Indiana returns fifteen starters from last year’s 6-7 squad, including nine on defense. First-year head coach Tom Allen takes over the program after Indiana parted ways with Kevin Wilson over philosophical reasons.
Allen served as the Hoosiers’ defensive coordinator last season and was responsible for one of the largest improvements (in terms of yards per game allowed) in college football. After allowing 6.4 yards per play in 2015, the Hoosiers allowed more than 5.8 yards per play only twice last season.
New defensive coordinator Mark Hagen welcomes back nine returning starters, including the entire secondary from last season’s elite unit. Behind cornerback Rashard Fant, the Hoosiers limited opposing quarterbacks to a 52.5% completion rate in 2016 with a 17-13 ratio.
Fant and A’Shon Riggins combined for four interceptions and 26 breakups at corner. The Hoosiers were ranked ninth in the country with 77 passes defensed and 11th in completion percentage allowed.
Overall, Indiana enters the 2017 campaign with eleven defensive backs with decent experience, which is more than enough for Allen’s preferred 4-2-5 defensive scheme. The only concern with Hagen’s defense involves the defensive line, which loses dynamic tackles Ralph Green III and Patrick Dougherty.
Green and Dougherty combined for 13.5 tackles for a loss last season, and their departures undermine the depth once enjoyed along the line. However, Nate Hoff returns (6 tackles for a loss last year), as does linebacker TegrayScales. Indiana also returns every defensive end so the Hoosiers’ stop unit will once again be a model of consistency and success.
Indiana’s attack is guided by offensive coordinator Mike DeBord, who served as Tennessee’s coordinator in 2015-16. DeBord is known for being extremely conservative in his playcalling, which drove the Tennessee fan base crazy last year.
Starting quarterback Richard Lagow averaged 13.3 yards per completion last season and finished with almost 3,400 yards through the air. Lagow will have two excellent receivers in Nick Westbrook and Simmie Cobbs. While Cobbs suffered an ankle injury in Week One that caused him to miss the remainder of the season, Westbrook led the unit with 995 yards at 18.4 yards per reception.
Indiana’s offensive line returns just 40 career starts, while the backfield loses its best running back in Devine Redding, who became the first Hoosier to have back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. Indiana’s offense should improve upon last year’s production (25.8 points per game), but there is no doubt that the strength of this team resides on the defensive side of the ball.
Ohio State Visits Bloomington
The Hoosiers’ special team’s unit should also be stronger in 2017, especially in the return game. Indiana is 20-1 SU and 7-2-1 ATS in home openers but has lost 22 straight games to Ohio State.
Meanwhile, Ohio State arrives in town with a new offensive coordinator (former Indiana coach) who has the difficult task of revitalizing a dormant Buckeye aerial attack. Only two wide receivers averaged more than 12.6 yards per reception last season, and the Buckeyes lose three receivers in Dontre Wilson, Noah Brown and Curtis Samuel.
K.J. Hill is the lone returning receiver and he garnered just 262 receiving yards in 2016. Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer does not trust his quarterback – JT Barrett – who is prone to making poor decisions.
The fifth-year senior also lacks accuracy and averaged just 112 passing yards in the final three games of 2016. The Buckeyes’ secondary is a source of concern as well as they have to replace three of their top 4 defensive backs.
Pass coverage regressed last season, and the departures of Malik Hooker, Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley almost guarantee further regression in 2017.
The Hoosiers are a profitable 8-2 ATS as double-digit home underdogs and are 6-0 ATS in this series since 2011.
My math model only favors Ohio State by 17 points so we are getting decent line value on the Hoosiers at +21 or more points. The concern, of course, is the fact that Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer is 11-3 ATS in road openers and 14-0 SU and 8-3 ATS in season-openers.
Grab the generous points with Indiana as one of Oskeim Sports’ Free College Football Picks for Thursday, August 31.
Oskeim Sports’ Free College Football Picks:
Indiana (+21) over Ohio State
UL-Monroe/Memphis UNDER 63 points
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