In their minds, you can highlight one number and downplay another to make the best of teams look vulnerable and the worst of squads look formidable. Ultimately, it comes down to wins and losses and not how many yards you averaged on third down.
While I'm not quite ready to concede statistics are for the 30-year-old comic-book readers of the world, I will concede they can be deceiving. Take, for instance, IU's pass defense ranking in the conference a season ago. The Hoosiers yielded a Big Ten-low 202.5 passing yards/game, while surrendered only 14 touchdowns through the air.
With all four secondary starters back from a season ago, on paper it appears IU has the league's best last line of defense.
But even the most die-hard of IU fans would have to admit that's not the case. Indiana heads into the '06 campaign with plenty of experience in the secondary, but some questions nonetheless.
The biggest question is at cornerback, where the Hoosiers have to be more sound than they were a year ago. Back from '05 are a pair of starters in Tracy Porter and Leslie Majors. The juniors combined for 98 tackles a season ago, while Porter led the team with three interceptions and six passes broken up. The 5-11, 191-pound Porter is the team's top coverman, someone with all of the physical tools to be one of the better corners in the conference.
Majors, meanwhile, has blazing speed, but has struggled with consistency. While he's not afraid to stick his 5-9, 170-pound frame in the middle of the action to come up with a big tackle (he ranked fifth on last year's team with 50 tackles), he's been susceptible to yielding the big play in the passing game, something he'll need to address in his third year as a starter.
With more and more teams going to three and four wide receiver sets, the Hoosiers are also in desperate need of developing a reliable third cornerback as well. Junior Chris Phillips filled that role at times a year ago, although there's a possibility that a strong fall camp for redshirt freshman Bruce Hampton or one of IU's true freshman corners (Richard Council or Aaron Burks) could result in a new face earning that spot.
Senior safety Will Meyers says the big plays in the passing game weren't always an individuals breakdown, but instead a mix-up for the IU secondary as a whole.
"There were some guys back there that hadn't worked together," Meyers said. "I think it's about guys working together and communicating."
Meyers, meanwhile, leads a veteran group of safeties, making it easily the most proven position on the defensive side of the ball for IU. Despite the dismissal of part-time starter Aaron Mitchell from the team last month, IU still has three senior safeties in Meyers, Troy Grosfield and Eric McClurg, which gives IU safeties coach Mike Yeager three proven commodities at the position.
Meyers is the team's top returnee in both tackles (84) and tackles for loss (7.5) from a season ago. He's always been particularly good against the run, which makes him a candidate to drop down to an outside linebacker spot in IU's new 4-2-5 defensive alignment.
Meyers says he's unsure whether he'll wind up in the box or back at his strong safety position, but he's open to either spot this fall.
"I could wind up at two different positions, but it really just comes down to tackling, covering people and making plays," Meyers said. "So I don't think it will be much different. You just have to make the game simple. There are a lot of complicated things about it, but when it comes down to it, the team that tackles better and blocks better is going to be the team that wins."
Grosfield, meanwhile, is back at free safety after tallying 57 tackles and five passes broken up a year ago. A knee injury kept him out of spring practice, but he's expected to be back to 100 percent this fall. He's arguably the team's best tackler in the open field and has continued to blossom in the secondary since making the switch from placekicker two years ago.
Indiana also has some promising youngsters at the position. Redshirt freshmen Austin Thomas, Dan Kinsey, Tim Sergi are all possibilities to help either at safety or at outside linebacker.
"The redshirt freshmen are really athletic, and you can see that every day in practice," Meyers said.
The 6-2, 210-pound Thomas is the newcomer who turned the most heads in the spring, eventually working his way up to the No. 1 unit by the time spring practice came to a close. While the return of Grosfield could make a starting spot tough to come by, IU co-defensive coordinator Joe Palcic made it clear in the spring that Thomas was a player the staff needed to get on the field.