B1G 2012 // Indiana Cocktail Party Preview

Greetings loyal readers. Those of you who stuck with us through the dead of winter know that the pulse on the front page of this site grew a bit faint. That, I'm pleased to announce, is ancient history. Today is the beginning of B1G 2012, our comprehensive offseason preview series. From now through mid July, we'll be dedicating each week on OTE to individual programs, and providing daily team insight and analysis. We'll work in reverse chronological order from last year's conference finish -- which means Ohio State is up to bat way sooner than usual this year.

This is the third year we've ran with this format, and I think you'll agree that it's a great way to survey the conference heading into the fall. The team-specific design lets fans of all stripes get in on the conversation, and we hope that everyone will do their part to give the team of the week the attention it deserves. As I recently told our staff writers on a conference call, the thing that amazes me the most about these previews is how much I learn about the competition -- and how much the tidbits I pick up stay with me through the season.

With that in mind, throw your duffel in the luggage compartment and hop on the charter bus. The first stop on our virtual road tour is a familiar one: good 'ol Bloomington, Indiana. Let's travel I-37 South to Monroe County to visit a perpetual Big Ten cellar-dweller: the Indiana Hoosiers.

FIRST IN A SERIES: THE IU COCKTAIL PARTY PREVIEW

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Last year, we introduced the concept of the "cocktail party preview." If you're new to these parts (or, gasp, weren't paying attention last year) here's the idea. Imagine you just graduated from school and you're looking for a job in this crappy economy, or you're employed, and your boss asks you to schmooze a few prospective clients on the golf course. Either way you're in front of somebody you really need to impress. As you sit down in the hiring partner's office, or walk up to the putting green, you notice your mark has a framed picture of Randle El on the wall, or a trident logo on his driver sleeve. "Did you go to Indiana?" you ask politely. "Heck yeah," comes the response. "I've had football season tickets for 18 years." And then, after a pause, he asks, "You a fan?"

After you thank your lucky stars you're not a Boilermaker you ask yourself: what do I really know about Indiana football? The bad news is not a lot. But have no fear, you read Off Tackle Empire's IU Cocktail Party Preview, a distilled, no-nonsense, matter of fact primer for the unacquainted fan. The content that follows will arm you with just enough knowledge to navigate your way through any social encounter. Or at least give you enough information to make polite conversation at a cocktail party.

Like always, we've tweaked the format a bit this year in favor of a dichotomous "on one hand/on the other hand" approach. Just like most things in life, there's good news and bad news for the Hoosiers heading into 2012. What do you want to hear first?

On last season

The good news is...

It's over. There's really nothing that needs to be said about Kevin Wilson's inaugural campaign except that the Hoosiers went 1-11 in 2011 and that one win was over FCS foe South Carolina State. Zero B1G wins times zero FBS wins equals zero things to build off of in 2012. If I'm Kevin Wilson I take a page from Urban Meyer's playbook, bury the tapes, and let everyone start over with a clean slate coming in to 2012.

Okay, so maybe that's being a tad bit harsh. The good news is the Hoosiers will return 19 of 22 first teamers, tied for fourth in the nation in returning starters.

The bad news is...

Even though a significant number of personnel from last year are back, Indiana can hardly call themselves experienced. They were so young last season that they're still a youthful outfit heading into 2012.

On the offensive side of the ball

The good news is...

Kevin Wilson knows offense, and Quarterback Tre Roberson had a year to learn his system while seeing a significant amount of action last season. Equally important, Stephen Houston and D’Angelo Roberts, are two capable, if not raw, running backs that could help the Hoosiers develop the kind of reliable ground game that's been missing in Bloomington for as long as I can remember. The young tandem rushed for 223 yards against Wisconsin last season, and 319 yards against Northwestern. If they can put up those kind of numbers regularly in Big Ten play, they'll open up defenses for wide receiver Kofi Hughes to make big plays.

The bad news is...

It remains to be seen whether the pass-happy Hoosier offense has a reliable No. 2 receiver behind the aforementioned Hughes. Damarlo Belcher is gone, and Jamonne Chester, Dre Muhammad, and Duwyce Wilson are still unproven. And having a spotty offensive line won't do the skill position athletes any favors. Plus let's face it, offense wasn''t exactly the problem for Indiana during the Bill Lynch era.

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Is Kofi Hughes the big play threat Indiana needs to take the next step?

On the defensive side of the ball

The good news is...

Nine starters are back, including four starters on the defensive line and three in the secondary. If IU's defensive line and secondary can make the kind of progress Michigan's defense made between 2010 and 2011, they might be able to force key stops when it counts.

The bad news is...

We're still talking about a unit that finished last in the Big Ten in yards, scoring defense, and run defense in 2011, and leading tackler Jeff Thomas is gone, leading a huge void in the middle of the field. Until the defense in Bloomington gets better, it's unlikely the Hoosiers will be able to put themselves in a position to win games in conference.

On special teams

The good news is...

There's nowhere to go but up for a unit that finished eleventh in conference in punt returns and tenth in conference in kickoff returns in 2011. At least the Hoosiers were decent at limiting opponent punt returns in 2011 (5th in conference.)

The bad news is...

With just two starters returning, it remains to be seen how the Hoosiers will perform in this crucial phase of the game.

On the schedule

The good news is...

The out of conference schedule is manageable, with trysts against Indiana State, at Massachusetts, and Ball State. And the Hoosiers will get a break in the form of a September 22nd bye week before entering conference play, so they should enter the B1G healthy. Finally, the Hoosiers get Michigan State, Ohio State, and Wisconsin at home. The toughest road game they'll play is a November 17th date at Penn State.

The bad news is...

Memorial Stadium isn't exactly a home field advantage, and the Hoosiers have to play their most important game of the season against rival Purdue on the road. Reaching the six-win threshold and bowl eligibility will be a major stretch.

If you're talking to an Indiana fan

Don't mention...

Lost five-star recruit Gunner Kiel. Kiel committed to playing for his home state team, before ultimately switching his committment to LSU, and then Notre Dame. What once was a major coup for Kevin Wilson is now a painful reminder that the Hoosiers aren't competing on a level playing field against their FBS brethren.

Do mention...

The fact that landing Kevin Wilson remains a major haul in and of itself, and the coaching staff has the passion and the ability to get the Hoosiers back to where they were in 2007. There really is nowhere to go but up.

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This week...

MONDAY | Cocktail Party Preview

TUESDAY | Coaching Expose

WEDNESDAY | Hoosier State Potluck

THURSDAY | Indiana's Path to Six Wins

FRIDAY | Keeping the Enemy Close

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