Yes, the SEC may have cornered the market on oversigning, recent BCS national championships, good ol' boys, inferior academics, bourbon, grits, seer-sucker, and the willingness to support moon-base planning/anti-contraceptive candidates to run the most powerful nation on earth, but there is one thing they will never take away from the Midwest: our glorious potlucks. (Although we're seriously considering re-animating General Sherman's corpse to steal the bourbon, because it warms us so well in the cold Midwest winter.)
Here at OTE, the Potluck is where the writing staff responds to a series of questions themed around delicious foods in regards to that week's team. Last year, the potluck featured five courses -- thanks to the obesity epidemic, the hope to keep these posts to fewer words than "War and Peace", and the diet for my upcoming wedding, we've cut the column to 4 course (don't worry, we eliminated "potato/rice" dishes, not dessert).
So stick around after the jump to learn how the OTE writers (and special guest John M from Crimson Quarry) found over 3000 words to write about Indiana football, including answers to the following: why Indiana in 2011 was all about compost, blueprints, and reset buttons; why Hoosiers prefer their balls round and orange; whether the best defense can be a good offense; and how Nick Saban, AAU accreditation, lakefront stadiums, and tattoo parlors would come to the Big Ten if our teams played and won Mega Millions.....
1) Devilled Eggs: For the Hoosiers, 2011 was a controlled burn designed to destroy the cancerous undergrowth and hopefully renew their football forest. Basically, Kevin Wilson blew that s*%t up so he could start over again. The result? An 1-11 campaign that was bleak, but with a few glimmers of hope -- young guys getting experience/tested in the fire, and a few near comebacks/wins (2nd half comeback against a bowl-bound Virginia, a close loss to Penn State). If you had been Kevin Wilson, is there anything you would have done differently in Year One of Indiana's 100th Attempted Rebuilding (or is it just Building) Plan? Or did Wilson make all the right calls in composting the 2011 season in the hopes it fertilizes 2012 and beyond?
John M (Crimson Quarry): With a 1-11/0-8 record and a team that was so far away from mediocrity, it's tough to second guess individual decisions. No matter what, with an unsettled quarterback situation, IU probably was in for a rough 2011, even if the old staff had been retained. Because of that, I tend to think that starting from ground level makes the most sense. Wilson is a known hothead, and I'm sure there are individuals he would have handled differently, but most of that stuff is behind the scenes anyway. Ultimately, it isn't as if Wilson could have gone 8-4 by staying the course, so I tend to support the chosen path.
Ted Glover: Yes. Indiana had made progress under Bill Lynch, but was stuck in that 4 or 5 win limbo. Was there talent there to be a 6 or 7 win team? Maybe, but a lot of that talent left after 2010, including QB Ben Chappell, so Wilson had an opportunity to try and imprint his philosophy and beliefs on to a program that needs an overhaul. I think Lynch did a very good job overall, considering the circumstances he took the job under, but they weren't going to go to the next level under him, and if Wilson is going to advance the program, he needed to do what he did.
JDMill: Wilson did it right. What choice did he really have except to set fire to the whole thing and start over? It's not like there's a past blueprint for success at Indiana, and while Wilson was part of a winning program and tradition at Oklahoma, the blueprint at Oklahoma isn't going to work at Indiana. At Oklahoma you win with real football talent on the field at every position, and Indiana you've got to improvise, think outside the box, recruit a different kind of player than Wilson was used to at Oklahoma, and learn how to outsmart teams instead of out-talent them. Wilson did what needed to be done.
KennardHusker: Deviled Eggs are the foundation to any good potluck and this question provides us a lot of insight into the potential successes and failures of the Kevin Wilson experiment at Indiana. Last year, Wilson had to start over more or less. He had an extremely young team trying to learn a brand new offense and defense at a school that has been moribund for extremely way too long. While a lot of people would argue a B1G school should never lose to a non-BCS school, much less two of them, you got to hand it to Wilson. He decided to stay the course. You bring up the idea of Wilson composting the 2011 season in hopes of bigger and better things for the future. I think that is a fair metaphor for what happened last year. Look, the talent level for the style of play he wanted to install wasn't there yet, and he made a conscious choice to do something about it. The valuable playing time for the underclassmen should pay dividends for the Hoosiers soon. If not this year, then certainly in 2013 and beyond. If not, it means the reset button and attempt 101 on rebuilding.
2) Jello Salad: Since we just finished March, it must be mentioned -- Indiana basketball is back under Tom Crean. In fact, the Indiana-Kentucky basketball game in Bloomington this year was one of the best basketball games (in terms of the quality of the game, the finish, and the atmosphere) that I've ever seen. Assembly Hall is back and rocking for the Cream and Crimson, which raises a question -- is the return of basketball success to Assembly Hall a bad thing for Indiana football (less urgency to win/compete since all IU fans care about is basketball) or good for Indiana football (less pressure to succeed since basketball is doing well)? Only a few schools can win consistently in both basketball and football (Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Michigan State, namely, in modern times). Can Indiana become another one (albeit maybe on a lesser in football "make it to a 6-6 or 7-5 bowl game/get to the Sweet 16" level)? And if so, what will it take to get there?
Ted Glover: I think that tying football to basketball at Indiana is a fallacy. Indiana is THE flagship program in a basketball mad state, and it always will be. When the basketball program was going through their tribulations, no one looked at the football team and said "step it up, guys". They were looking at the basketball program and saying "quit sucking, please." Now that Hossier hoops is back to where they have been historically, no one is plotting a multi sport ascendency, because they don't care about football. My wife is from Indiana, and they all love basketball. Any attention given to football is given to the Colts.
John M (Crimson Quarry): I really don't think that basketball matters much at all to the football program, at least not on a season-to-season basis. The football program will rise and fall on its own merit. In the last 50 years, IU's only sustained flirtation with success was from 1986-1994, when IU had seven winning seasons in nine years and never did worse than 5-6. During the same nine school years, IU's basketball team won an NCAA title, made it to one other Final Four, won the Big Ten four times, and made the Sweet 16 in 6 of 9 seasons. In other words, IU fans weren't starved for success at that point, but that era was IU's high water mark for attendance and interest in the football program, particularly from 1988-1991, when IU averaged about 48,000 per game. That doesn't sound like much to most Big Ten programs, but it's within about 4,000 of capacity. In short, if the football program can move up, even into the low end of the middle of the Big Ten pack, the support will be there. If they don't, it won't.
As to what it takes to get there, I really think it's up to this coaching staff. IU has upgraded the facilities and upgraded salaries. I still like the pedigree of the staff and of Wilson in particular. I think the juco-heavy recruiting class shows that they are trying to make a splash soon. I think IU is in the best position it has been in a long time to make a move, but that doesn't mean it will happen.
Graham Filler: Identity, identity, identity. Indiana has no identity. No identity in recruiting, no identity in building players from 2 stars to big stars, no defensive identity. So obviously Indiana needs to create some kind of identity; take Iowa for example, turning low recruits and a basic offensive scheme into 7-9 wins a year no matter what.
What will that identity be? If given a choice, and looking at the parts in place, I would say some kind of offensive juggernaut is not a bad identity to shoot for. Indiana's defense is horrendous, pretty much no matter what, so why not ride Wilson's brains and experience toward a powerful spread offense? At least they'll be fun to watch...
Jonathan Franz: Maybe I'm under-analyzing this, but I really don't think it ever hurts one revenue program to have another firing on all cylinders. To use the corporate analogy, nobody in Apple's Macintosh division is pissed that iPad/iPhone sales are the company's meal ticket. That's because in the long run a rising tide lifts all boats. Now I know what you're thinking. In the corporate context each separate division is committed to a common goal of increasing sales and profits, whereas teams within athletic departments care only about individual championships. To be sure, that's a fair distinction -- albeit a short-term one. That's because ultimately the mission of all athletic directors boils down to one thing: bolstering the brand through success and the exposure that follows. When North Carolina basketball cuts down the nets, it elevates the entire brand. All teams that wear blue and white benefit indirectly. Any stigma that might be attached to making a decision to play football at a "basketball school" or vice versa is mitigated by the positive association of having one's school in the forefront of the national consciousness.
That's why Indiana's apparent resurgence in basketball can only spell good things for Kevin Wilson's program. The more people see the trident, the more they'll start to associate IU with winning, and the more interest they'll take in the university and its athletics community as a whole. The more championships the basketball team brings home, the more money donors will dump into the university's coffer, and eventually that influx of cash will trickle down to football. (See The University of Florida for the reverse effect.) Will it happen overnight? Of course not. But at the end of the day, the more money a university has and the larger and more impassioned its alumni base, the more likely it is that that university will field competitive athletic teams across the board.
For IU that might not mean BCS bowls and Final Four appearances, but it sure could mean bowl eligibility and NCAA tournament appearances.
3) Roast Pork Tenderloin: It really cannot be emphasized enough how young Indiana's team is, and how (despite a 1-11 record) they competed pretty impressively in 2011 for being such a young team. Freshman QB Tre Roberson completed 57% of his passes for 937 yards, 3 TDs, and 6 INTs in just 7 games as a starter; sophomore RB Stephen Houston ran for 802 yards (5.3 ypc) and 8 TDs; freshmen WRs Cody Latimer and Shane Wynn and sophomore WR Kofi Hughes all showed promise and began to develop a good rhythm with Roberson; and freshmen defensive linemen Ryan Phillis and Bobby Richardson really showed promise late in the season (being pretty disruptive in losses against Ohio State and Purdue). Kevin Wilson has also added a ton of junior college talent to his still VERY young team. Given the youth of this Indiana team -- what is the path for success in 2012? Is it Kevin Wilson getting Roberson, Houston, and the receiving corps to outscore enough opponents through an effective run-focused spread to make the Hoosiers bowl eligible? Or do you think a young defense with some talented juco imports will be forced to take a huge step (a la Michigan from 2010 to 2011) if the Hoosiers hope to avoid the Ro*Tel bowl? What's more important for Indiana in 2012 -- strengthening a promising/already-dangerous offense, or raising their defense to a mediocre (but at least competitive) level?
Ted Glover: The Hoosiers were 114th in points against last year, and that needs to be priority #1. However, they need to strike a balance. I still believe that the Spread offense is the slingshot for the collge football David's of the world when facing the Goliaths. Roberson is a very promising talent, and his development is crucial if Indiana is going to progress. But he's going to face defenses (MSU, OSU, Wisconsin, PSU) that can match an Indiana spread player for player, so he's going to have to have an aggressive defense that can make plays and change momentum and keep opponents from scoring.
John M (Crimson Quarry): For the reasons you mention, I'm not worried about the offense. IU has some talent at the skill positions and a great offensive mind in Wilson. As for the defense, forget mediocre. I think making the defense just conventionally below average would be a big step. Obviously, the question presents something of a false dichotomy. IU will be seeking to get better on both sides of the ball. But even if IU is going to be an offense-oriented team, the defense has much further to go to come close to pulling its weight. In other words, even if IU is going to be a "win 38-35" type team, which I think is the best case scenario, it will take more work for the defense to get to the 35 than for the offense to get to the 38.
P.S. This is an Indiana preview. That pork tenderloin should be breaded and deep fried, thank you very much.
Chadnudj: Take it from a guy who watched Kevin Wilson (as OC on Randy Walker's staff) make Northwestern entertaining and competitive without any semblance of a defense -- this plan can and should work. A great offense, at minimum, keeps your opponent in constant terror of a comeback, and I think Indiana can get to that level on offense. In fact, given some of the offensive instability in the B1G this year (new QBs, few experienced WRs), a great offense might be enough to go bowling, or at least steal a few games. Plus, offensive football is at least entertaining -- and one of Indiana's biggest struggles is just being relevant to its fanbase or football fans in general, or being a team that people even want to watch. There is no reason that Indiana, if it's playing entertaining and high scoring football (win or lose), cannot use the offensive success as a slingshot to getting more talented defensive players to play there. And I think that's Kevin Wilson's plan.....and here's hoping it works.
BabaOReally: When talking about mutually exclusive options, I am generally a proponent of strengthening liabilities. "You're only as strong as your weakest link" and so forth. I think Indiana would be better served by improving their defense. If they can get it to the point where they can stop the weaker teams on their schedule from matching them score-for-score, they should at least be able to win three out of four of their non-conference games. Indiana State is an FCS school, UMass was an FCS school with a losing record last year (this year they turn into UMAC) and revenge against Ball State should be possible. It also might be possible for the Hoosiers to sneak out a Big Ten win or two if they can slow some teams down.
Jonathan Franz: I know I'm a Buckeye fan, so I'm biased, but it's got to be the defense. Indiana only held a single team to under 20 points in 2011. They finished dead last in the B1G in total defense, giving up almost 6.44 yards a play. I don't care what kind of offense you've got. If you're giving up that kind of yardage in the Big Ten you're going to lose a lot of football games. I could sift through a lot of statistics to make my point, but I think there's a better analogy. Rich Rodriguez at The University of Michigan. The dude had a high octane offense and a low flow defense, and he lost far more games than he won. A year after Rodriguez left Brady Hoke won a BCS bowl with essentially the same roster. What was the difference? The defense of course. There's an old saying that "offense wins games" and "defense wins championships." In the B1G, it's the opposite. Defense wins games and no one wins championships.
Lottery mascots, or typically rotund Iowa State fans? (via blog.zap2it.com)
4) Pecan bars: The Mega Millions jackpot last week hit $640 million dollars. Imagine for a moment that B1G football programs could play the lottery. Tell me the best way for (a) Indiana and (b) your favorite team to spend $640 million (legally and within the NCAA rules -- we're not the SEC, folks) to improve and elevate your program if they had won Mega Millions.
KennardHusker: I love me some dessert bars. Always a good way to finish off a potluck. If Indiana got $640 Million, I would tell them to consider the Oregon Ducks for a moment. Now look, I'm not thinking they get too metallic and put fake designs of metal plates on their shoulders, but I would sink a decent amount of money into branding Indiana. Bloomington is obviously a great place to go to school, and despite evidence to the contrary, there does seem to be a desire to follow sports there. Maybe build a fan facility that would make gameday interesting. Try and build a monument to Randle El. Perhaps it would be good to put Big Screen TV's in every aisle playing other team's games. I don't really know, but there's bound to be a way to build a buzz around the program.
Now, if this were Nebraska winning the lottery? I'd just do what it takes to get back into the f%#&ing AAU so I don't have to listen to any more crap from all of you. Surely a $640 Million 'grant' to research in 'science' would take care of that.
Chadnudj: I'm not sure how Indiana would best spend it's money -- the facilities are not bad and were just renovated, Bloomington is a great college town (albeit a bit underrated), and I think they're heading in the right direction in terms of head coaches with Kevin Wilson. But with $650 million, I'd say Indiana would spend some of the money on hiring the best defensive coordinators in the nation and letting them go crazy in terms of recruiting and schemes.....and then blow the rest of the money on hiring Purdue grads away from McDonalds to be seat-fillers at Memorial Stadium and root for Indiana on football Saturdays. (Impressed that I somehow managed to insult two fanbases at once in that sentence?)
As for my team, Northwestern -- we clearly NEED to spend some money on facilities (and frankly, $650 million might not be enough since we need improvements in both football and basketball). So if I was Northwestern and we just won the Mega Millions jackpot, the money would be distributed in various amounts to: (a) pay for/towards a new, state-of-the-art, architecturally awesome Lakefront football stadium, complete with optional boat docking for "sailgating" (admit it whether you're a Northwestern fan or a fan of another team -- it would be cool to sail a boat from Navy Pier up to Evanston for a game); (b) build a year-round football training facility on campus (currently training happens a few miles away from campus); (c) build a downtown Evanston basketball arena (that could be used in the offseason for concerts/special events to make the townies happy); and (d) generate propaganda making fun of Stanford, Iowa, and That School in South Bend (just because this would make Fitz happy).
John M (Crimson Quarry): This is a tough question, because IU has dumped a ton of money into the facilities and the staff over the last five years. Perhaps IU could use a new indoor practice facility to replace the fairly bare-bones Mellencamp Pavilion. The coaching staff budget could use a further boost, for the purpose of retaining guys such as the departed OC Rod Smith, etc. Memorial Stadium could use some enhancements for spectators (restrooms and concession stands are pretty dated). But for the first time in my memory, IU is in pretty good shape in that regard. I'm sure the money would be useful, but the glaring needs that were present a few years ago largely have been addressed. Except for the losing, that is.
Ted Glover: Indiana--With $640 million, I have a ton of ideas, but Chad said 'legal', so that leaves out hookers and blow, a la Miami. So, fine. Legal it is. First thing is you're going to need a top coach, and the best one out there is Nick Saban. Now, here on planet Earth there is no way in a million years Saban leaves Alabama for Indiana. But on planet $640 million, you show up to Nick Saban's house with anywhere from $250 million to $300 million.
Money talks, folks. Now, would people howl and scream? Of course they would, but so what, you've still got about $340 million to spend! Where do I spend the rest of the money? Facilities and uniforms. Top notch facilities that make Oregon and anything else in the B1G look like Junior High, and you could get about 62,000 uniform combinations that appeal to the kids.
Ohio State--Um, not to sound arrogant and all, but OSU already has one of the three best coaches in the country, one of the two or three best athletic centers in all of college athletics, and the atletic department is making so much money they're almost to the point of printing it. Hmmmm, the only thing I can think of is an NCAA sanctioned (and I can use some of that money to legally grease those skids) on-site tattoo parlor?
Just spitballin' here.