Image courtesy of The College Sporting News
College football season is here again, and despite falling short of expectations last year, the Indiana Hoosiers look to start 2012 off on the right foot as they host the Indiana State Sycamores, their neighbors from Terre Haute.
The Opponent: Indiana State Sycamores
Indiana State was once a program known around the state mainly for its mediocrity. As recently as 2007 the Sycamores were one of the least impressive college football teams in the country. Indiana State went winless that season, losing most of their games in blowout fashion, the worst of those being a 72-10 loss to Southern Illinois. That season was also the most recent time ISU played IU, falling by a decisive 55-7 score. Indiana State relieved head coach Lou West of his duties at the end of that season, ending a three- year stretch that included a singular win and a staggering 32 losses.
Since then, the Sycamores have turned their program around under the leadership of Trent Miles, posting winning 6-5 record in each of the past two years, and even garnering a Top-25 FCS ranking to begin the season. Offensively, Indiana State has a ton to build on – more on that in a bit – but will be working in a new quarterback after the graduation of Ronnie Fouch, last year’s starter. Mike Perish, a sophomore, will be starting in his place and will be thrown straight into the fire against an Indiana defense that spent last season getting embarrassed and looks to change that this year.
Defensively, ISU is obscenely experienced, if a tad undersized. Only two starters exceed 240 lbs, but 10 of them are upperclassmen that are intimately familiar with the defensive scheme. Mainstay linebackers, Aaron Archie and Jacolby Washington, return and bring their 242 combined tackles from last year with them. Ben Obaseki – a candidate for the Buck Buchanan award, which goes to the best FCS defensive player – returns as well and will look to be as disruptive as possible, a role he perfected on the way to nine sacks last year.
X-Factor: Shakir Bell
If Indiana State has a chance in this game, it will be because of junior running back, Shakir Bell. The former Warren Central star excelled during his freshman season and took the FCS by storm as a sophomore, rushing for 1,670 yards and 14 touchdowns on only 230 carries. For those struggling with the math, that’s a shade less than 152 yards per game and 7.3 yards per carry. Last season’s performance earned him a top-three finish for the Walter Payton Award, FCS First Team All-American Honors and sole possession of fourth place on the Sycamores’ career rushing list with two full seasons of eligibility remaining.
Opposing rushing attacks racked up an average of 244 yards per game against the Hoosiers last year, third worst in the country and if that hasn’t been shored up, Shakir Bell could run wild behind a sizable offensive line. Bell’s closest comparison to a back Indiana saw last year is probably North Texas’ Lance Dunbar, who torched IU for 279 all-purpose yards and carried the Mean Green to a shocking 24-21 victory over the Hoosiers. Odds are against Bell repeating Dunbar’s performance, but a big day for Bell may spell trouble for Indiana.
Indiana State Statistics (2011):
Total Offense: 369.5 yards per game
Scoring Offense: 28.6 points per game
Total Defense: 373 ypg
Scoring Defense: 27.3 ppg
Indiana State Individual Leaders (2011):
Passing: N/A (no returning players)
Rushing: Shakir Bell- 230 rushes, 1670 yards, 14 TDs
Receiving: Donald Spencer- 31 catches, 459 yards, 6 TDs
Indiana’s first shot at a fresh start comes against an opponent that is 0-3 against the Hoosiers all-time and 0-9 against B1G competition – on paper at least, the Sycamores appear overmatched. Their defense allowed an average of 27 points per game last year, including 41 given up to an offensively conservative Penn State team the first week of the season. Sophomore quarterback Tre Roberson should have ample opportunity to rack up yards and put up points with both his legs and his arm. By all accounts, he’s much more comfortable and developed in the offensive scheme than he was at the end of last year, and Saturday’s game represents a good opportunity to see some fireworks.
The Roberson-led spread attack will employ plenty of weapons, and even with junior receiver Kofi Hughes possibly lost to suspension, the Hoosier receiving corps will provide its quarterback with plenty of options. Cody Latimer and Duwyce Wilson are superb deep threats, Shane Wynn was a pleasant surprise as a consistent – if undersized – slot receiver last year, and Ted Bolser looks to regain the form that resulted in a record-setting freshman season from the tight end position. Add running backs Tevin Coleman, Stephen Houston and D’Angelo Roberts to the mix, and it’s easy to see the Hoosiers putting on an offensive show.
The biggest (figuratively and literally) area to watch will be IU’s offensive line play. A unit that switched starters in and out all season long will look to establish consistency early in the season. Strong line play early in the year would go a long way to setting the tone for a much-improved offensive year.
X-Factor: IU Defense
Much as Shakir Bell is Indiana State’s key in this game, the Hoosier defense will go the furthest in deciding the outcome of this game. As bad as the IU defense was last season, the roster is appreciably different from the unit that was so porous a year ago. Junior college linebackers Jacarri Alexander and David Cooper have been singled out by Kevin Wilson and by other defensive players as the two best players on the defense in fall camp. Though it remains to be seen whether the two newcomers will bring the same level of play to the regular season, they certainly provide cause for optimism.
Hoosier Statistics (2011):
Total Offense: 360.4 ypg
Scoring Offense: 21.4 ppg
Total Defense: 458.7 ypg
Scoring Defense: 37.3 ppg
Hoosier Individual Leaders (2011):
Passing: Tre Roberson- 57% completion rate, 937 yards, 3 TDs, 6 INTs
Rushing: Stephen Houston- 151 rushes, 802 yards, 8 TDs
Tre Roberson- 109 rushes, 426 yards, 2 TDs
Receiving: Kofi Hughes- 35 catches, 536 yards, 3 TDs
Prediction: 41-20 Indiana
Indiana State puts up a fight early behind the strong running of Shakir Bell, but the Hoosiers find their offensive rhythm and end up being too much for the Sycamores, rolling to a three-touchdown win in the season opener.