Indiana hopes growing pains are so 2011
Hoosiers were winless in Big Ten last season
CHICAGO — Kevin Wilson runs his football program like a drill sergeant. He's trying to change everything about the Indiana Hoosiers from their losing ways to the inferiority complex. If that ruffles the egos of a few holdovers, well, that's just too bad.
Last year more than a dozen scholarship Hoosiers left the program with many players unable tot adapt to Wilson's abrasive and strict style. The coach wanted to weed out the players who didn't buy into to his approach, and he did. The result was predictable, a 1-11 record and an 0-8 mark in the Big Ten.
"The first year was trial by fire," said senior Indiana center Will Matte, who has started 33 games. "It was tough. It was important because you could see who stuck around and really cared and bought in. It was hard enough where if you didn’t care and you weren’t putting in the time, you weren’t going to put in all that effort into something that you didn’t care about. It was a rough year, but at the end of the day it helped us out and the foundation we’re setting is really solid.
"Wilson came in and demanded a lot, but at the end of the day it’s what we needed. The guys that competed and accepted it and went on with it and were able to get better as a player. He challenged us, and it’s definitely a good thing."
Wilson said he was "personally embarrassed" with the results last year, which included six league losses by more than 14 points. He said the offseason showed the team can and will improve this year.
Wilson touted the team's work ethic and said they players have engaged in a positive approach. He cited an improvement in communication and has built a leadership group of 12 players. He believes his team will make strides this season.
"We're excited where we're going, and I think we've laid a solid foundation," Wilson said. "And I think we're going to be pretty competitive this year. I've never said we're going to win X games and beat X team. We're going to play some Big Ten football at a significantly better level this year. That's the expectations, and I believe we're going to see that."
Wilson is adamant the competition is wide open at quarterback. Tre Roberson became the first true freshman to start as an Indiana quarterback, and he opened five games for the Hoosiers. He completed 57 percent of his passes but threw just three touchdowns and six interceptions. He also rushed for 426 yards and two scores.
Roberson's competition comes from two newcomers. Cameron Coffman, brother of former Missouri tight end Chase and Kansas State quarterback Carson, comes to Indiana as a junior-college sophomore. He led junior-college team Arizona Western to the national title game last season.True freshman Nate Sudfeld, who was rated the No. 14 quarterback nationally by ESPN, also will have an opportunity to win the job, Wilson said.
"The conversation to Tre Roberson and the conversation to every quarterback (is) we're not going to be a good team in the Big Ten with average quarterback play," Wilson said. "That is a fact. We better be one of the better quarterbacks in the league, and we better play at a high end if we expect to win and start playing quality Big Ten football.
"So Tre's been challenged. We're excited about Cam. We'll see what Nate Sudfeld does as well."
It's not easy to change the culture of a perennial loser. Indiana hasn't earned a winning Big Ten record since 1993 and played in just one bowl game in the last 20 seasons. Although last year was tough even by Indiana standards -- it was the school's first winless Big Ten campaign since 1984 -- Wilson hopes one step backward in 2011 translates into one giant leap forward this year.
"Of course we know (we're) coming off a very disappointing record year, but I think we've made some really great strides even last season off the field establishing our process, mindset, whatnot," Wilson said.
"Everyone feels more comfortable this year," Matte said. "You don’t necessarily go through the motions, but you just know where the bar has been set and where you’ve got to work and how you’ve got to work. I think guys have a much better concept of that this year."
- Division: Leaders
- 2011 record: 1-11, 0-8
- Returning offensive starters (7): QB Tre Roberson, RB Stephen Houston, WR Jamonne Chester, WR Kofi Hughes, C Will Matte, OL Bernard Taylor, OL Collin Rahrig
- Returning defensive starters (8): DT Adam Replogle, DT Larry Black Jr., DE Bobby Richardson, DE Ryan Phillis, LB Chase Hoobler, S Mark Murphy, CB Lawrence Barnett, CB Greg Heban
- Key losses: WR Demarlo Belcher, LB Leon Beckum, LB Jeff Thomas
- 2011 review: Indiana Coach Kevin Wilson forced out massive amounts of scholarship players and the result was Indiana's worst season since 1984. Only twice were the Hoosiers within one touchdown of winning a Big Ten game and were no closer than 14 points in the other six games. Indiana shuffled in three different QBs and booted the 2010 Big Ten leader in receptions DeMarlo Belcher. Overall a forgetful campaign.
- 2012 schedule: S1 Indiana State; S8 at Massachusetts S15 Ball State; S29 at Northwestern; O6 Michigan State; O13 Ohio State; O20 at Navy; O27 at Illinois; N3 Iowa; N10 Wisconsin; N17 at Penn State; N24 at Purdue
- Key stretch: For the Hoosiers to have any chance at a bowl this year, they need to take care of business against Navy, Illinois and Iowa in the middle of the schedule. Also, Indiana could be competitive at the end against Penn State and Purdue if something's at stake.
- Trap game: Massachusetts. The Minutemen have won 10 straight openers and this is their inaugural FBS home game and held at the New England Patriots' Gillette Stadium.
- Glass half-full: Indiana plays a manageable schedule and if the players accept Wilson's message, the program might make enough strides to compete. QB Tre Roberson had his ups and downs, but he showed talent. RB Stephen Houston averaged 5.3 yards a carry last year. The D-line returns all of its starters and could surprise.
- Glass half-empty: If the team doesn't buy with Wilson and if Roberson or the other QBs don't grow, it could be another long season in Bloomington.
- Quotable: "We know (we're) coming off a very disappointing record year, but I think we've made some really great strides even last season off the field establishing our process, mindset, whatnot." -- Indiana Coach Kevin Wilson