First in a series
The most experienced starting lineup in the Big Ten?
Look no further than the Indiana Hoosiers.
The Hoosiers aren't title contenders by any means -- they were just 2-6 in Big Ten play last season -- but they are returning a whopping 19 starters from a year ago, the highest number in the conference.
"We've got 19 starters back, guys, and that's 19 offense and defense," third-year head coach Kevin Wilson said at Big Ten media day. "We've got our kickers back, our punters back. Our long snapper's a big-time player and returners. We've got a lot of guys back. We've got a great recruiting class, and we're looking forward to getting started with our guys.
"We have a lot of kids now that are going into their third year of playing because we played 16 freshmen two years ago, 11 freshmen last year."
[RELATED: Big Ten media day notes]
But experience does not necessarily mean certainty, and Wilson is ready for a three-way battle for the starting quarterback job. Last year's three leading passers -- junior Carson Coffman, sophomore Nate Sudfeld and sophomore Tre Roberson -- all return, but the job, according to Wilson, is wide open.
"We're unsettled at quarterback," Wilson said, "Got three guys in a dead heat. It's not because I don't think we've got a good player. We've got three guys that are all very unique, can manage us. Haven't seen someone separate through spring. I don't know if anyone had any particularly horrible days. I think we can look at some stat days and say: This guy's stats were better or worse. But I thought we had a very, very healthy competition. Those guys are great teammates, great leaders, all three of them. I think they're all capable of winning. I'd love to see one emerge."
Coffman was far and away the leader in passing yardage (2,734) for the Hoosiers last season, but both Sudfeld and Roberson had higher completion percentages, with Sudfeld's 152.67 QB rating leading the team.
Record: 4-8 (2-6 Big Ten)
Bowl: The Hoosiers did not qualify for the postseason last year.
At the helm
Wilson is in his third year as the Indiana head coach, and has posted a 5-19 record in his first two seasons. He hasn’t led the Hoosiers to a bowl game yet -- this could be the year -- though that hasn’t been easy for any Indiana coach. The team has played in just one bowl game, the 2007 Insight Bowl, since 1993.
On the 2013 schedule
The Hoosiers are the only Big Ten team to have an SEC opponent on the schedule, though it is Missouri, one of the premier conference’s least premier teams. They’ll also host Navy, a team they lost to on the road last season by just one point.
Indiana does draw four tough conference road games: Michigan State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State. But their home schedule shakes out very promising for an increase in Big Ten victories this season.
More from Wilson on the QB battle:
“With our three players,” Wilson said, “maybe greatest arm strength is Nate Sudfeld. Tall. Very smart. Young player, very good. Maybe greatest moxie might be Cam Coffman. He's a little daredevil. He'll take some shots and take some chances. Great anticipation, vision. The best athlete of the crowd is probably Tre Roberson. So they're all uniquely different.
“What we're looking for -- they're all different with those different attributes. But a passing percentage that keeps us on schedule. A guy that gets to the fringe zone and gets his team in the end zone and a guy that's going to protect the football.”
Back in the fold
It would seem that nearly everyone is back for the Hoosiers. The only starters that departed after last season were the center and both defensive tackles. Leading rusher Stephen Houston is back, now a senior at running back. He picked up 749 yards on the ground a year ago.
“Stephen Houston is a quality player,” Wilson said. “Catches the ball well. Need him to be a very consistent practice player, leader and a very physical leader. For a big back, he plays with great speed and feet. Catches well. Love to see him. Great without the ball. Great in blocking. Great in route running to spread and separate the defense when he runs routes and really just be more, more consistent, quality player, very good player and good leader for us.”
Indiana’s experience should help them improve on their 4-8 record from a year ago. If they can take advantage of their home crowds in games against other teams from the conference’s lower-level -- Minnesota, Illinois and Purdue -- it’s quite possible they could be back in the postseason after five years away.