In the three years that Kevin Wilson and his staff have been at Indiana they have shown no hesitation in playing freshmen. Since the 2011 season the Hoosiers have played nearly 70 true and redshirt freshmen with several earning all-conference recognition for their play. Peegs.com takes a look at the youth movement that has occurred during the first three years of the Wilson era and what it means for the 2014 season.
In Coach Wilson's first season Indiana played 16 true freshmen, which tied for third most in the country, and they played another 16 redshirt freshmen. The 32 total freshmen that saw action that year was the highest total in the nation in college football. Even though the Hoosiers struggled through a 1-11 season there were a handful of freshmen that earned post-season honors. Offensive lineman Bernard Taylor and defensive back Mark Murphy were named to the Yahoo Sports, BTN.com and ESPN.com Big Ten All-Freshmen teams, while quarterback Tre Roberson and wide receiver/kick returner Shane Wynn received honorable mention recognition from BTN.com.
In addition to the five that earned post-season honors the Hoosiers also had nine other freshmen see action in 2011 that are expected to be significant contributors this upcoming fall. On offense wide receiver Nick Stoner, running back D'Angelo Roberts and offensive linemen Collin Rahrig, Peyton Eckert and Jake Reed are projected starters in 2014 or will be in the two-deep for Indiana. On the defensive side linemen Ryan Phillis and Bobby Richardson, linebacker Forisse Hardin and defensive backs Michael Hunter and Kenny Mullen will most likely either be in the starting line or in the rotation at their respective positions this fall. Matt Dooley will be the starter at long-snapper for the fourth straight season and he has had a very good career for the Hoosiers.
In 2012 the number of freshmen who saw action for IU was 16, and out of that 16 there were five first-year Hoosiers that earned post-season honors. Offensive linemen Dan Feeney and Jason Spriggs earned all-freshmen honors from several different outlets including being named to the ESPN.com Big Ten All-Freshman Team and receiving Honorable Mention All-Big Ten recognition. Other first year players receiving honors in 2012 were defensive end Zack Shaw who was named to the BTN.com All-Big Ten Freshman Team, while running back/kick returner Tevin Coleman and quarterback Nate Sudfeld were named to the Honorable Mention All-Big Ten Freshman Team by BTN.com.
Other freshmen who saw playing time in 2012 and will be key players for IU in 2014 include offensive lineman Ralston Evans, defensive linemen Adarius Rayner, Alex Todd and Nick Mangieri, defensive back Dawson Fletcher and punter Eric Toth.
This past fall saw Indiana play over 20 true and redshirt freshmen and out of that group eight first-year Hoosiers received post-season recognition for their play. Linebacker T.J. Simmons and offensive lineman Jacob Bailey were named to ESPN.com's Big Ten All-Freshman Team. Bailey also earned a spot on BTN.com's Big Ten All-Freshman Team while Simmons was an honorable mention selection by BTN.com. Joining Simmons as honorable mention selections by BTN.com were safety Antonio Allen, defensive tackles Ralphael Green and Darius Latham, linebackers Clyde Newton and Marcus Oliver and center Wes Rogers.
A handful of other freshmen that played this past fall and who should have prominent roles in 2014 include running back Laray Smith, tight end Danny Friend, and defensive linemen Shawn Heffern and David Kenney. Wide receivers Caleb Cornett, Kevin Davis and Ricky Jones saw very little action in 2013 as redshirt freshmen but they are expected to be heavily in the mix at the wideout spot this upcoming fall.
What it means for 2014 and for recruiting
While it is much too early to say definitively what the starting line-up and two-deep will look like in 2014, a reasonable prediction shows Indiana with a great deal of returning experience and production but not many seniors. On the offensive side the Hoosiers return over 180 career starts from the expected top 22 going into spring ball with only six of those 22 being in the senior class. IU will have to replace three of their top receivers but they return nearly everyone else at the other offensive positions, including their top 11 linemen that have combined to make 130 career starts.
On the defensive side the Hoosiers were a very poor unit in 2013 and that led to coordinator Doug Mallory's dismissal last week, but when the new coordinator gets on the practice field this spring he is going to see a unit that returns experienced players at all three levels of the defense. Indiana returns over 213 career starts from their top 22 on defense going into spring ball, and out of those 22 there are 10 seniors but only four or five of those seniors are projected starters at this time.
On the recruiting side of things these numbers gives the Hoosiers a great deal of credibility because it shows recruits that the staff is serious about playing freshmen. It also shows that out of the ones who do get on the field there are a significant number of them that are playing key roles and playing at a high level. High school prospects tell Peegs.com all the time that they want to play early and they want to be impact players. When you look at the numbers with the IU program since the 2011 season that is exactly what is happening when it comes to freshmen. Over a three-year period Coach Wilson and his staff have used right around 70 freshmen and 18 of those first-year players have received some kind of post-season honor. This not only demonstrates that IU is relying on young players, but more importantly it shows that those young players are receiving quality minutes and they are making the type of contributions on both sides of the ball that is getting them national recognition.
What this means for Indiana starting this fall and for the years to follow is there appears to be a solid foundation of experienced talent for the coaches to work with on both sides of the ball. It doesn't guarantee the Hoosiers a winning season in 2014, but it does guarantee that they are going to be a relatively veteran team but also a team that will still be fairly young. And the Hoosiers could even get younger if more members from the highly rated 2013 class get on the field this fall along with any recruits from the 2014 class, which is shaping up to be as strong as last year's class was.