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.
In case you missed it... PART ONE
INDIANA HOOSIERS (@ Bloomington, IN; November 6, 2010)
OK, what should we expect when Indiana doesn't have the ball? Only one Big Ten team returns fewer starters than the four that Indiana is slated to return in 2010 (Minnesota returns just two starters from last year's already crapulent defense; in related news, we can't wait until November 27th). The Hoosier defense is so uninspiring that even though Phil Steele goes four-deep in his preseason All-Big Ten teams, he wouldn't even give an Indiana player a pity slot on one of those teams. Shit, even Minnesota got a pity slot (he tabbed Kim Royston fourth-team FS). In his positional unit rankings, Indiana ranks 10th in all three defensive units. The only defensive units expected to be worse than what Indiana is trotting out on defense in 2010? Minnesota's defensive line (ranked 11th in the league) and Purdue's secondary (ditto); Indiana and Minnesota tied for the worst linebacker units at 10th. Mind you, last year's defense wasn't anything great: they gave up 29.5 ppg and let in 30+ in seven of their eight losses (and they allowed 29 points in the eigth loss). For Indiana's sake, Ben Chappell and his receivers better have their track shoes on, because they're gonna be doing some running to keep up with all the points their defense allows.
It's hard to find a nominal position of strength on the Hoosier defense, but if there is one, it's probably defensive tackle, where Indiana returns both starters, Adam Replogle and Larry Black. Replogle's emergence a year ago was seemingly a product of Bill Lynch's improved recruiting; he leapt into the starting line-up as a true freshman and managed to stick, starting 11 games and recording 32 tackles (5 TFL) and 4 sacks. Black managed to crack the line-up as a redshirt frosh a year ago, racking up 29 tackles (7.5 TFL) and 1.5 sacks in 2010. While the interior of the Hoosier defensive line should look familiar, some old faces on the outside will (finally) be gone, as both Greg Middleton and Jammie Kirlew, two guys who seemed to be on the Jess Settles eligbility track, are finally departed. Neither player was as dominant last year as they were in the past, but they were still very capable ends (38 tackles and 3 sacks for Middleton and 62 tackles and 6.5 sacks for Kirlew). The favorites to fill their spots this year are Darius Johnson and Fred Jones. Johnson had 8 tackles (1 TFL) and a sack last year; Jones had 3 tackles (1 TFL).
Indiana returns one of three starters at LB, senior strong-side linebacker Tyler Replogle (older brother of the Replogle at DT), who started 9 games a year ago and amassed 80 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 2 sacks, and 1 INT. Jeff Thomas is expected to replace internet legend (and last year's leading tackler) Matt Mayberry at MLB, with Chad Sherer sliding in at the third and final LB spot. Thomas is a JUCO transfer and excelled at that level a year ago (All-American, NorCal Conference Defensive Player of the Year, etc.), but not all JUCO stars excel at the Big Ten level. Sherer had seven tackles in '09.
The Hoosiers also return just one starter in the secondary, CB Adrian Burks. Burks had 21 tackles and 1 pass defended a year ago. He's joined by Richard Council at the other CB spot; Council had 22 tackles (0.5 TFL) and 2 passes defended in '09. At safety, Indiana was hoping to have a reasonably experienced option at FS in Chris Adkins (14 tackles, 1 INT), but he's going to miss a good chunk of the season with an ankle injury. In his absence, the Hoosiers are likely to start Donnell Jones and Mitchell Evans at safety. Jones had 30 tackles, 4 passes defended, and an interception a year ago, while Evans had 8 tackles.
And just how "special" are their special teams? Not all that special, really. They have returning starters at both kicker and punter, but neither man exactly excelled at his role last year. At punter, they return Chris Hagerup, who averaged 40.5 yards per kick and booted 12 inside the 20 yard line, but had a net of just 33.7 yards per kick. Either his kicks weren't very high or his coverage teams weren't very good. Nick Freeland is is still listed atop the depth chart at placekicker, despite going an unconvincing 14/25 last year, including 0/5 from 40+ and just 14/20 from 39 yards and in. Stud receiver Tandon Doss is expected to carry the load at punt returner and kick returner in 2010; he returned 25 kicks for 533 yards a year ago.
Alright, brainiac, what's gonna happen? Yes, Indiana defeated Iowa in 2006 and 2007. Yes, Indiana led Iowa for three quarters a year ago. (And, yes, Indiana was victimized by some bad calls in that game; they were also victimized by the weather, their own shitty pass defense, and Bill Lynch's inability to fucking let go of perceived slights.) Things that are also true? Indiana benefited from a few lucky breaks in 2006 (like Damian Sims fumbling deep in the Indiana red zone on a drive that could have given Iowa a two-score lead in the second half) and 2007 (like Kellen Lewis recovering a fumble on a perfect bounce and running the ball 71 yards untouched for a touchdown), one of the most egregiously one-sided positional match-ups of the Ferentz Era (Adam Shada trying to cover James Hardy) in both years, and Iowa teams that possessed poor chemistry, poor talent, or a toxic mix of both. Last year, Iowa was hampered for a few quarters by weather, in-the-way officials, and Stanzi's unfortunate decision to channel his inner Grossman despite throwing the wrong way into a goddamn windstorm.
The intent here is not to discredit Indiana's wins over Iowa or their near-miss a year ago; in 2006 and 2007 they did a fine job of making plays and taking full advantage of the mismatches that Iowa gave them (like Shada/Hardy or that goddamn swing pass to the goddamn motherfucking fullback in 2007 that they ran at least 57 goddamn times for 8 yards a pop). Bully for them. Still, it seems productive to try and highlight just why things might be different in the impending 2010 encounter. Iowa doesn't appear to have any corners as hopelessly overmatched as Shada was in those games; nor does Indiana appear to have a freakish talent at WR like Hardy (though Doss is very good). This team appears to have better chemistry than the meltdown-prone 2006 squad and better, more experienced talent than the incredibly raw 2007 squad.
So what are some other reasons to like Iowa over Indiana in this game? You could look at the fact that Iowa hasn't scored fewer than 20 points against Indiana since a 7-point outing in 1998 and in the nine encounters since then, they scored fewer than 30 points only three times. Even last year's somewhat offensively challenged squad managed to put up 42 points on the Hoosier defense, even with Stanzi lofting five interceptions Indiana's way. And most of the players on that defense who were actually kind of good (Matt Mayberry, Jammie Kirlew, Greg Middleton) are now gone. Bill Lynch has done an impressive job of improving Indiana's recruiting efforts, but it seems crazy to expect too much stopping power out of this defense. You could also look at the fact that the last time the game was in Bloomington (2008), Iowa stomped the holy hell out of Indiana and let Shonn Greene and Jewel Hampton both run for 100+ yards. You could look at the fact that, at some point in the game a call will go against Bill Lynch and he will flip the fuck out and dwell on it for way too long, while at some point in the game a call will go against Kirk Ferentz and he will get angry for a moment before regaining his composure and getting his focus back on the details of the game -- and then you can decide which man you'd rather have coaching your team. And to paraphrase Rick Pitino, James Hardy isn't walking through that door. Neither are Kellen Lewis or Antwan Randle-El. The bogeymen that have caused Iowa so much misery over the past decade are no longer suiting up in crimson and cream. So yeah, we're gonna call for an Iowa win and a pretty comfortable one at that.
So how's the rest of their season gonna play out? For as much shit as we've given the rest of the Big Ten for their woeful non-conference schedules (deservedly so, for the most part), no one can match Indiana when it comes to pathetic non-conference scheduling. Feast on this slate: they open the season with a Thursday night home tilt against Towson, get a bye week, then head to Western Kentucky, and have another home date with Akron to close out September. (Their fourth and final non-conference opponent, Arkansas State, comes to Bloomington in mid-October.) Towson went 2-9 in '09 (1-7 in the CAA) and got blasted by their lone FBS opponent (just Northwestern), 47-14. Western Kentucky is entering their second season as a full-fledged FBS school; they went 0-12 last year. Akron went 3-9 (2-6 in the MAC) a year ago. Arkansas State went 4-8 (3-5 in the Sun Belt) in '09. That's a combined record of 9-38 in 2009 games for Indiana's 2010 opponents.
It's not like those teams are expected to make a quantum leap to respectability in 2010, either. Towson is -- WAIT IT'S FUCKING TOWSON NO ONE GIVES A SHIT. Western Kentucky is -- WAIT IT'S FUCKING... okay, okay, we'll be serious for a moment. Western Kentucky, in their second year as a full-time FBS school, is - SHOCK - expected to finish at the bottom of the Sun Belt. Akron is projected to finish at the bottom of their division in the MAC. Arkansas State is the lone foe not expected to completely blow chunks all over themselves in 2010; they're slated to finish 3rd in the Sun Belt. Anything less than four wins from those games should probably be grounds for Bill Lynch's immediate dismissal. But it's pretty obvious that they want to go to back to a bowl game this year and they don't care what they have to do to stack the deck in their favor.
Business picks up for the Hoosiers after they leave their cupcake-laden slate in September. Michigan comes to town to kick off October, followed by a road trip to Columbus to take on the Buckeyes. After the aforementioned home game with Arkansas State, Indiana goes on the road to Illinois, before finishing the month with a road trip to Northwestern. November opens with a home game against Iowa, follows that with a road game at Wisconsin, a "home" game with Penn State (at FedEx Field in Washington, D.C. -- I'm sure there won't be too many Penn State fans there), and a season-ending road date with their in-state rivals from Purdue. Let's be frank: there's one real goal for Indiana out of those eight games -- win at least two games so they can go to a bowl.
Road games against Ohio State and Wisconsin aren't going to be wins; if they are, stock up on canned goods and head for the fallout shelter, because armageddon is a-comin'. Indiana's never beaten Penn State in their history; sacrificing what meager homefield advantage they could have had isn't going to help their chances to end that streak. As we know, they won two in a row over Iowa in 2006 and 2007 and had Iowa in trouble for three quarters a year ago... but we're still picking an Iowa win. That leaves four games that they need to split: Michigan, @ Illinois, Northwestern, and @ Purdue. Winning at Illinois is virtually a must. Indiana beat Purdue the last time they went to a bowl game (2007), but Purdue pwned them in the Aughts, beating the Hoosiers eight times (six times by 10+ points). They played Michigan tough in '09 and, but for a controversial interception, might have pulled out a win. Given the strength of Indiana's passing offense and the staggering weakness of Michigan's pass defense, it's certainly not inconceivable that they could win that one. Indiana's lost five of their last six against Northwestern, but they did beat them the last time the game was in Bloomington and those five losses have been by a combined 21 points, so they certainly haven't had a problem staying competitive with the Wildcats. So: are there two wins there? Maybe? Probably? We hope so; we'd like Bill Lynch to continue to bless us with gum-throwing tirades for a little while longer.
NEXT: just Northwestern.