For the first time in the Kevin Wilson era in Bloomington, the Hoosiers are facing a particular type of challenge.
It's not expectations, that was last year. And Indiana failed to live up to them , winning just five of eight home games in missing out on a bowl for a sixth straight season.
No, the challenge of which I speak is having to replace several key parts at multiple positions offensively.
Gone are players like Cody Latimer, Kofi Hughes, Ted Bolser, Stephen Houston, and Tre Roberson. Yes, there are talented players back at most of those same spots, like Shane Wynn, Tevin Coleman, and Nate Sudfeld. But where there were options and depth at the offensive skill positions a year ago, suddenly there are question marks as to who else will step up to be key contributors.
The quarterback shuffle will now be a thing of the past. Both Sudfeld and Roberson saw action in all 12 games a year ago. The QBs behind Sudfeld on the depth chart are Nate Boudreau and Zander Diamont, and neither has taken a collegiate snap. Diamont is a true freshman, although he was on campus during the spring semester. Hoosier fans might not mind seeing either or both of those on Saturday, but only if Indiana has a multiple touchdown lead.
Behind Coleman in the backfield is senior D'Angelo Roberts, a Bloomington North grad. He's chipped in for about 300 yards rushing in each of his three previous seasons.
Other familiar names will see more time at the wide receiver position in seniors Nick Stoner of Center Grove and Isaiah Roundtree of Lawrence Central. However, the two combined for 26 receptions a season ago. They've both been program kids, but a whole lot more will be asked of them in their final seasons in Bloomington.
The great news for Indiana is that there are no such departure issues along the offensive line. In fact, players seem to be flooding back into the program after numerous injuries a year ago. All starters, and several backups, saw plenty of reps a season ago. The best of the bunch might be a former walk-on in center Colin Rahrig. The Mishawaka Marian grad was named second-team all league by BTN.com before the season.
On defense, the only significant loss was that of safety Greg Heban. So, it's good news/bad news. The good news: the Hoosiers have 10 starters back. The bad news: that group was beyond bad for most of the year, allowing nearly 528 yards per game and 39 points per contest.
But, the Hoosiers don't need to be great on defense. Average just might be good enough to end this program's second lengthy bowl drought in the last quarter century.
After a year where the schedule was set up for the Hoosiers to succeed, this time around it's not as kind. Following Saturday's game against Indiana State Saturday, the Hoosiers aren't at home again for a month. They have two byes, as everyone else in the league does, but the first comes next weekend. Then it's on the road to play at Bowling Green and Missouri. The BG game could be key in sending Indiana to the postseason.
The only home game that would appear to be beyond the grasp of the Hoosiers would be against Michigan State in mid-October. Maryland, North Texas, Penn State, and Purdue are the other home dates. They are all labled as winnable, but none (even North Texas) would likely be classified as easy wins. That even applies to the Bucket game on Thanksgiving weekend.
The league road trips are Iowa, Ohio State, Michigan, and Rutgers. Again, there's a chance Indiana might just sneak out one or two of those.
Indiana will play nine teams that earned a bowl bid a year ago. Yet, just three of those teams (Ohio State, Michigan State, and Missouri) are ranked in the top 25.
So what happens to the Hoosiers this year? Who knows. Season projections have fluxuated on the high end from eight wins to potentially as few as four wins.
Shooting for exactly in the middle of that range would be good enough for the Hoosiers. Six wins means this team is going bowling. And that's pretty much the only defintion of success for Indiana this year.
Go bowling or go home. That's the crossroads this program faces yet again.