Hoosiers hoping to solve bowl puzzle with all right pieces
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) Indiana coach Kevin Wilson has been watching the steady progress for four long seasons.
He sees a team that is bigger and stronger up front, that is deeper overall and improving defensively. Inside the locker room, hopes are rising, too.
Now comes the hard part: convincing a skeptical public that has waited eight long years to return to a bowl game that things have changed.
Wilson isn't making any promises, he's just asking fans to keep an open mind.
''I think these guys not only pass the look test, I think we're getting to a point where hopefully we can be more consistent, which has been our nemesis,'' Wilson said.
For four seasons, Wilson has talked extensively about changing the locker room culture. This season, with a roster comprised entirely of his own players and an easier schedule, Wilson has adopted a new tone. He thinks the Hoosiers have enough pieces in place to finally end their postseason drought.
But rather than push the outside expectations, Wilson is challenging those inside the Hoosiers' locker room to make believers out of fans who have longed for a better team.
''It should be a winning team,'' Wilson said. ''When we got here, our initial definition of success was win today, which was to get one day better. We aren't going to go public with a lot of goals, but we've set some standards that are pretty high that I think show we not only can compete, but that show we can be pretty consistent.''
Here are some other things to watch this season at Indiana:
SUDFELD'S SHOULDER: Quarterback Nate Sudfeld waited three seasons to become the clear starter. Then after seven games in 2014, season-ending surgery on his left shoulder derailed Indiana's bowl chances. If Sudfeld is healthy, Indiana would have a critical component in its quest to become bowl eligible. Nobody knows this offense better.
STILL RUNNING: When the record-setting Tevin Coleman took his talents to the NFL, it left a gaping hole in the Hoosiers' backfield. Coleman ran for 2,036 yards and 15 touchdowns, numbers that seem almost impossible to replace. But the Hoosiers may have lucked into the perfect solution. Jordan Howard ran for 1,587 yards last season at UAB, but he is eligible to play immediately because UAB had announced they were dropping their football program.
REPLACING ALLEN: Indiana expected safety Antonio Allen to anchor their secondary this season. Instead, the Hoosiers' top tackler was arrested in June after Indiana State Police said he was caught on video selling drugs to an informant. Allen was quickly dismissed and now the Hoosiers are asking sophomore Chase Dutra to step in after making one start and 34 tackles as a redshirt freshman.
DEFENSIVE IMPROVEMENT: When defensive coordinator Brian Knorr switched from a 4-3 defensive front to the trendier 3-4 last season, the Hoosiers looked better. But there's still a long way to go after allowing nearly 2,200 yards rushing and 32.8 points per game in 2014. Knorr says his players feel more comfortable in Year 2 of the system.
EARLY SCHEDULE: Perhaps no Big Ten team needs a fast start more than the Hoosiers. Before starting conference play Oct. 3 against Ohio State, Indiana probably needs to win at least three of their four non-conference games (Southern Illinois, Florida International, Western Kentucky and Wake Forest) to become bowl-eligible. Anything less would force the Hoosiers to win at least four Big Ten games to make it, a major chore given that the Hoosiers have only won six conference games in Wilson's first four seasons.