From the other side: Indiana

14 09 2010

This week, Bloomington (Ind.) Herald-Times Indiana beat writer Dustin Dopirak took some time out to answer a few questions as we get closer to this weekend’s Indiana-Western Kentucky game at Houchens-Smith Stadium.

A special thanks to Dustin for helping us out. For more Indiana coverage this week, CLICK HERE

1) Obviously basketball rules the roost at Indiana for many fans (just like Western Kentucky), but what’s the overall mood like with regard to this year’s Hoosier football team?

— I’d say the overall mood is the same as usual. There’s hopeful skepticism, or skeptic hope. One of those.

Basically, Indiana fans see some things they like. Good receivers, an experienced quarterback, a talented running back and a solid lineman or two. They remember a few games last year that were closer than they expected and think this might be the year the Hoosiers have a break through.

But even the most optimistic IU fans can’t fathom a season better than 8-4, and 6-6 would be considered a really good season because that means bowl eligibility. That doesn’t happen often at Indiana.

Of course, any IU fan who has been around long enough has seen a potentially promising team be exposed in the Big Ten, which the Hoosiers still haven’t caught up to.

The future looks bright because IU is putting together a very strong recruiting class for 2011 and had a solid one in 2010, but again, a good recruiting class at Indiana does not equal a good or even a weak recruiting class at Ohio State. So there’s optimism, but it’s tempered by a century of losing.

2) Two years ago when the Hilltoppers visited Indiana, Kellen Lewis ran all over the field and was the main difference in the game. What’s IU’s strong point in 2010?

— The passing game.

Ben Chappell is the complete opposite of Kellen Lewis in just about every way (and yes, that extends to off-the-field behavior). No one will mistake Chappell’s athleticism for Lewis’s. Chappell would have a hard time winning a race with his offensive linemen. But he’s a classic dropback quarterback with a rifle arm, really good touch and a great understanding of the game as a fifth-year senior.

And wide receiver is without a doubt Indiana’s strongest unit. It’s really the only group on the team that you can just look at and infer that there are Big Ten teams who would trade their group for IU’s. Tandon Doss was an All-Big Ten pick last year and he has freakishly good hands. Damarlo Belcher is 6-5 and was a star basketball player in Fort Wayne, so he has outstanding speed and leaping ability. Terrance Turner is a tall, strong, athletic over-the-middle option and he’s the leader for the group. Redshirt freshman Duwyce Wilson is the fourth receiver and he’s the next go-to-guy, plus there’s all kinds of depth below him. Chappell will probably have a 3,000-yard season.

3) How safe is Bill Lynch at IU? And is the program ready to turn the corner under his leadership?

— That’s the question everyone’s trying to answer.

IU athletic director Fred Glass has said repeatedly that he has faith in Lynch, that he will at least be able to coach out his contract. Glass is a lawyer by trade, so this stuff is important to him, and he said he’s not going to allow the culture to force him to make a decision before he wants to make it. He’s also said that he will not have a “litmus test,” in other words say that Lynch has to win so many games to keep his job, because that’s overly objective and “allows and administrator to go on autopilot” and not have to make a decision and defend it.

Glass is certainly impressed with Lynch’s recruiting efforts and he likes his general philosophy. Lynch realizes that he’s not going to beat Ohio State and Michigan straight up for recruits, so he gets to players who are under the radar early, offers them scholarships before anyone else does (which in football still mostly means in January of their junior year) then redshirts as many players as he can so they get five years to develop in the program. Generally it seems to be working so far, even though the record hasn’t really shown it, so I think as long as things don’t turn disastrous, Glass will stick with him.

4) Indiana had to go on the road to play a mid-major last season when it visited Akron – a game that was relatively tight in the 2nd half. Do you feel that experience helps the Hoosiers become less susceptible to an upset on the road to a lower conference squad this season? Or not as much.

— Though the score wasn’t ridiculous, Indiana was always in control of that game and Akron scored a garbage touchdown to make it look close, so I don’t think they’ll really look back on that game. There have been others in the past, though, that were closer than they should’ve been. IU got lucky against both Eastern Kentucky and Western Michigan at home last year, winning those games by a combined 10 points. Lynch is making a point to tell his guys that Western Kentucky will be ready for them and they will be psyched up with a Big Ten team coming to their place.

5) Your prediction for Saturday?

— With all that said, I still think Indiana wins this by about 17 points. I’m going to go with 41-24, because I think Bobby Rainey will get some things done.

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