In the 100 days leading up to the kickoff of the college football season on Saturday, Aug. 25, HERO Sports is ranking the top 100 teams in the FBS. Each day, starting May 17 and ending Aug. 24, a new team is revealed in the HERO Sports Top 100.
No. 73 Indiana
Indiana has long been more talented than their records suggest. That was the case again last year and might be in 2018, too.
After years of struggling to find a decent defense to pair with a strong rushing attack — and at times a strong passing attack — the script has flipped. The Hoosiers are now searching for offensive consistency to pair with Tom Allen's improved, albeit transitioning with the loss of several key players, defense.
2017 Record: 5-7 (2-7, Big Ten)
Indiana's five-win season could've been a lot better — and featured some program-altering victories. They led Ohio State late in the third quarter, lost to Michigan in overtime and led Michigan State late.
It still had some ugly stains; the Hoosiers were also smoked by Penn State and Wisconsin, lost to Maryland and Purdue, and nearly lost to Illinois.
Richard Lagow and Peyton Ramsey led an adequate passing attack and the defense was darn good in most areas but turnovers, an inefficient run game and a lack of field-flipping plays kept them under .500 for the 10th straight season.
Head Coach: Tom Allen (2nd Year, 5-7)
"I'm excited about the future of our program," Allen said at his introductory press conference in 2016. Offensively we've been one of the best in the Big Ten since 2012. My challenge to them in the bowl game is to protect the football. It's precious. Run the football, that's how you win. Score in the red zone, that's my challenge."
Tom Allen's five wins tied Phil Dickens for the second-most for a first-year Indiana head coach in the last 110 years, but they didn't protect the football, didn't run the football and weren't great in the red zone.
Sure, it was only his first full season and he's recruiting like a champion but a more talented roster and recent flirtations with seven- or eight-win seasons have raised expectations for Allen. He's nowhere near the hot seat, though he's expected to show more balance.
QB Richard Lagow, WR Simmie Cobbs Jr., TE Ian Thomas, DE Greg Gooch, DL Robert McCray III, DE Nate Hoff, LB Tegray Scales, LB Chris Covington, CB Rashard Fant
For the seventh time since 2006, Indiana had multiple players selected in the NFL Draft. Ian Thomas and Chris Covington were the only draftees but the losses of NFL talent like Simmie Cobbs, Tegray Scales and Rashard Fant will hurt badly.
Cobbs had 132 receptions over the last two years and Fant's 58 passes defended and 53 pass breakups are most in program history. The defensive line was also gutted, losing three of their primary pressure men in Gooch, McCray and Hoff.
Returning Offensive Players
QB Peyton Ramsey, RB Morgan Ellison, RB Cole Gest, WR Luke Timian, WR Whoop Philyor, OT Coy Cronk, G Wes Martin
Indiana ditched the up-tempo offense they ran under former head coach Kevin Wilson in favor of a slower, pro-style system under new coordinator Mike DeBord, who placed an immediate emphasis on ball security and red-zone passing. And while the Hoosiers cut back on turnovers and were decent inside the 20 (27 touchdowns on 44 chances, 16 of which were passing scores), they still coughed it up too much and blew many red-zone opportunities.
With Lagow gone, the job is Peyton Ramsey's to lose, though the competition with Arizona transfer Brandon Dawkins and freshman Michael Penix will carry into the fall. Ramsey is a 6-foot-2, 210-pound true dual-threat passer who doesn't have a rocket arm, threw only twice as many touchdowns as picks last year (10 to five) and isn't a perfect fit for DeBord's offense but showed he can be a Big Ten starting quarterback and has reportedly improved a lot during the offseason.
“He’s not forcing the ball," said offensive coordinator Mike DeBord this spring. "You see where last year’s experience has really helped him.”
“I think being in this offense for a year, being comfortable seeing what the defense is giving me and throwing the ball down the field, it’s been so, so big just to relax and see the defense,” Ramsey said near the end of spring practice. “It’s been really good. I’ve made really big strides this spring in terms of confidence.
Sophomores Morgan Ellison and Cole Gest were the only non-quarterbacks with more than 100 rushing yards last season. Neither ripped off many big gains but they were steady, workhorse backs late in the season. Luke Timian is their top receiving target with the departure of Cobbs but they need to find someone to stretch the field. No receiver averaged more than 14 yards per reception last year.
The left side of the line is in good shape with the return of All-Big Ten guard Wes Martin and junior tackle Coy Cronk.
Returning Defensive Players
DE Niles Sykes, DT Jacob Robinson, CB Andre Brown, S Marcelino Ball, S Jonathan Crawford
Tom Allen has done a brilliant job with the defense, a longtime liability, in just two seasons but there's room for improvements to avoid games like the Penn State, Wisconsin and Maryland ones from last year. Allen has said he doesn't care about yards on offense or defense; it's all about the touchdowns.
The unit gave up an average of 1.5 passing touchdowns and 1.5 rushing touchdowns per game in 2017, a slight increase from 1.3 and 1.5, respectively, in 2016. However, they gave up 2.2 and 2.2 in 2015 when they were gashed for 33 points per game.
Now, eight starters are gone; each level was hit hard by departures, and while their replacements are mostly upperclassmen with experience, questions are plentiful.
Jonathan Crawford (below) and Andre Brown lead a secondary that picked off only three passes in 2017. Crawford, a 6-foot-2, 197-pound senior, has NFL talent said he's focusing a lot of film study before his final year to get Indiana back to a bowl game.
The defensive line is in decent shape given the circumstances. Gooch, McCray and Hoff played big roles in allowing 3.9 yards per rushing attempt. The trio also combined for 19.5 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks. The leader is now senior Jacob Robinson, whom coaches have lauded for leadership and hard work. He's played both tackle and end and had four sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss last year.
“He’s not gonna get too high, not gonna get too low,” defensive line coach Mark Hagen said in March. “He knows he’s not the most talented guy out there, but his intangibles can set him apart. His work ethic, his drive, his leadership, his toughness. I’ll take a guy like that, because you know what you’re gonna get every play.”
Sophomore Marcelino Ball, a hybrid safety/linebacker in their "husky" position, will help ease the transition from Covington and Scales. The linebacker competitions should go deep into fall camp.
QB Brandon Dawkins, QB Michael Penix, C Nick Linder, DE Kayton Samuels, S Bryant Fitzgerald
Three-star quarterback Michael Penix passed on offers from Florida State, Oregon and Tennessee to sign early with Indiana and enroll for the spring semester. The 6-foot-3, 198-pounder fought Peyton Ramsey for first-team reps during spring camp. Also, Brandon Dawkins didn't announce his transfer from Arizona until April but will compete for the job during fall camp.
Bryant Fitzgerald was forced into a redshirt season after the university made an error in assessing his eligibility. While he couldn't even practice, he says things worked out and is now in line for big snaps.
"It was definitely a shock to me, but in other ways it was a good thing,” he said. “It was basically being redshirted, so you got time to experience college, (learn) how you work out and you see players play. … It was beneficial in so many ways. I got ahead in schoolwork. It benefited me in different ways.”
Nick Linder started 25 games at center and guard for Miami (FL) before skipping the 2017 season and opting to transfer for his final season. Kayton Samuels is another grad transfer, arriving from Syracuse after recording 44 tackles over three seasons.
Indiana opens on the road at FIU. Hurricane Irma forced the cancellation of the first half of the home-and-series last year in Bloomington. The game was rescheduled for 2024.
Indiana jumped out to 17-3 lead against Virginia in Charlottesville last year and won, 34-17. They'll finish the home-and-home in Week 3.
|Saturday, Sept. 1||at FIU|
|Saturday, Sept. 8||vs. Virginia|
|Saturday, Sept. 15||vs. Ball State|
|Saturday, Sept. 22||vs. Michigan State|
|Saturday, Sept. 29||at Rutgers|
|Saturday, Oct. 6||at Ohio State|
|Saturday, Oct. 13||vs. Iowa|
|Saturday, Oct. 20||vs. Penn State|
|Friday, Oct. 26||at Minnesota|
|Saturday, Nov. 10||vs. Maryland|
|Saturday, Nov. 17||at Michigan|
|Saturday, Nov. 24||vs. Purdue|