BLOOMINGTON – Indiana football coach Tom Allen isn’t shying away from expectations.
The Hoosiers return 17 starters from a team that finished 8-5, their best season since 1993, and have assembled a talented roster with three straight top-50 national recruiting classes.
“There’s no question we have a lot of players back on this football team from last year that have played football at a high level,” Allen said.
Managing those expectations will be one of the keys to IU’s success going into this season. The Hoosiers only got in four spring practices due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the talent on the roster remains young and in need of reps.
But IU has plenty to build around, led by rising sophomore cornerback Tiawan Mullen on defense and preseason All-Big Ten senior wide receiver Whop Philyor on offense. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Michael Penix Jr. needs to prove he can stay healthy for a full season and has added 15 pounds of muscle during the offseason in an attempt to better take the pounding applied by Big Ten defenses. Penix can stretch a defense – he connected with Nick Westbrook on a 75-yard touchdown pass in last season’s opener against Ball State – and finished the year passing for 1,394 yards and 10 TDs in six games.
“I’ve been encouraged by his growth,” Allen said. “Encouraged by the process he’s going through to be able to put himself in a position to respond to the challenges we’ve given him for those expectations. What he needs to do is be the leader of this team, the face of the program, which every quarterback has to own that responsibility.”
New offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan also will be in the spotlight as he looks to guide an offense that finished second in passing and third in total yards in the Big Ten last season under former OC Kalen DeBoer, who left to take over the head coaching job at Fresno State. The 32-year-old Sheridan, promoted from tight ends coach, is expected to keep much of the same terminology and concepts DeBoer employed last season.
Here’s an early outlook for Indiana heading into the 2020 season:
WHAT THEY LOST
Quarterback Peyton Ramsey, who passed for 2,454 yards and 13 TDs in relief of Penix last season, left IU to join Northwestern as a graduate transfer.
Starting offensive linemen Simon Stepaniak and Hunter Littlejohn left as seniors, while starting tackle Coy Cronk left for Iowa as a graduate transfer.
On defense, IU lost a pair of key players in defensive end Allen Stallings (five sacks) and linebacker Reakwon Jones (55 tackles, one sack).
NEWCOMERS TO WATCH
Defensive lineman Jovan Swann, a graduate transfer from Stanford, will help bring leadership and pass-rushing ability after recording 11.5 sacks in three seasons.
Another grad transfer from Stanford, guard/center Dylan Powell, should provide versatility on an offensive line that lost three starters.
Incoming freshman defensive lineman Demarjhe Lewis made an early impression with his strength and athletic ability before workouts were discontinued.
PROSPECTS FOR 2020
An early Big Ten test on the road at Wisconsin could set the tone for the rest of the season. Pulling off an upset in Madison could do wonders for Indiana’s confidence.
The Hoosiers get both Penn State and Michigan State at home this season, but November shapes up to be a tough month with games at Ohio State and Michigan.
Expectations are high coming off an eight-win season, and Indiana will need to learn to handle being a favored team after sneaking up on opponents last season.