I like the all-white look. (Photo by Mark A. Cunningham/Getty Images)
was gracious enough to answer some questions about the upcoming season and if the Old Brass Spittoon is a big deal.
1. Kevin Wilson seemed to energize the fanbase a bit when he was hired, but the first year was pretty much a disaster. There's always transition with a new coaching staff, but what are reasonable expectations for the Hoosiers this season?
I think it's hard to put a win-loss expectation on this team, but unquestionably, it's important that IU improve quite a bit defensively and also find a way to take care of business against beatable non-conference foes, a year after losing to North Texas and Ball State. The Big Ten schedule is pretty rough, but I'm hoping to see a team that will be much more competitive. Making it to postseason play probably is too much to ask, even with a non-conference schedule that doesn't include any major conference opponents (although the road trip to Navy won't be easy). I hate to ever set my sights so low, but after the trainwreck of 2011, a 3-1 non-conference record and winning at least one Big Ten game probably counts as progress. Don't get me wrong. If IU starts 3-0 the delusions of grandeur will kick in.
2. Tre Roberson seems to have the potential of a star in the making, but who are some other notable players to watch on both sides of the ball?
Stephen Houston, a junior who was a juco transfer last year, became IU's most reliable running back in several years. IU's top receiver last year was Kofi Hughes, who also runs quite a bit on end around plays. Hughes was a good high school QB as well, so he's a big trick play threat. Tight end Ted Bolser was very good as a freshman but struggled last year. On defense? Well, obviously it was pretty ugly, but defensive backs Mark Murphy and Greg Heban played well at times, and senior DT Adam Replogle led the team in sacks. Linebacker Chase Hoobler is one to watch as well. On special teams, junior PK Mitch Ewald has made 25-29 field goal attempts in his career.
3. To be blunt, can Indiana football gain consistency, and can you sell that consistency? The last 20 years have been dreadful, but Bill Mallory seemed to have something in the late 1980s. The problem is that winning five, six or seven games every year doesn't bring in much money, especially at a basketball school like IU. With investments in place with the stadium renovation, can Indiana be anything other than a football bottom-feeder with an occasional good season?
I believe that it can happen because, as you note, it has happened. Bill Mallory had a good thing going for a while, and if schools such as Kansas State and Northwestern can turn from bottom-feeders into respectable programs, then I don't see why IU can't do it. It takes the right coach, and while I have no idea if Kevin Wilson is that coach, it's why I supported the firing of Bill Lynch. He obviously wasn't going to be the guy. It will take patience, and a willingness to endure some ups and downs. IU probably should have given Bill Mallory more time to right the ship after he fell back to the conference basement in 1995 and 1996. I don't know if it's realistic to expect IU to become an upper tier Big Ten program, but I don't think respectability is beyond the program's reach.
4. What were Indiana fans' reactions to MSU being a permanent crossover rival. Do they care about the Old Brass Spittoon? I know the Old Oaken Bucket is much cooler, but the Spittoon doesn't seem like a bad trophy.
My reaction was something like, "sure, now that MSU finally has its act together. We couldn't play them every year when Bobby Williams or John L. Smith was in charge." If I had a choice, I would prefer that IU and Purdue trade protected rivals. I think Iowa has been a better program than MSU over the last decade, but MSU's ceiling is much higher, its immediate future looks very bright, and IU has always had better-than-expected success against the Hawkeyes. As for the Spittoon, well, it's just a strange trophy, don't you think? IU and MSU have never been protected rivals, it's never been a very competitive series, the schools aren't particularly close to one another geographically. IU fans are aware of its existence, but I'm not sure it's that big a deal to fans. I think a win over MSU would be exciting because currently that means it would be a win over a quality program, not because it's some sort of treasured rivalry. The ultimate measure of where it rates as a trophy game is that in 1991, Michigan State forgot to bring the Spittoon to Bloomington, much to the consternation of IU players and coaches when the Hoosiers won. I've heard, and it's always scary when my own site is the only online confirmation, that the MSU staffer entrusted with mailing the trophy to IU then mailed it to Iowa instead. That wouldn't happen with the Old Oaken Bucket, regardless of how lopsided the series.
5. You seem to be a big IU football fan. Do you get annoyed when basketball is brought up in a football conversation? (Like I've done here).
No, not at all. I'm a big IU fan generally, and I get annoyed with IU fans who are indifferent to or even derisive toward our football program, but I love basketball and I'm extremely proud to be an alumnus of a school with a program as tradition-steeped and well-supported as our basketball program. There is a narrow subset of football-first IU fans who think that the Hoosiers could magically become a football power if we de-emphasized basketball. I tend to think we'd end up looking like Iowa State. No, I'm very happy to talk about basketball right now.