The Wisconsin Badgers will start their November slate of games for the 2017 season in the state of Indiana. On Nov. 4 in Bloomington, head coach Paul Chryst and his team will face one of three cross-divisional conference opponents in the Indiana Hoosiers.
Gone is Kevin Wilson, who now is at Ohio State, and interim head coach Tom Allen officially took over in early December. Indiana went 6-7 last season, ending with a 26-24 loss to Utah in the Foster Farms Bowl.
Out is Kevin Wilson and Tom Allen steps up from his associate head coach/defense duties from 2016. What’s the general feeling about the permanent hire of Allen and his group of assistants to lead the program, the departure of Wilson, and Indiana football entering the 2017 season?
There are mixed feelings. Some people thought Tom Allen should have only been named the interim head coach before the bowl game with Utah and then the administration should have conducted a full search and gone after P.J. Fleck. Some think that the game has passed Mike Debord by and that his offensive style is boring. Those people, though, also think that Indiana will never win more than six or seven games in a season and as long as we are never going to be good, we might as well have a fun product to watch. But ultimately, I think there are more positive feelings surrounding the program than negative feelings. The players really seem to be buying into a guy whose mantra during his first season in Bloomington was, “Love Each Other,” which was far different than what we’ve come to learn was Kevin Wilson’s philosophy about caring for players. Allen brings a lot of excitement to the sideline, and actually brought a good defense to the field in 2016, which we haven’t had at Indiana since the stone age. And people love some of the non-Debord hires, like Grant Heard and Mike Hart.
The thing that is most exciting, to me at least, is that Tom Allen is an Indiana guy. Not an Indiana University guy, but an Indiana guy. He’s from New Castle. He has coached at Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis. Chris Creighton, the head coach at Eastern Michigan, gave him his first collegiate job Wabash College, a great Division-III program in Indiana. People all over the state have nothing but great things to say about him as a coach and as a man. Indiana high school football coaches want to send their players to play for Tom Allen.
The bottom line is that for a program that really has nothing to lose (I mean, what does it matter if they only win four or five games a year if that is all the program has ever done?), had a head coach with character flaws, and needs to recruit successfully locally, but also has some real positives to build on, there was really no choice but to hire Allen and maintain some continuity. And given all that, people are very excited for 2017, and some see seven or eight wins on the horizon.
Who are the key contributors coming back for the Hoosiers?
This is the most encouraging thing Indiana has going right now: there are a ton of contributors returning. Offensively, the Hoosiers can be really good. Richard Lagow is back, and hopefully Debord’s system will calm him down and reduce the turnovers. Camion Patrick is back, and is moving to RB to replace Devine Redding. Everyone associated with Indiana football swears that Patrick is the best player on this team, and has been for a couple years. Now, he’s finally healthy and playing his natural position. Simmie Cobbs, Nick Westbrook, and J-Shun Harris are back at WR, which means Patrick’s move won’t leave Lagow without weapons. And TE Danny Friend is back.
Defensively, it all starts with Tegray Scales, who, in all seriousness, could contend for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Last season, he had 126 tackles (93 solo) and led the country with 23.5 tackles for loss. He had seven sacks, a pick-six, and a forced fumble. Those are the kind of numbers that, if he had produced them in maize and blue or scarlet and gray, he would have won some awards. Rashard Fant is a senior cornerback who can probably play on Sundays. LB Chris Covington and DBs A’Shon Riggins and Chase Dutra, and Marcelino Ball, who plays the “bandit” position in Allen’s 4-2-5 defense, are all key contributors who return. In all, the Indiana defense returns 10 players who were huge contributors to Indiana’s good defense last year, and that doesn’t include TJ Simmons, who redshirted last season, but was arguably Indiana’s best defender in 2015.
Who will they have to replace from last year’s team?
Devine Redding. Dan Feeney. Ralph Green. Marcus Oliver. Feeney and Green graduated, while Redding and Oliver left early to enter the NFL draft. Feeney was an all-American offensive lineman and when he was out for several weeks last season with a concussion, we saw just how bad Indiana’s daunted running game can be without him. He is the single most important player to replace. Oliver was a huge part of the defensive turnaround, second on the team in tackles, 19.5 TFL/sacks, and five forced fumbles. It also helped that he had Green in front of him, eating up tons of blockers and clogging holes. Redding will probably be the easiest to replace. Indiana has seemingly had a revolving door of quality running backs recently, including Tevin Coleman and Jordan Howard. There’s no reason to think that stops with Redding’s departure and Patrick’s move to the position.
Which players could be breakout candidates?
So, here’s the thing. If Camion Patrick has a breakout, it will be a “thing” for people who don’t follow Indiana football—so almost everyone. But I think it would be a little bit of a misnomer to call him a “breakout candidate” because everyone here has already seen what he can do, and it’s really something we all expect.
If you have never heard of Patrick, or don’t know what he’s capable of, it’s him, definitely. But if you know about him and his game, then you have to look elsewhere. Honestly, I’d go with Lagow. The guy has a cannon, and something tells me that Mike DeBord’s slower offense and the absence of Kevin Wilson’s maniac, half-assed Brian Kelly act, will do him wonders in the confidence and poise departments. And that’s all the kid is missing.
Which position battles are worth watching this spring?
None, maybe. Look, the defensive line rotations and the offensive line are probably some unknowns right now, but nothing else is. We know who is going to start at the following positions: QB, RB, WR, TE, LB, CB, FS, SS, Bandit, K, and P. Truth be told, the most interesting battle may be the backup running back position. Mike Majette, Devonte Williams, Alex Rodriguez, Tyler Natee, and Ricky Brookins are all talented backs who do different things well. They have all had their moments, like Natee in the Bacon Package or Brookins showing some mettle against Utah. That’s a lot of capable bodies playing for second place.
2017 Wisconsin Football Schedule
|Date||Opponent||Time (CT)||Spring Q&A Preview|
|Date||Opponent||Time (CT)||Spring Q&A Preview|
|Sept. 1||Utah State||8 p.m.||Mountain West Connection|
|Sept. 9||Florida Atlantic||11 a.m.||Underdog Dynasty|
|Sept. 16||at BYU||2:30 p.m.||Vanquish the Foe|
|Sept. 30||Northwestern||TBA||Inside NU|
|Oct. 7||at Nebraska||TBA||Corn Nation|
|Oct. 14||Purdue||TBA||Hammer and Rails|
|Oct. 21||Maryland (Homecoming)||11 a.m.||Testudo Times|
|Oct. 28||at Illinois||11 a.m.||The Champaign Room|
|Nov. 4||at Indiana||TBA||Crimson Quarry|
|Nov. 18||Michigan||TBA||Maize N Brew|
|Nov. 25||at Minnesota||TBA||The Daily Gopher|