July 25, 2011
The least you should know about the 2011 Hoosiers. Part of Big Ten Week.
• First, something nice. Incoming head coach Kevin Wilson's name had popped in connection to more attractive openings over the past few years than the black hole of the Big Ten, but he fits snugly in Bloomington in a couple of ways. For starters, he actually took the job. Two, he's no stranger to underprivileged programs in the Midwest, where he first established a foothold in big-time college football under the late Randy Walker at Miami (Ohio) and Northwestern.
He also inherits some productive talent from a pass-happy system that may have never existed if not for him. Wilson was at the forefront of the spread revolution as offensive coordinator at Northwestern, where the outmanned Wildcats unveiled the exotic "read option" in 2000, led the Big Ten in total and scoring offense and finished with a share of the conference championship. Running back Damien Anderson led the nation that season with over 2,000 yards on the ground, and Bob Stoops soon came calling on Wilson to replace departed offensive line coach/coordinator Mark Mangino. In nine years in Norman, he was part of six Big 12 championships, three BCS championship games and the highest-scoring offense in college football history in 2008.
• Now, the reality. The Hoosiers have not been so fortunate. Indiana hasn't put together back-to-back winning seasons since 1993-94, hasn't finished in the AP poll since 1988 and hasn't so much as shared a Big Ten title since 1967. This is the school that decided it was better off by just going ahead and selling a conference home game and pocketing the difference. It's managed one winning season in the last 16 years.
And as ugly as predecessor Bill Lynch's 19-30 mark may look, it's still better than Indiana's overall winning percentage since World War II, collectively achieved by eleven consecutive head coaches who left Bloomington with sub-.500 tenures before him. Lynch's exit makes 12 straight losers in the job since Bo McMillin from 1934-47, almost all of whom have been fired. If Wilson turns out to be the one guy who can actually hold Hoosier fans' interest into basketball season, he'll be one of the hottest up-and-coming coaches in the country. If not, the black hole could set his career back by a decade.
• We will we will screen you. The Hoosiers were good at one thing and one thing only in 2010: Throwing the ball as often and quickly as possible. Senior Ben Chappell was one of only five quarterbacks nationally who put the ball in the air at least 40 times per game, significantly more than any other QB in the Big Ten, and got rid of it fast enough to make him one of the conference's least-sacked quarterbacks for the second year in a row.
Throwing early and often doesn't mean throwing effectively — a lot of the passing came in catch-up mode, and only Purdue scored fewer points in Big Ten games — but it does leave Wilson with a pair of impressive-looking wideouts (6-foot-5 senior Damarlo Belcher, right, and 6-3 sophomore Duwyce Wilson, top) and a reliable tight end (Ted Bolser, a freshman All-American in 2010) who have caught a lot of passes already in a spread-oriented system. In this case, however, it does not leave him with anything resembling a seasoned quarterback to fill Chappell's shoes.
• Just don't get too comfortable. At least there are options under center: Sophomores Dusty Kiel and Edward Wright-Baker are the sturdy pocket types built for winging the ball into the flat a few dozen times a game, and incoming freshman Tre Roberson can be the change-of-pace/Wildcat guy out of the shotgun. But every football fan in the state this summer is hanging on the word of Dusty Kiel's younger brother, Gunner, who's both a Dwight Schrute lookalike and the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the country by just about everyone with opinion. And yes, he may actually commit to Indiana, just a short skip from his hometown.
The younger Kiel is expected to make his decision before the start of his senior season. If it's for the Hoosiers, it will be one of the biggest victories for Indiana football in 50 years, and whoever wins the job this fall is only keeping the seat warm for the hometown hero in 2012.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.