Taking the Next Step: Doormat Edition

Can Indiana ride the offensive talent of dynamic players like Cody Latimer to B1G relevance? - Reid Compton-US PRESSWIRE

Minnesota stands at 6-4. Purdue and Indiana stand at 4-6. All three teams have made leaps in terms of on-field performance in 2012, but which team stands to take the next step this year and beyond? We break that down below.

Minnesota is bowl-eligible. Say it with me. Minnesota is bowl-eligible. Purdue, left for dead by many after a five-game losing streak including a thumping at the hands of the Gophers, has downed a bad Iowa team and now must only claim the Purdue Cannon and Old Oaken Bucket to go bowling for a second consecutive year. Indiana, of the three, faces the biggest obstacle to bowling, staring down Penn State before fighting to link an "I" onto that aged water receptacle, but has nonetheless held its own in B1G play before a trashing by the surging Wisconsin Badgers.

This season, Bama Hawkeye rightly noted, was "the chance" for teams like Illinois and Purdue. Substitute Indiana for Illinois, and you have the state of the Leaders Division. Neither Indiana nor Purdue, we've learned, had "the stuff" to book a ticket to Indy this year. But while Minnesota has set out on its own road to respectability, Indiana and Purdue both scared the shit out of Ohio State, beat Iowa, and were at one point not longshots to win the Leaders (and we all know it's been that kind of year in the B1G).

Ted already did a fantastic job covering what Minnesota's done right this year, and (surprise, surprise) much of that improvement centers around the hiring of Jerry Kill. So let's look at the two other perennial B1G doormats and what's spurring their turnaround.

Indiana:

Peruse the Indiana preview Graham wrote to open the season. So far, Chad's call for the 2012 Hoosiers appears is the only remaining correct call on the board. But what went right?

Indiana has been who, largely, people thought they would: a high-octane offense (albeit not with the injured Tre Roberson) with a suspect--to put it lightly--defense. Cameron Coffman has filled in admirably for Roberson, leading the 26th-best passing attack in the nation, but the defense has forced Indiana into week-in, week-out shootouts, allowing over 32 points per game.

Kevin Wilson's task for next season is seemingly simple: (1) prepare Tre Roberson to run the offense efficiently, as Coffman has, (2) continue to marginally improve a defense whose total allowed YPG moved from a national ranking of 109th in 2011 to 97th in 2012, and (3) don't lose to Ball State. Seriously, Indiana would need one win over Purdue to go bowling had they just beaten they Cardinals like they should.

It's not the easiest of tasks, but the Hoosier defense, if even marginally improved, could be the difference in close games like 2012 Michigan State, Ohio State, and even Northwestern. For an offensive mind like Kevin Wilson, though, skepticism is likely the best option.

Purdue:

Will Danny Hope even last the season? The staff was all over the board on Purdue's record and results when predicting 2012, and then Graham said this:

I compare Purdue to a medium-level attractive woman you’re on a first date with. Halfway through the date, you think to yourself, yeah, this could be the one. I’m sure the hair will get better and the terrible laugh will go away and we’ll find common ground. Yeah, this is the one.

But the truth is, she’s the same 5 you went out with and the laugh will always be machine-gun like. Nothing changed. You just got bored and lonely.

That’s why people surmise some kind of dark horse candidacy with Purdue. It’s the offseason, you’re bored and lonely. It’s understandable, but ridiculous.

Purdue has, in effect, been exactly that team. All over the map with close losses to Notre Dame followed by shellackings in B1G play and then an almost-competent effort against Iowa, Danny Hope's squad has failed to put anything resembling consistency. Compounding this mediocrity has been the QB trifecta two-man system employed by the Boilermakers and a defense waffling between mostly shutting down Ohio State and Notre Dame and mostly bending over against Minnesota and Penn State.

Simply put, Purdue needs to pick an identity and stick with it: is Danny Hope the coach of the future? Is Rob Henry going to be the senior QB who can lead the 2013 Boilers? Hammer and Rails is already starting to consider future coaches, but a 2-game winning streak to close out the season and take Purdue bowling for two straight seasons could save Hope's job. When Purdue's coach admits that his team is "challenged from a talent standpoint", though, Purdue's best chance for becoming an actually relevant factor in the Leaders may hinge on Hope's departure. If not at the end of 2012, 2013 will be Hope's chance to prove that with a healthy team, he can make waves and matter in the B1G.

Conclusions:

In terms of arguing for coaching consistency and improving play on both sides of the ball, Minnesota seems like the logical choice for which team can take the "next step" to returning to relevance in the Big Ten. With Indiana's offense allowing them to run with teams and Purdue still getting incomplete grades due to injuries, though, who do you think is the doormat ready to become relevant?

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