Hoosiers setting high goals as expectations grow

Indiana coach Kevin Wilson sees progress on the football
field.

The Hoosiers look bigger, stronger and faster. He also knows
they haven’t proved anything yet.

On Monday, the team’s annual media evening, Wilson acknowledged
that it’s OK if the so-called experts project the Hoosiers to be a
borderline bowl team. He expects more.

”I would like our outside expectations to be high,” Wilson
said. ”What we do in there (the locker room), is that sometimes we
talk about how people still don’t expect a lot of us yet and we use
that as a little motivational factor a little bit.”

Wilson always has been one to set higher goals.

When he was running the Oklahoma offense, Wilson routinely
competed for Big 12 titles and national championships and anything
less was considered a failure.

In Bloomington, though, the stakes are different. Indiana hasn’t
played in the Rose Bowl since Jan. 1, 1968, has only made one bowl
appearance since 1994 and hasn’t won a postseason game since
shutting out Baylor 24-0 in the 1991 Copper Bowl.

This season, there is reason for hope.

Back-to-back late-season wins over Illinois and Iowa actually
had Indiana fans contemplating an improbable trip to the Big Ten
title game.

This year, the Hoosiers play eight home games, including their
first five for the first time in school history.

Injured quarterback Tre Roberson appears to have recovered from
a broken lower left leg that ended his season after less than six
quarters. And his replacements – Cam Coffman and Nate Sudfeld – are
back, too. All three are competing for the starting job.

”We’re still looking for that one guy, but it’s a great problem
to have,” said co-offensive coordinator Kevin Johns, who works
with the quarterbacks and receivers.

There’s little doubt the Hoosiers will score points with their
fast-break style offense.

The question, as it always seems to be, is can Indiana’s defense
improve?

After moving into contention for last year’s division title, the
Hoosiers gave up 163 points over the last three games, dashing
those hopes.

They’ve spent nine months hearing about it, watching it and
working to produce big plays and better results on game day.

”We’ve just got to get better,” linebacker David Cooper said.
”We have to execute better, we have to play more aggressive and we
have to stay consistent. A lot of the games that were close, we
felt like we could have won if we had played with a little more
consistency, a little more execution. We just couldn’t
finish.”

The Hoosiers are finally in position to do that now.

After reporting to preseason camp Thursday, Indiana will dress
in full pads for the first time Tuesday.

On Wednesday, the Hoosiers hold their first two-a-day practice
and three weeks from Thursday, they’ll be hosting Indiana State in
the home opener.

And this Indiana team looks different to Wilson in so many
ways.

He has seen linemen maintaining better balance, an indication
that the Hoosiers might be strong enough to withstand the rigors of
the Big Ten’s rugged ground games.

He has seen receivers staying inbounds more frequently, an
indication to Wilson that they are willing to fight harder and make
big plays.

He finally is being challenged to sort out more position battles
and make tougher choices thanks to Indiana’s depth.

The prognosticators put all those things together and call this
a six- or seven-win team that is capable of earning a bowl bid.

That’s not the Hoosiers’ goal, though.

”We’re not settling for a 7-5 or 6-6 bowl game,” Cooper said.
”We’re there to get a Big Ten championship. We’re looking to be a
10- or 11-win, championship-type team because championship teams
don’t settle.”

It’s a mentality Wilson has been trying to instill since he took
the job in December 2010.

And as he begins his third year in this rebuilding project,
Wilson appears to be getting his message across.

Bowl games are nice, but championships are something to
celebrate – especially when nobody believes.

”I think we’re starting at a higher point,” Wilson said.
”We’ve got a long way to go. No one is where they need to be yet.
I think we are bigger and we are stronger, and we’ve got to
continue to get better.”

NOTES: Wilson said freshman running back Daryl Chestnut and
receiver Taj Williams have not been cleared to play because of
academic reasons. Wilson said he hopes they will be mid-year
enrollees. … Linebacker Chase Hoobler, who missed six games
because of injuries last season, is likely to miss the season after
he had surgery to repair a stress fracture in his foot that will
keep him out about four months.