Indiana Hoosiers season preview

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Previewing the 2014 season for the Indiana Hoosiers.

Key returnees: Nate Sudfeld, QB; Shane Wynn, WR; Tevin Coleman, RB; Tim Bennett, CB; Ralph Green III, DT.

Key losses: Cody Latimer, WR; Kofi Hughes, WR; Ted Bolser, TE; Greg Heban, S; Mitch Ewald, K

Instant impact newcomer: The lone ESPN 300 signee in the 2014 class also happens to play a clear position of need for the Hoosiers, which probably isn’t a coincidence. With three of the top four pass-catchers now gone, there should be plenty of opportunities for a talent like Dominique Booth to step in and make an impact. The four-star receiver had no shortage of offers from established powerhouse programs, but in electing to stay close to his native Indianapolis, Booth should help the Hoosiers keep rolling on offense. Projected starters

OFFENSE: QB: Nate Sudfeld, Jr., 6-5, 228; RB: Tevin Coleman, Jr., 6-1, 210; WR: Isaiah Roundtree, Sr., 5-11, 197; WR: Shane Wynn, Sr., 5-7, 167; WR: Nick Stoner, Sr., 6-1, 190; TE: Danny Friend, So., 6-5, 255; LT: Jason Spriggs, Jr., 6-7, 305; LG: Bernard Taylor, Sr., 6-2, 310; C: Collin Rahrig, Sr., 6-2, 290; RG: Dan Feeney, So., 6-4, 307; RT: Peyton Eckert, Jr., 6-6, 308.

DEFENSE: DE: Bobby Richardson, Sr., 6-3, 286; DT: Adarius Rayner, Jr., 6-2, 307; NG: Ralph Green III, So., 6-5, 325; DE: Nick Mangieri, Jr., 6-5, 260; OLB: Forisse Hardin, Sr., 6-1, 230; MLB: T.J. Simmons, So., 6-0, 226; OLB: David Cooper, Sr., 6-1, 240; CB: Tim Bennett, Sr., 5-9, 185; S: Antonio Allen, So., 5-10, 205; S: Mark Murphy, Sr., 6-2, 215; CB: Michael Hunter, Jr., 6-1, 192.

SPECIALISTS: K: Aaron Del Grosso, Fr., 5-10, 195; P: Erich Toth, Jr., 6-3, 204.

Biggest question mark: Until the Hoosiers actually fix the problem, the weakness and most uncertain part of the team remains the defense. Indiana is going to continue to score points in bunches, but it’s never going to make up any ground in the East if it can’t find a way to at least slow down opponents. New defensive coordinator Brian Knorr has a sizable task in front of him, and if he can just get the Hoosiers to the kind of level Wake Forest reached under him a year ago (24.1 points per game, No. 38 nationally), they can be a dangerous opponent to anybody.

Most important game: There may be plenty of time to make up for it if Indiana doesn’t get off to a fast start in the league, but its opener in the Big Ten might be the most critical if the team is going to break through and get to a bowl game. Maryland won’t be a pushover when it comes to Bloomington, Indiana, on Sept. 27, but if the Hoosiers can defend their home turf and start league play with a victory, the path to postseason eligibility would certainly open up. Drop that one at home and Indiana might find itself needing to steal one elsewhere.

Upset special: Penn State finally has a loss on what used to be an unblemished record against Indiana, and there’s no doubt that memory will be a motivating factor for the Nittany Lions. But that might work in the Hoosiers’ favor as well as they remember what happened in last season’s shocking blowout, giving them belief that they really are capable of beating traditional powers that have always had their number in the past. Plus, Indiana gets them at home again as it looks to make a late push into bowl contention.

Key stat: Wynn’s reputation as a game-breaker has spread throughout the Big Ten, and his return is a significant reason why there’s not much belief the offense will suffer with Hughes, Latimer and Bolser now gone. But those three players combined for 154 receptions and 22 touchdowns last season, and that is a huge amount of production to replace for the guys stepping up to join Wynn in the starting rotation.

Uni watch: The Hoosiers have proved to be pretty flexible with the designs on their helmets, and if Latimer’s posts on social media before moving on to the NFL are any indication, more could be on the way.

Team’s top Twitter follows: Coach Kevin Wilson (@IUCoachWilson), Wynn (@SHANEWYNN4), Sudfeld (@NateSudfeld), @HoosierFootball. They said it: “We’re not expecting it to be lights out, but you just want to see some consistent, constant improvement.” — Wilson on the defense.

Stats & Info projections: 7.03 wins

Wise guys over-under: 5.5 wins

Big Ten blog projection: Six wins. …

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