Here we are, just over two months from the start of the football season and Indiana is taking a prediction hit. This one comes from Phil Steele’s 2010 College Football Preview. It has about every statistic imaginable, and even a few that aren’t.
We have taken all those numbers, fed them to the Hoosier Hoopla computer and spit out a Steele future in which IU is picked to finish 10th in the Big Ten, just ahead of Minnesota and just behind Purdue.
Yes, we’ve seen this before. Wouldn’t it be nice if just once those numbers predicted, say, a top-5 finish?
On the positive side, the magazine does pick the Hoosiers to sweep their four non-conference games. Of course, a lineup of Towson, Western Kentucky, Akron and Arkansas State is not exactly a murderer’s row. These teams combined to go 9-37 in 2009.
No matter. This is EXACTLY the kind of non-conference schedule IU needs. The air-head days of scheduling trips to Oregon (although the Hoosiers somehow won that game) have given way to a saner scheduling approach.
A 4-0 non-conference record means IU would need to win two Big Ten games to become bowl eligible, three to clinch a bowl bid. How likely is that? Consider that in the last three years IU is 5-19 in conference games, the worst record of any Big Ten team. In the last five years it is 9-31. In the last 10 it’s 18-62. Those last two totals are easily the worst in the league.
The past, of course, does not predict the future. Repeat that 100 times and you might believe it. You can also believe this -- while IU lost 22 lettermen from last year, it does have talent and potential.
If it makes you feel better, repeat that 100 times as well.
You might think Mr. Steele would really like Hoosier receivers, which seems to be the team’s strongest area. And the magazine does acknowledge the potential with Tandon Doss on its first-team All-Big Ten list and Damarlo Belcher making its third team.
However, overall the magazine rates IU receivers sixth in the Big Ten, with Wisconsin at No. 1 and Ohio State at No. 2.
The Indiana position rated highest by the magazine is at quarterback. Ben Chappell tops a unit rated as the third best behind Ohio State and Michigan.
Chappell completed 62.6 percent of his passes for 2,941 yards, 17 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
The least appreciated units are the defensive line, linebackers and defensive backs. They all rank 10th.
This isn’t a surprise. The No. 1 culprit in IU’s 17-year run of mediocrity (brightened only by the 2007 Insight Bowl appearance) is bad defense.
So what does all this mean? For a Cream ‘n Crimson optimist, it means nothing. In the end it’s all about performance. The Hoosiers will have plenty of opportunities to prove critics wrong.
Will they take advantage of those opportunities?
It will start, and very likely end, with defense.