Indiana had an emotional season in 2007. They lost their beloved coach, Terry Hoeppner, to brain cancer. But they rallied behind his replacement, interim man Bill Lynch, and fulfilled Hoeppner's wish of finally getting this long-moribund program back to a bowl game. In the process, they transformed Lynch from an interim man to one with a four-year contract. As Memorial Stadium continues to undergo construction and renovation, Lynch has the task of providing the foundation of consistent winning football.
IU has some good skill position talent back on offense. Kellen Lewis was second-team All-Conference last year at quarterback. Lewis is potent with both his arm and his feet, combining for 37 touchdowns in '07. Even though he loses James Hardy to the NFL, he brings back a pair of wideouts to anchor the Hoosiers' three-receiver set. Terry Hutchens of The Indianapolis Star reports on the efforts of Ray Fisher and Andrew Means to step up and be the go-to guy in the passing game.
Up front is where the problems are going to come in. Only two starters return, no seniors are to be found and Lynch has had to push three sophomores to the top of the depth chart. Indiana will be challenged to find a running game, and without that, Lewis may be forced into mistakes, trying to make too much happen on his own.
The defensive line looks in better shape. Greg Middleton registered 16 sacks coming off the end and is the best returning pass-rusher in the conference. Greg Brown is back in the middle, and Jammie Kirlew returns at the other end. The front four will get good support from the linebacking corps, with a pair of returnees, but the secondary could be a little iffy. While Indiana does bring back both safeties in Nick Polk and Austin Thomas, the corners are weak. Lynch may need to put a freshman into the lineup here.
IU will get off to a 3-0 start, with home games against Western Kentuck, Murray State and Ball State. The first three games of the conference schedule will then tell us a lot. The Hoosiers are at home against Michigan State and Iowa and mix in a road trip to Minnesota. A program ready to be a consistent bowl team could conceivably be 6-0, and no worse then 5-1. But the challenge of putting together winning football teams is hard in Bloomington, where the considerable shadow of the next-door basketball arena looms over all. I suspect IU comes up a little bit short in their quest for another December vacation.