Hey, remember that time Cody Zeller was like "lol defense wut is that" and just let Tyler Griffey walk to the basket for a last second lay-up to allow the Illini to upset the No. 1 ranked Hoosiers in a basketball game? That was awesome, wasn't it?
Well, it would be pretty cool to beat Indiana in football too. The Illini couldn't manage to do that last year, which was sad because even when the Illini have been bad, you could usually count on a win against Indiana.
This year I've seen plenty of people mention Indiana as a possible darkhorse candidate in the Big Ten. Should they be? Let's take a look and find out.
Name: Indiana Hoosiers
From: Bloomington, Indiana
2013 Record: 4-8 (2-6)
Returning starters: Ten offense, nine defense, both specialists
That would be Kevin Wilson who is now entering his third year at Indiana, which is typically the make-or-break season for a head coach. He's gone 5-19 in his first two years, though the Hoosiers did improve from 1-11 to 4-8 last season, and I think it's safe to say that another three-win improvement would probably ensure the man a contract extension. Well, if he didn't leave for another job, anyway.
Wilson came to Indiana from Oklahoma where he'd been the offensive coordinator, and he brought his up-tempo passing attack with him. And after two seasons he's been pretty successful with the offense. After averaging 21.4 points and 5.0 yards per play in 2011 the Hoosiers averaged 30.8 points and 5.6 yards per play last season.
The problem was that Wilson hasn't brought much defense to Bloomington, though we'll address all of this later in the preview.
History With Illinois
This is a rivalry in basketball but not so much in football for the obvious reasons. These two schools just aren't very good at football.
They've met 70 times, and although Indiana won last season, it's a series that's been dominated by the Illini for the most part. Illinois leads the series 45-22-3, and have even won the majority of games in Bloomington, going 15-13-1. However, things have been a bit more even in recent history as the Illini are 8-5 since 2000 and 3-3 in Bloomington.
Also, this will be the last time these teams meet on the football field for a while. Indiana moves to the East Division in 2014 and they don't appear again on the schedule until 2017, so odds are this never will be a football rivalry. We'll just have to settle for the basketball one.
What Do We Know About The Offense?
As I mentioned, this offense was just fine in 2012. It was a top-five offense in the Big Ten and it did all this while playing musical chairs with the quarterbacks as Tre Roberson was lost to injury early in the season and Nate Sudfeld and Cameron Coffman replaced him. It's unknown which of the three will win the starting job this season, though given the fact this is a team that wants to throw the ball, I'm leaning toward Sudfeld.
He only threw 82 passes last year as a freshman, but he completed 62% of them for 7.7 yards per attempt, seven touchdowns and only one interception. He also had a passing efficiency of 152.7.
No matter who the starter is, this is an offense that returns ten starters -- everybody but the center -- and has a ton of experience. Stephen Houston is one of the best running backs in the conference, while Cody Latimer and Kofi Hughes give the Hoosiers a pretty good receiving tandem.
This unit averaged nearly 31 points per game last season, and I wouldn't be surprised to see that number rise in 2013.
How About The Defense?
And this is where the problems begin. This unit has nine starters back in 2013, but I don't know if that's a good thing because this was a bad defense last season. It was so bad even the Illini managed to score 17 points against it.
Seriously, though, this unit allowed a conference worst 35.3 points per game last season and against Big Ten teams that number went up to 41.0 points per game. Yes, you read that right. Even with the Illini only managing 17. The memorable game was when Wisconsin came to Bloomington and rushed for 564 yards and 7 touchdowns, averaging 8.8 yards per carry.
Think about that. Wisconsin ran the ball 64 times and averaged damn near nine yards per. On the whole the Indiana defense allowed 6.11 yards per play, and that's just terrible. So those numbers aren't just a byproduct of the defense being on the field so often (thanks to its up-tempo nature, the Indiana offense was only on the field for an average of 26:31 minutes a game last season, the lowest in the Big Ten).
Now, I know this defense has a lot of experience and is a year older, but I just don't know that another year of experience will be enough to make up for all of that. There's just too much work that needs to be done to do it in one offseason.
Who On This Team Should I Be Aware Of?
I love Stephen Houston, I really do. If he was in a different offense he'd get a lot more credit, but with Indiana passing 72% of the time he just doesn't get enough carries to get any attention. However, when he does get the ball he makes it work.
Houston finished the 2012 season with 749 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns, but he did all that on only 161 carries. He's also dangerous out of the backfield as he caught 37 passes for another 381 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Where Will They Finish In The Big Ten?
I just don't see any way in the world this team can get higher than fourth place in the division, and odds are they'll be closer to fifth than third. If the offense continues to improve this would be a bowl-quality team even with it's terrible defense, but have you seen Indiana's schedule this season?
It's not nice.
Navy is on the non-conference slate, and this team lost to Navy last season. As that Wisconsin stat earlier showed you, this defense has problems with running teams. There's another non-conference game against Missouri, and I have a difficult time seeing Indiana winning that game.
Then you get to the conference schedule. You know who the four teams the Hoosiers have to play on the road this season are? Michigan State and Michigan in consecutive weeks in October followed by Wisconsin and Ohio State in consecutive weeks in November. I don't know about you, but that's four losses right there. Throw in Mizzou and we're at five with Navy being a potential sixth. Then there's Penn State, Minnesota, Illinois and Purdue.
Imagining anything more than six wins overall and three wins in conference just seems foolish.
Can The Illini Win This Game?
I'd say it's a coin-flip. I don't care how bad 2012 was, I'm not going to look at Indiana as a team I feel like the Illini have no shot against. Not with that defense. Of course, on the flip side of that, I'm not exactly confident in Illinois' chances of keeping the Hoosiers off the board.
However, in the end I envision this one being a bit of a shootout, so turnovers and a play here or there will decide it. So, seriously, flip a coin.