Indiana football season is nigh.
The Hoosiers take the field at Memorial Stadium in just two days to open their 2023 campaign against No. 3 Ohio State. IU has uncertainty in some offensive areas, notably at quarterback. Head coach Tom Allen won’t announce a starter before the game.
But there are several known commodities in IU’s offense that the Hoosiers can be (publicly) excited about heading into the season, along with some real breakout candidates worth watching.
Here are four selections for those players, our offensive ‘picks to click.’
Lucas proved to be an electric player last season in smaller spurts.
Indiana coaches repeatedly expressed a desire to get him more involved in the offense later in the season, but it didn’t really happen. Lucas showed dynamic playmaking ability when he was on the field and getting touches, but that happened too infrequently for him to make a major impact on the offense.
Of course, Lucas made his mark on special teams, with two kick return touchdowns and one of the best yards per return averages in the country, earning him first team All-American status.
The sophomore will undoubtedly be much more involved in IU’s offense this season. In fact, Lucas should be a focal point. The Hoosiers will line him up in several different positions — including slot receiver — to get him as many productive touches as they can. He’s already shown what he can do with the ball in space. If IU can channel that into its offensive attack at least 10-15 times a game, whether through passing or running, Lucas should thrive.
In 2022, his first year at wide receiver, McCulley had some success. He caught 16 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown. He saw the field pretty consistently in a reserve role, but that brought limited action and limited touches. McCulley never recorded more than three receptions in a game last season. And outside of a 53-yard effort against Western Kentucky, he didn’t top 25 yards in any other game.
But in both spring and fall camp this year, McCulley has looked like an entirely different player than he was last season. He changed his diet ahead of spring ball and looked leaner, having dropped body fat.
But even more than the body changes, the season of experience at wide receiver made a huge difference. He no longer looks like a player getting used to a new position; he looks like someone who’s played wideout for years. He’s running cleaner, crisper routes, his hands look better, his anticipation and game savvy are stronger. His confidence as a wide receiver has grown immensely.
Now, does that mean he’s a sure thing to set the Big Ten on fire this year? Of course not. There’s no way to know how this new and improved McCulley will look in games.
But it feels like he could be on the cusp of a real breakout season.
Perry likely won’t start, with a number of more experienced wide receivers also in line for playing time, along with a priority to get Lucas some time in the slot.
But Perry has a lot of potential. He appeared in one game last season as a true freshman, using his redshirt year. But after a season spent getting acclimated to college football, Perry started to shine in spring. He was consistently praised as a standout performer in spring camp, and he continued that into fall.
At 5-foot-9, Perry could turn into a real weapon in the slot. He’s very quick and could turn that into some big plays if given the opportunity. IU could, in theory, scheme up some creative looks with both Perry and Lucas on the field together, which could cause defenses headaches.
It’s possible that Perry doesn’t play a large enough role on this year’s team to really break out and show his full potential. If not this year, he has several more years in Bloomington to make that happen. But don’t overlook Perry as someone who could contribute this year.
It would be easy to put players like Josh Henderson or Cam Camper in this slot — both are lined up for major roles in the IU offense this year, and both are good players.
But we’re going with a bolder pick here, given Walt Bell’s comments on Monday.
If Howland has a role in Indiana’s offense like Bell implied, he could be really interesting. At 6-foot-3, 240 pounds, he’s built more like a linebacker — and actually, Jacob Magnum-Farrar is the only Indiana linebacker to exceed that listed height or match the weight. Howland stands out among Indiana’s running backs — it’s hard to miss someone that much bigger than his peers.
Howland is shifty, but given his size and the other running backs IU has, his role would more likely be in short-yardage and goal-line situations. But he could be a real weapon in those spots. And if that comes to fruition, Howland could be the center of attention in some big moments in games, and end the season with some touchdowns to his name.
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