MUTKA: Indiana football fans need patience
By John Mutka Post-Tribune senior correspondent July 29, 2013 6:22PM
Indiana head football coach Kevin Wilson speaks at a news conference during the NCAA Big Ten football media day meetings on Wednesday, July 24, 2013, in Chicago. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
Updated: August 31, 2013 6:32AM
Being an Indiana University football fan requires infinite patience.
A dash of irrational exuberance would also be helpful.
You need to suspend reality to describe last year’s 4-8 record as progress even though it includes two conference victories, the most for the Hoosiers since 2007.
Diehard fans would have to time travel to 1993 to unearth IU’s last winning record in Big Ten play. Those overachievers won five conference games before most of the current student body was just a gleam in their daddy’s eye. Thank you, Bill Mallory.
So, why should fans get excited about the coming season? They could point to IU’s aerial attack, which ranked No. 1 in the conference, returns three quarterbacks who could start for many D-I programs and five receivers closing in on 1,000 career yards.
“There’s a buzz,” said Mark Barenie, a past Post-Tribune golf champion who attended his first Big Ten football media days last week in Chicago.
No doubt he was thinking about 20 returning starters from a dedicated doormat which could have gone 8-4 simply by sprinkling 14 more points in near-misses against Ball State, Michigan State, Ohio State and Navy.
I didn’t have the heart to remind him that holdovers included eight starters from a Swiss-cheese defense which gave up 35-plus points a game and also bottomed out in rushing (231.4) and passing (232.2).
“Quite frankly, it was embarrassing,” IU coach Kevin Wilson said.
It was the price he paid for introducing 32 freshmen (including redshirts), more than any other program. Here’s the rub. They’re still greener than most of their Big Ten rivals.
“We’ve only got four seniors in our two-deeps,” said wide receiver Kofi Hughes. “We’re more experienced, but still young.”
Hughes comes into the season with 85 catches for 1,217 career yards, but understands that touchdowns, not real estate, produce bowl teams.
“We got a lot of yardage, but the points didn’t match the yards,” Hughes said. “Not to excuse the losses, but we could have punched it in a few more times in the red zone.”
To address defensive shortcomings the IU staff brought in 15 of its 23 recruits from that side of the line. Clearly though, the Hoosiers will have to rely on offensive dynamics to qualify for only their second bowl in the last two decades.
A favorable schedule should help. Their first five games are at home, meaning they won’t leave Bloomington until Michigan State on Oct. 12.
“It’s a plus, having eight home games, especially being a senior,” said senior Greg Heban, a walk-on who started 10 games last season and led the Hoosiers in tackles.
“There’s a little clock ticking inside my head,” the veteran safety said. “This is it. We want to put Hoosier Nation on the same pedestal as basketball (Big Ten champs), soccer (national champs) and baseball (College World Series).”
Their success puts pressure on football to join the party.
We’ve got to get our act together,’’ Heban said. “It’s up to the defense to stop the run and the secondary needs to create a lot more turnovers.”
No matter who plays quarterback, the Hoosiers should provide entertainment value. Cam Coffman (2,744 yards, 15 TDs), medical redshirt Tre Roberson (who started twice before breaking his leg) and Nate Sudfeld (632 yards, seven TDs) are playmakers.
Wilson vouches for an intact offensive line, which gave up only 17 sacks.
“There’s a lot of upside there,” he said, his raspy voice threatening to shut down. “When you throw 544 times that ain’t bad,”
Who will be throwing? Probably Roberson because of his mobility, but don’t be suprised if Wilson puts two quarterbacks on the field at the same time.
There aren’t enough footballs to keep all three happy so Sudfeld or Coffman might be redshirted.
“It’s a dead-heat,” said Wilson, explaining why he didn’t bring a quarterback to the Big Ten media days.
A 4-0 start would create some badly needed momentum, something the Hoosiers haven’t accomplished since 1986. They open conference play on Oct. 5 against visiting Penn State. They’re 0-16 against the Nittany Lions.
“We’re not looking that far ahead, but will be excited to play them,” said Heban, who switched from baseball in his freshman year despite a 90-mph fastball.
Kicker Mitch Ewald has already put 2012 on the backburner. It’s so over.
“I’m not even talking about it,” he said. “We’re moving on.”
Hopefully in the right direction. Even the Pittsburgh Pirates appear to have finally figured it out after two decades in the dumpster.