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BLOOMINGTON -- Indiana coach Kevin Wilson has seen his program improve every season, from 1-11 to 4-8 to 5-7.
Now, in Year 4, are we about to see a breakthrough? Can the Hoosiers make a bowl for the first time since 2007?
With the season starting next Saturday against Indiana State, we're about to find out.
Wilson returns 18 starters, including eight from one of the nation's best offenses. A new defensive coordinator (Brian Knorr) combines with a new 3-4 defensive scheme and improved talent to offer hope that a perennially bad unit will finally get it right.
Wilson recently talked about season prospects.
Wilson: “I want it to be better than it is. But more than anything, I like my guys. When you like a team, it's easy to talk about it. When you go to practice there is a smile on your face.
“When you go to work, it's going to be tough. But we know those guys conquer every day like we do. They have the physical capabilities to conquer practice. Now let's start competing and see if we can conquer the opponents on Saturday.
“I've got a great feel for our players, starting with the old guys. And it's as talented a freshman group …it's maybe the best group of kids collectively we've had. So a lot of returns, but a lot of young talent.
To me, it's kind of ready to roll. You're excited about the potential and capabilities. We're set up in a position where it's going to be a hard challenge, physical schedule, and we're going to have a lot of fun and success.”
Q: What areas have you seen quarterback Nate Sudfeld make the most progress?
“I think as much as anything coming from a year ago I think understanding as well as he played, he's trying to be a better manager and minimize the negatives.
“We told him, we recognize all the great things you've done. We're trying to push you more. We're just pushing you to be the best you can be. I think he made a comment, that he understands that and can handle that more because in the end he understands the coaches want him to be as good as he can be. To be really good as a program, we've got to have dynamic play at quarterback.
“He's played very well. I think he can be one of the better players in this league. We need to take care of the ball, get in the end zone and manage the team at a high level. I think he's ready to do that.”
Q: Is the non-conference schedule, with Bowling Green and Missouri on the road, and North Texas at home (all three played in bowl games last season) too strong? Would you like an easier schedule?
Wilson: “First of all, it is what it is. Sometimes schedules are done so far in advance and if you want to make changes, you have significant dollars and buyouts and things like that. I'd like to get as much as anything, seven home tilts. This would be my fourth year and three of those years we've had six home games. Last year, we had eight. It was awesome. I think seven home games is what you want going forward. Moving forward we're positioning ourselves to consistently be there.
“I'd like to be a little more taking advantage of being at home, not traveling. I think that's more critical than who we're playing.
“At the same time, when you're playing in the Big Ten East, there are not going to be patsies, so you better get used to playing (good teams). You can say they get you ready or don't get you ready, but at the end of the day, if you didn't want to play a hard schedule, you shouldn't have chosen Indiana. So embrace the challenge, and embrace the opportunity.”
Q: What do you want or need to see out of this defense?
Wilson: “It's going to start with Coach Knorr and his coaches, and what they accept. Communication is what you need. You need to get the call and get lined up. When you're unsure as a player, you're quiet. A confident person speaks up. It starts with that, because physically, we'll be a lot better.
“It's more of mindset, attitude, effort, and consistently going out and doing it. Consistency is the deal. That's what we're looking for.
“There is going to be enough talent in good programs and good teams every day in practice, every week they're going to show up. We'll see if they can get that.”
Q: Who will replace record-setting kicker Mitch Ewald?
“With Mitch, we had one of the more consistent football players I've been around. We got it from him every day. He was talented, and very, very consistent.
“We have Aaron Del Grosso. His leg is probably stronger than (Ewald's), but will it be as consistent? So he'll have the ability as far as range and depth. We have Griffin Oakes, who is a second year walk-on player. We brought in Ben Rice who is a freshman from Noblesville. He has a very, very large leg. So we have some competition.
“We'll see if (Del Grosso) can handle that. It's one thing to do it in practice, it's another in a game.
"The return game is going to be fine with (senior Shane Wynn), and our offensive skill guys. Some of the freshmen will get in the mix. Our return game will be OK. That's a key deal. We have some talent. We have some quality players. So we'll see how it evolves.”