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Big Ten Football 2018 Preview: Indiana Hoosiers
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7 Aug 2018 02:13 PM EST

-by Daniel Mogollon, Staff Writer; Image: Indiana Hoosiers running back Morgan Ellison. (Image Source: Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

We continue our Big Ten preview series with the Indiana Hoosiers:

Origin of Optimism: After averaging just 26.8 points per game, the Hoosiers should be much improved offensively in 2018. They return their entire starting offensive line from last season and have added Miami grad transfer Nick Linder, who is expected to start at center. At running back, the stable is deep, talented, and experienced led by sophomore Morgan Ellison, an All-B1G caliber back when healthy. Big-play threat Nick Westbrook returns at wide receiver after missing all of last season to join the Big Ten’s most efficient pass catcher Luke Timian (B1G-best 66 percent catch rate) and emerging sophomore Whop Philyor to form a potentially excellent trio. After taking a step back last season, the offense should start trending in the right direction again.

Cause for Concern: The defensive front seven. IU must replace eight starters on defense, including three-fourths of the defensive line and both linebackers. A healthy Marcelino Ball should make for an improved Husky position but how does IU replace linebackers Tegray Scales and Chris Covington? The answer is they likely won’t have anyone who can match their production, especially if they don’t answer questions along the defensive front, where they lack proven players at tackle beyond Jacob Robinson and must replace both defensive ends. Syracuse grad transfer Kayton Samuels adds depth but he made just 12 tackles in 12 games (seven starts) as a junior. A healthy Nile Sykes helps, but who else generates a pass rush? Since head coach Tom Allen arrived as the defensive coordinator two seasons ago, IU has been among the most improved defenses in the country. If we’re talking trends again, this one is likely to also reverse itself, at least for this season.

Breakout Player: If I knew Morgan Ellison would stay healthy, he’d be my pick to click, but that’s a big if, so fellow sophomore Whop Philyor gets the nod. With 33 receptions in 2017, the Tampa native finished second in the Big Ten among true freshman. That mark also set an Indiana freshman record, as did his three touchdown receptions. What should give Indiana fans even more optimism is that 25 of his grabs came in the final five games of the season. Don’t be surprised to see him crack 50 or 60 receptions in 2018. Fast and quick, Philyor might emerge as IU’s most dangerous playmaker.

X-Factor: The production they get from the quarterback position will go a long way in deciding if Indiana makes a bowl this season. Sophomore Peyton Ramsey returns after playing in nine games in 2017, including four starts. He’s smart, an accurate passer, and a good runner, however needs to show he can stretch the field with his arm, as well as display durability if he continues to run. With Richard Lagow gone it appeared the job would be Ramsey’s in 2018, until Indiana brought in Arizona grad transfer Brandon Dawkins, who has 15 touchdown passes and another 20 rushing during his time as a Wildcat. The spread offense the Hoosiers run is a great fit for the experienced Dawkins. Expect Dawkins to get the Week 1 nod, with Ramsey and possibly true freshman Michael Penix Jr. (strong spring) waiting in the wings.

Big Ten Previews: Michigan | Michigan State | Ohio State | Penn State |

Schedule: Indiana’s first two opponents (at FIU, vs. Virginia) are coming off bowl seasons, but the Hoosiers have a good chance to sweep their out of conference schedule to start the season 3-0. IU has five other very winnable games, including pivotal homes games against Iowa, Maryland, and Purdue to end the season. What makes those games so important is Indiana’s record against the East’s Big 4. Over the past ten seasons, the Hoosiers are 2-32 versus Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Penn State combined.

It’s a Disappointing Season If: The Hoosiers take a big step back on defense, while failing to make ground offensively, which would equal a second-straight non-bowl season in Bloomington.

It’s a Successful Season If: They make a bowl. It’s that simple. Playing in the toughest division in college football, that’s all IU fans can really ask for.   

Over/Under – 5 Wins: This is a low number. If Indiana can stay healthy they should be a better team in 2018 and the schedule is more manageable. Road games against Virginia (W), Maryland (L), and Purdue (L) will be played in Memorial Stadium, while Iowa replaces Wisconsin in interdivision play. They won five in 2017 and that includes an 0-4 record in one-possession games. I believe six wins is more likely than four for a team that has won at least five games in each of the past three seasons, so take the over.

Daniel Mogollon is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America. He is also a voter for the Thorpe and the Rotary Lombardi Award, as well as the Latino Sports MVP Awards.

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