana has the ball? The good news for Indiana is that they should have one of the Big Ten's most dynamic offenses in 2010. (Which is especially important because they're going to need to score a ton of points to make up for that defense.) The triggerman for their pistol offense (LAWL) is returning senior Ben Chappell, who took over the Indiana offense in 2008 after Kellen Lewis ran afoul of the law (or fire-breathin' Bill Lynch) one too many times. In regular season games a year ago, Chappell finished 1st in the Big Ten in pass completions (268), 2nd in the Big Ten in passing attempts (428) and yards (2941), 3rd in completion percentage (62.6%), and 4th in touchdown passes (17). Mind you, he was also tied for the league lead in interceptions (15) with Adam Weber (our beloved Ricky Stanzi joined them at the top of that stat category after the Orange Bowl).
Our blog buddies at Off-Tackle Empire are big fans of Mr. Chappell and it's not really going out on a limb to say that he's likely a top-5 QB in the league. Seriously: Illinois, Northwestern, Penn State, and Purdue are all breaking in brand-new quarterbacks and among teams with returning starters at quarterback, we'd rather have Chappell than Adam Weber or whichever still-raw signal-caller emerges from the muck at Michigan. Still, much like Stanzi, Chappell really needs to cut down on that interception total; 15 is far too many balls to be throwing to the guys in the wrong-colored shirts. Indeed, it's even more critical for Chappell to reduce his turnover total, considering that he doesn't have one of the nation's best defenses to bail him out.
We'll check the rulebook, coach, but we're pretty sure t-shirt cannons still aren't legal in football games.
Aside from Chappell, Indiana also returns a significant amount of talent at the offensive skill positions. Their leading rusher from a year ago, Darius Willis, is back and hoping to improve on his '09 stats: 123 carries, 607 yards, and 6 TDs. He's better-sized (6'0", 225 lbs.) than some of the quarkbacks Indiana has used in the past, so it's reasonable to think that he might put up some good numbers behind a fairly experienced offensive line and with a passing attack that opposing defenses will need to respect. Indiana will be praying that nothing happens to Willis, though, because the options behind him are less than inspiring. His primary back-up is slated to be Trea Burgess, a career back-up who ran for 130 yards and 3 TDs on 47 carries (2.8 ypc) in 2009. Behind him is Nick Turner, an untested redshirt frosh.
Wide receiver is where Indiana's offense should truly excel in 2010, though. They return their top three pass-catchers from '09 (and their receiver with the fourth most catches in 2009 is now one of their starting safeties) and should have some of the Big Ten's most explosive and dangerous receiving threats. Leading the way is junior Tandon Doss, who blew up for 962 yards and 5 TDs on 77 catches in '09. Right behind him are Damarlo Belcher (61-770-5) and Terrance Turner (46-443-1). All three are big, physical receivers with solid speed; Belcher in particular looks (physically) almost like a James Hardy clone (6'5", 215 lbs.). Thankfully, the talent in the Iowa secondary has improved quite a bit since James Hardy was waging his one man terror campaign on Iowa in the mid-00s. Like the rest of Indiana's offensive skill threats, though, the depth at receiver is paper-thin: two of the three second-team guys (Duwyce Wilson and Jammone Chester) are redshirt freshmen, while the other is a junior (Dre Muhammad) with no stats thus far.
Indiana also has a fair amount of returning experience on the offensive line paving the way for that high-powered offense. James Brewer started all 12 games at RT a year ago and LT Andrew McDonald saw action in 8 games. C Will Matte started all 12 games a year ago and allowed just 1 sack. Redshirt frosh Aaron Price lacks experience, but he must have a decent amount of talent if he's been able to push Justin Pagan (11 starts at LG, 1 sack allowed in 09) to the second line of the depth chart. The other guard spot has seen youth overtake experience, too, with Marc Damisch (a sophomore who played in 9 games a year ago, starting one) listed over senior Cody Faulkner (who's made 11 starts at RG over the past few years). Perhaps Lynch's improved recruiting is starting to pay dividends for Indiana. As a unit, the Indiana offensive line allowed Chappell to get sacked only 15 times last year, tied with Penn State and Daryll Clark for the second fewest allowed in the league among regular quarterbacks (only Michigan State's Kirk Cousins was sacked fewer times - 12).