Monday, March 10, 2014

Even the Losers: Indiana

Over the past three seasons, 210 teams have participated in bowl games. 47 of those teams had losing records in the years immediately preceding their bowl game. This semi-regular piece will showcase the losers from 2013 who just might find themselves participating in Capital One Bowl Week in 2014. For our seventh installment, we head to the midwest and examine the prospects of the Indiana Hoosiers.


2013 Record: 5-7 (3-5 Big Ten)

Summary: The third season of the Kevin Wilson regime began rather auspiciously as the Hoosiers laid the lumber to IAA Indiana State in their opener, winning 73-35. Considering the Hoosiers beat their IAA opponents in Wilson's first two seasons by just 17 and seven points, this seemed to indicate a potential postseason bid was in their future. Their bowl prospects were significantly dashed the following week when they lost at home to Navy. The Hoosiers rebounded from that disappointment to decimate eventual MAC champion, Bowling Green, by 32 points. In their final non-conference game, they fell at home to eventual SEC runner-up, Missouri. With their two non-league losses, the Hoosiers needed to split their Big 10 games to qualify for a bowl. In their conference opener, and fifth consecutive home game, they throttled Penn State 44-24, for their first win over the Nittany Lions in school history. The following week, they put up the most points Michigan State would allow all season (28), but lost by two touchdowns. They gave up 63 points the following week to Michigan and lost by 16. They then lost at home to Minnesota to drop to 3-5 with their bowl dreams squarely on life support. Thankfully, the Illini came to town the next week and Indiana hung 52 on them to notch their fourth victory. The Hoosiers then traveled to Madison and and lost 51-3 to the Badgers, continuing a disturbing trend. In their last four games against Wisconsin, Indiana has been outscored 255 to 44. The Hoosiers clinched their 18th losing season in 19 years the following week when they fell at Ohio State. The Hoosiers were able to get to five wins for just the fifth time since 1994 when they trounced Purdue in their season finale. Though they missed out on the postseason, the Hoosiers did improve their win total for the second consecutive season under Wilson.

What Did the Hoosiers Do Well?
Move the ball. Indiana ranked third in the Big 10 in yards per play in the conference, averaging a robust 6.29 yards per snap (behind Ohio State and Wisconsin). The Hoosiers also turned those yards into points, averaging 38.4 points per game, their highest scoring average in school history and the second consecutive season they have eclipsed the 30 point per game average.

What Didn't the Hoosiers Do Well?
Play defense. Despite averaging nearly 40 points per game, the Hoosiers did not qualify for a bowl primarily because they allowed just as many. The defense permitted opponents to average 7.35 yards per snap in Big 10 play, meaning every team they faced suddenly became Ohio State. The Hoosiers have now finished dead last in yards per play allowed in four consecutive seasons. Perhaps their worst performance came in the trip to Madison. In that game, the Badgers rushed 50 times for an almost inconceivable 554 yards, averaging more than eleven yards per carry.

The Hoosiers Over the Past Four Years:
The following table lists Indiana's performance (in conference play only) in a few key categories and their respective conference rank in those categories. To help you read the table here is a handy translator.
Conf: The Conference Indiana played in. With the ever-changing college football landscape, this is helpful.
Coach: Who was leading these yahoos into battle?
Rec: Conference Record
YPP: Yards per play. The number of yards per play the Hoosiers averaged in conference play.
YPA: Yards per play allowed. The number of yards per play the Hoosiers allowed in conference play.
Net: Yards per play net. The difference in YPP and YPA. Higher is better.
OTD: Offensive touchdowns. Touchdowns scored by the offense (no kick, punt, interception, or other returns are counted) in conference play.
DTD: Defensive touchdowns. Touchdowns allowed by the defense (no kick, punt, interception, or other returns are counted) in conference play.
Pythag: Adjusted Pythagorean Record. Take offensive touchdowns and defensive touchdowns and plug them into a handy formula to estimate the number of conference wins. For a full rundown of the APR, continue reading here.

The Bill Lynch era ended in 2010 with the Hoosiers winning just a single conference game for the third consecutive season. Not only was the defense horrendous, but the offense was also the second worst in the conference. The Hoosiers did end the season on a high note, beating Purdue in overtime to end a twelve game conference losing streak. Kevin Wilson was hired away from Oklahoma and given the unenviable task of righting the Hoosier program. His first season in charge was not one to remember. The Hoosiers lost non-conference games to Ball State and North Texas and went winless in the Big 10. Things would improve in 2012. The Hoosiers once again lost to Ball State, but they also won multiple conference games for the first time since 2007. The defense remained atrocious, but the offense moved to the middle of the pack among Big 10 teams. A bowl bid certainly seemed within reach when the 2013 season began. However, their non-conference loss to Navy and the rise of Missouri meant the Hoosiers would gave to win four Big 10 games to earn a postseason bid. Despite finishing with a losing record for the fifth consecutive season, Indiana once again saw their offense improve. If the defense can make even modest gains going forward. Indiana fans can make plans for a bowl trip in late December.

The 2014 Schedule:
The Hoosiers did themselves no favors in their non-conference scheduling last season, tackling an SEC team (Missouri), the MAC champion (Bowling Green), and a solid mid-major (Navy). Their 1-2 record in those games cost them a bowl bid. The 2014 non-conference schedule features three quarters of the same teams as last year, albeit with some location changes. The Hoosiers once again open the year at home against IAA Indiana State. Following what should be an easy win, the Hoosiers again play Bowling Green and Missouri, but must now take their show on the road. Bowling Green, despite the loss of Dave Clawson, appears to have hired a capable replacement in Dino Babers. A win here by the Hoosiers is certainly not assured. The Hoosiers figure to be solid underdogs the following week when they head to Columbia, Missouri. The Tigers won in Bloomington last season to break an eight game winless streak against the Hoosiers (granted they had not played since 1992). A win here by Indiana would not seem impossible, but rather unlikely. Indiana's final non-conference game is at home against North Texas. In Wilson's first season, Indiana lost at North Texas in a game where the Mean Green jumped out to a huge lead and hung on at the end. North Texas was a quality team in Conference USA last season, but should not be able to handle the Hoosiers in Bloomington. At worst, Indiana should expect a split in their non-conference games. A 3-1 record is certainly a possibility, while a 4-0 mark appears to be little more than a pipe dream. This means the Hoosiers will need to get to three and perhaps four Big 10 wins to qualify for a bowl game. The conference schedule includes home games against Big 10 noob Maryland, Michigan State, Penn State, and Purdue. Beating the Rose Bowl champion Spartans would be a tall order, but the games against Maryland, Penn State, and Purdue are certainly winnable. Their Big 10 road slate includes trips to Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State, and Rutgers. Thankfully for the Hoosiers, the Wisconsin Badgers are off the schedule. Three cheers for realignment! Michigan and Ohio State are likely losses and the Hoosiers will likely be a solid underdog at Iowa as well. That leaves Rutgers as the likeliest of road scalps for the Hoosiers. Presumably an afterthought national game appearing on ESPNU or the Big 10 Network in mid-November, the contest will have a profound impact on whether Indiana qualifies for a bowl game.

Reasons for Optimism:
The offense can be legitimately scary. The Indiana offense has improved each season under Kevin Wilson. Both quarterbacks from last season, Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson, return as does top receiver Cody Latimer. Last season, Latimer became the first Hooiser receiver to gain more than 1000 yards since James Hardy in 2007. Last season's leading rusher, Tevin Coleman also returns. Coleman and the departed Stephen Houston combined for over 1700 yards on the ground while averaging over seven yards per rush. If Coleman stays healthy in 2014, he should become the first Indiana back to go over 1000 yards rushing in a season since Levron Williams in 2001. The Hoosiers should remain in the top third of the Big 10 in terms of offensive prowess. Will this be enough to earn them a postseason trip?

Final Prognosis:
What do we know about Indiana in 2014? The offense will be good and the defense will be bad. The question is, how good and how bad? The best case scenario is slight improvement on both sides of the ball keeping the offense near the top of the conference and making the defense merely bad instead of historically inept. However, while the offense should remain above average, improvement is not guaranteed and some slight regression could occur. On the other hand, while statistically it seems the defense has to improve, that unit has a distinguished track record of incompetence. It's not inconceivable for them to remain at the very bottom of the Big 10. With those caveats, Indiana does appear to be on the upswing. and they are probably due to catch some breaks (they are just 2-11 in one score games under Wilson). Even though the non-conference schedule has a pair of tough road games, I think the Hoosiers will get to seven regular season wins and grab that elusive postseason invite.

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