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Indiana Football Preview

   by Tom Stryker - 06/21/2006

Terry Hoeppner worked quite a bit of magic (48-25) at Miami, Ohio, in his six years there as head football coach. Last year, his first at the helm of Indiana University, he got a sour dose of Big Ten reality. The Hoosiers went 4-1 in their first five games and only needed two wins in their last six games to become bowl eligible. So you know what happened - the Hoosiers lost their last six. That makes 11 straight losing seasons. Not since 1993 have the Hoosiers tasted a bowl game.

In today’s installment on this site, we will deal with Hoeppner and the Hoosiers. It’s the second in our series of looks (alphabetical) at the Big Ten for 2006.

Believe it or not, there is reason for optimism in Bloomington - and it has nothing to do with hoops. There are 14 starters returning, the Hoosiers will play seven home games, and the non-conference schedule is a manageable one.

If I.U. has a realistic strength it will be on the offensive side of the field. Eight starters are back on offense, including the touchdown-producing tandem of quarterback Blake Powers and wide receiver James Hardy.

Powers completed 212 of 376 passes in 2005 for 2,305 yards and 22 touchdowns - an I.U. record. But he had 16 interceptions; a number that Hoeppner knows has to be lower this year.

Hardy, a sophomore, was Powers favorite target a year ago. He snared 61 passes for 893 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Running back production is a concern. Chris Taylor and Yamar Washington, the leading ground gainers are gone. The new corps has to come from three redshirt freshman or a converted wide receiver - Marcus Thigpen.

Powers has to have some time to work his passing magic, but only tackle Justin Frye and center Chris Mangiero return to the offensive line. The 2006 line will have plenty of new faces. Hoeppner spent plenty of time recruiting offensive linemen and one publication noted that he signed what he called “seven blocks of limestone.â€쳌 They will need to be solid.

Because of the talent at the skilled positions, everyone expects I.U. to increase its 22.5 ppg from a season ago, but the defense has to make even bigger strides.

During the 4-1 start last fall, I.U.’s defense only allowed 355 yards a game, but in the season-ending six-game losing streak the Hoosiers D allowed nearly 470 yards and game and gave up an average of more than 40 points an outing.

If there is a bright spot looming for the fall defense it’s that all four secondary starters return. Junior cornerbacks Tracy Porter and Leslie Majors are back, along with safeties (seniors) Will Meyers and Troy Grosfield.

I.U. needs plenty of help in the linebacking corps and at defensive end.

A major weapon on special teams is junior Lance Bennett, who ranked fourth nationally in kick returns a season ago.

The Hoosiers play Western Michigan, Ball State (on the road), Southern Illinois and Connecticut in pre-Big Ten action, then open the conference wars at home against Wisconsin. Hoeppner knows I.U. has to do well in those games if it is to stop the string of losing seasons without bowl appearances.

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