Believe it or not, it’s August, and with that football starts to creep to the front of the minds of many Hoosier fans.
The season kicks off one month from today — September 1st at Florida International. Fall camp begins on Friday, as the Hoosiers prepare to begin their 131st season of college football, and their 119th as a member of the Big Ten.
To kick-off our coverage of the 2018 Indiana football season, today we look at the top themes for the upcoming campaign.
Tom Allen — Year Two
Year one is in the books for the Tom Allen era. Most would acknowledge that a coach’s first season involves a learning curve, and a different set of expectations. Allen acknowledged as much at last week’s Big Ten Media Day, noting that upon taking over the head coaching duties, he had to learn to delegate and manage in-game decisions, among other things.
Allen now has an entire team with a year under their belts in his system. The defense has two years with him. There will no magical switch that is flipped, but fans are right to expect to see more of the Tom Allen signature on this year’s team.
The New Memorial Stadium
It has taken nearly 60 years, but Memorial Stadium will be fully enclosed for the first time for the 2018 season. Indiana didn’t add any seating capacity with this latest addition to the facility, but the game day look and feel will be entirely different.
The $53-million renovation project provides a new home for the IU Excellence Academy, and will include centers for sports medicine and technology, life and leadership skills, career counseling for student-athletes, and a state-of-the-art nutrition center.
The most apparent additions in the south end zone will be a brand new 42-by-91-foot videoboard and a prominent entry plaza on the outside of the stadium that is intended to serve as the front door for IU athletics.
Setting expectations for an Indiana football season always starts with the recognition that they play in the Big Ten East. Of course that means that the usual suspects — Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State are all on the schedule again.
Allen said last week that the goal continues to be to break through that Big Ten East Wall, and he laid out some program-wide attributes that he believes will make it happen.
Some will write those games off and assume that IU will need to win six of the remaining eight games to become bowl eligible. That will be no small task with the likes of Iowa, Virginia, Maryland, Purdue and others also on the slate.
You can see the full schedule here.
The Quarterback Competition
Perhaps more than any other position, the success of any football program is heavily impacted by quarterback play. In Brandon Dawkins, Peyton Ramsey and Michael Penix, the Hoosiers have three capable candidates to lead the way in 2018, but no sure thing.
We assessed the situation here in June, and Allen indicated last week that not much has changed. It is still an open competition going into fall camp.
Because of his experience, athleticism, and the way his style matches up with what offensive coordinator Mike DeBord is trying to do, we expect Dawkins to be the opening day starter. Having said that, Ramsey was an impressive first year player, and we wouldn’t count him out.
The Running Game
As important as the quarterback is, whoever wins the job may do best to just hand the ball off. For us, the success or failure of this team will be largely dictated by whether or not the Hoosiers can run the football. More than just emphasizing the run — IU needs to impose their will in 2018.
The offensive line returns all five starters and has depth behind them. The Hoosiers have a stable of talented and experienced running backs including Morgan Ellison, Mike Majette, Cole Gest and Ricky Brookins. Their effectiveness could also be enhanced by a legitimate running threat quarterback like Dawkins, who can keep defenses on their heels with the run/pass option.
A Reconstituted Defense
Ask anyone analyzing IU football, and the biggest question surrounds the defense. The Hoosiers lost eight starters, including four guys that are currently on NFL training camp rosters.
The good news is that there is a least some experience returning at all levels of the defense, including guys like Jacob Robinson, Nile Sykes, Jonathan Crawford and Marcelino Ball. The linebacker group also had some good news over the summer with the return of Dameon Willis, and the immediate eligibility of transfer T.D. Roof.
You can’t get through a discussion about Indiana football without hearing someone mention the great work being done by athletic performance coach Dr. Matt Rhea and director of athletic performance David Ballou.
It is just training, and everything changes when things get real on September 1 — but Indiana fans are justified in expecting a bigger, stronger and faster product on the field in one month.
Honoring Bill Mallory
Finally, as Allen announced last week, the Hoosiers will honor the late Bill Mallory by wearing a helmet decal during the season. It will be a nice tribute to the program’s all-time winningest coach, and we hope the first of more substantial honors moving forward.
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