Indiana's 2006 season opener is still a month away, but a case can be made the campaign kicks off today.
That's because IU Coach Terry Hoeppner and three Hoosier players are in Chicago for the next two days for the annual Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon, an event that marks the unofficial start to the football season to many. Ohio State, Michigan and Iowa have been tabbed as the conference's preseason favorites, while Indiana begins its quest to bring an end to its 13-year bowl game drought.
It's a season that has plenty of promise, but the potential for pitfalls as well. The schedule is such that a 4-0 start is a very real possibility, but the league slate figures to be as challenging as ever for an Indiana team that is 4-28 in conference action over the last four years.
With the start of practice now less than a week away, what are some of the truths facing the Hoosiers this fall, and what are some of the pieces of fiction? HoosierNation.com takes a look at a handful of those fact vs. fiction items…
The Offensive Line isn't nearly as big a concern as some might think:
Fiction. If there's one thing standing in the way of a big step forward for the Hoosiers this fall, it's the offensive line. Three starters are gone from a unit that was mediocre at best a season ago, and there aren't any returnees who appear ready to step in and be bona fide quality Big Ten offensive linemen. What's the cause of the problem? A handful of players from the '04 class such as Matt Moses and Sean Edmundson haven't developed the way many had hoped, and IU lost a pair of offensive linemen in its '05 class when they de-committed after the firing of Gerry DiNardo. The future appears bright thanks to the signing of seven linemen in the '06 recruiting class, but it's a stretch to think more than one of those players can be a big factor this season. Offensive line coach Bobby Johnson mixed and matched his linemen in the spring in an effort to find a combination that works, but it remains a huge concern heading into the fall.
True freshmen won't be ready to contribute this season:
Fiction. A handful of newcomers need to be factors if the Hoosiers are to do better than last year's 4-7 mark. Besides Nick Ford, the most likely true freshmen to play appear to be Cody Faulkner (guard), Matt Mayberry (outside linebacker/safety), Will Patterson (linebacker), Mandela Roberts (linebacker) and Pete Saxon (offensive tackle). All of IU's signees at linebacker have a shot to compete for playing time thanks to the lack of quality depth at the position. The preference would be to redshirt all three, but the staff might not have that luxury. That will likely depend on the development of Dan Kinsey and Josh Bailey, a pair of redshirt freshmen who could compete for playing time as well. Along the offensive line, the 306-pound Faulkner and the 310-pound Saxon appear to be the two most physically prepared linemen in the group of newcomers. If you're looking for a long-shot contributor out of the freshman group, watch out for Aaron Burks, a 5-11, 190-pound cornerback. Besides projected starters Leslie Majors and Tracy Porter, there is a need for a No. 3 corner to develop, and Burks has a chance to be that guy.
Nick Ford has chance to win the team's placekicking job:
Fact. Actually, with the struggles Indiana had a season ago with its placekicking, anyone on the roster who could prove he could consistently kick a 35-yard field goal would likely be given an opportunity to win the job. But the 5-9, 170-pound walk-on from LaPorte (Ind.) H.S. has the best chance. A first-team All-State choice a year ago, Ford converted all 52 of his extra points and had 49 touchbacks in 66 kickoffs a season ago. His strongest competition figures to come from sophomore Kevin Trulock, who was the most consistent kicker during the spring. Last year's kicker, Joe Kleinsmith, appears to be in the secondary for good.
James Hardy's off-the-field issues won't be a distraction this season:
Fiction. Indiana's 6-7, 216-pound sophomore is scheduled to appear in Allen County Court for a two-day trial for his domestic abuse case beginning Aug. 23. Hardy's lawyers had held out hope the case would get dismissed because Hardy's girlfriend is expected to recant her story, but the judge recently ruled the tape of the original 911 call would be admitted during the trial. IU Coach Terry Hoeppner has been waiting for the outcome of the case before determining if he'll need to suspend/discipline Hardy as well. If Hardy is found guilty, it will be very difficult for the Hoosier coach to not sit the team's top offensive weapon down for a couple games.
A Breakout Year is coming for a Hoosier WR:
Fact. Contrary to popular opinion, though, I think that receiver will be James Bailey. With most team's focusing their efforts in limiting the effectiveness of Hardy, the 6-2, 205-pound Bailey could be in for a big season. After a 27-reception, 335-yard freshman season, Bailey caught four passes for 165 yards in the spring game, including a pair of long touchdown plays. He's very good in the open field, and should benefit from getting plenty of man-to-man coverage this fall.
IU Football Fact vs. Fiction
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