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NCAA Football

Rant Sports 100 in 100 College Football Previews: No. 80 Indiana Hoosiers

Today, we’re 75+ days away from the kickoff of the 2012 college football season. As such, we’ll preview the No. 80 team in our Rant Sports 100 in 100 college football previews, the Indiana Hoosiers.

After a 1-11 finish in 2011– which included a 27-20 loss to FBS school Ball State to open the season– I imagine many of you are wondering Indiana is ranked at No. 80.  A total of 15 returning starters and an offensive unit that promises to be vastly improved will have the Hoosiers back on the right track this fall.

Impact Players

Offense

With the arrival of first-year offensive coordinator, and Mike Leach mentee Seth Lutrell, there’s plenty of buzz in Bloomington about the Hoosiers new offensive scheme.

While the quarterback position is nominally in the hands of sophomore Tre Roberson, but he will not be without competition in early practices from true freshman Nate Sudfeld, and junior college transfer Cameron Coffman who saw some snaps with the first-team offense during spring practice.

The Hoosiers will employ the spread offense this fall and will depend on big plays from a wide receiving corps that’s talented and rather deep for a Big 10 team. Junior Duwyce Wilson is perhaps the most physically talented of the bunch, but has been hampered by injuries throughout his career, including a season-ending knee injury in 2011.

If he can stay healthy, Wilson should be the primary target for whomever emerges at quarterback. Kofi Hughes was the leading receiver in 2011 with 536 yards receiving and three touchdowns, and should be a nice compliment to Wilson.

Junior running back Stephen Houston should carry the load in the backfield for Indiana and will look to improve upon an 833 yard, eight touchdown campaign last season. Houston averaged 5.3 yards per carry in 2011, and if that can be replicated in 2012 the Hoosiers may be able to find a nice balance between the run and pass.

The offensive line will be substantially more experienced this season with several sophomores along the front and should be solid enough to give the Indiana offense a fighting chance, in general.

Defense

Simply put, the 2011 version of the Indiana defense was awful.

Co-defensive coordinators Doug Mallory and Mike Eleker have their work cut out for them, but appear to have the personnel to make some positive changes.

If there is one obvious strength for the Hoosiers on defense, it’s the defensive line unit. Two seniors anchor the line, Larry Black Jr. and Adam Replogle. and will undoubtedly set the tone again in 2012. The duo produced 14.5 TFLs between them last season and will be expected to do much of the same going forward.

Free safety Mark Murphy is the team’s returning tackler from 2011 (80) which says plenty. The Hoosiers’ linebacking unit, led by new junior-college arrivals Jacarri Alexander and David Cooper must increase their production when Indiana is in a 4-3 set and moves away from the nickel which they were so often forced to play in 2011.

Schedule

The first few games of Indiana’s schedule are winnable. The Hoosiers open up with the Indiana State Sycamores at home in Week 1, then make a trip in Week 2 to Boston to take on the UMass Minutemen.

A rematch against Ball State looms in Week 3, and the Big 10 slate kicks off in Week 4 against Northwestern in Evansville.

Even a 1-3 start– preferably a 2-2 start– over the first four games could help the Hoosiers move back to a respectable finish in 2012.

Are they bowl-bound this season? Not likely.

Will they go 1-11 again? Doubtful.

Kris Hughes is the College Football Network Manager for Rant Sports and a member of the Football Writers Association of America.

You can follow him on Twitter or check out his Facebook page.

Kris is also the host of Rant Sports Radio on the Blog Talk Radio Network Wednesday evenings at 8 Central Time.