Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The season that was, game 3: Indiana 41, Akron 24.

As in the Western Michigan game that preceded the Akron game, IU squandered an early lead, but as in the WMU game, managed to hold on and defeat the Zips, 41-24. Box score here, discussion here. IU led 10-0 at the end of the first quarter, but Akron scored 17 unanswered to briefly take the lead until IU tied the game just before halftime. IU took the lead for good early in the third quarter on an Austin Starr field goal, but didn't take control of the game until stretching the lead to 10 with 6 minutes left in the game.
The previous week, Akron lost 20-2 loss in Columbus. After forcing an early safety, Akron led 2-0 until midway through the second quarter, but managed what must have been one of the worst offensive performances by any college team in the 2007 season. The Zips produced only 69 yards of offense, 34 of which came on the opening drive. In light of that pathetic performance, even against the eventual national runner-up, I was concerned about the poor performance of IU's pass defense, which allowed Akron to complete nearly 70 percent of its passes and manage 13 yards per completion. IU did, however, continue its excellent pass rush, with 4 sacks, and stopped the run effectively, allowing only 2.9 yards per carry on 41 attempts.
Individual performances:
  • Kellen Lewis played very well, perhaps his best game, statistically, as a Hoosier: 19-24 passing, for only 137 yards, but three touchdowns; 199 yards rushing and two touchdowns.
  • Ray Fisher had an odd line, more like a fullback's than a receiver's: 5 catches, 10 yards, and a touchdown. Oddly enough, Fisher managed a 17 yard loss on IU's first play from scrimmage, and had another five yard loss and a no gainer. So, his two positive catches yielded 32 yards and a touchdown.
  • While Lewis stole the show, Marcus Thigpen ran well: 6.5 yards per on 12 carries.

Ultimately, this was an adequate but unsatisfying lead-in to the Big Ten season. Next on the schedule was eventual Rose Bowl participant Illinois.

An even decade for Crean.

If the reports are true, Tom Crean's contract, which was to be eight years long, will be ten years long when ultimately signed. While some outlets are describing this as an extension, apparently Crean has not yet signed anything but the memorandum of understanding (via Hoosier Scoop) that he signed soon after accepting the position in April.
This will, of course, lead to lots of hand-wringing, but it's not all that big a deal. Crean will never see the end of his contract. If he excels, he and IU will renegotiate long before 2018. If he doesn't do well, IU will buy him out long before then. As many others have noted, this almost certainly is a response to the deterioration of the program since Crean took over (because of circumstances beyond his control, of course). It's hard to remember than on April 1, while Armon Bassett and Jamurcus Ellis has been thrown off the team, it was widely expected that they would have a chance to return, while Deandre Thomas, Eli Holman, Jordan Crawford, and Brandon McGee theoretically were in good standing. On top of that, Crean will not be working for the AD who hired him.
Adding two years to the contract likely will result in an increased amount that IU would have to pay to buy Crean out of the contract. It will be interesting to see what other terms change. I would hope that the liquidated damages that Crean must pay to IU if he leaves would increase as well. Ultimately, it will become clear when Crean signs his contract and it is released publicly.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Answering questions from the Boiler perspective.

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, I answered some questions submitted by Purdue blog Off the Tracks. The answers are now posted here.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Media days.

The Hoosier Scoop has been all over it, of course, but it is worth following up on the media days coverage. The IU official site also has some nice coverage, including a link to video of Bill Lynch's comments. Also, here's a link to a .pdf of Lynch's press conference. The highlights:
  • While IU's front seven mostly returns, as do a number of safeties, the corners, where IU lost Leslie Majors and Tracy Porter, are the biggest question marks. Lynch indicates that he expects Chris Phillips, a fifth year senior, to start, and has good things to say about redshirt freshman Donnell Jones. Lynch also mentions Richard Council, a redshirt freshman who hasn't seen the field in his two years in Bloomington, and Adrian Burks, who saw action only on special teams. Gulp.
  • It sounds like Marcus Thigpen will continue to get the bulk of the carries at running back.
  • Kellen Lewis technically will have to compete with Ben Chappell for the starting job.
  • Lynch dismissed the idea of playing a non-conference game in Indianapolis, noting that IU needs to build a homefield advantage at Memorial Stadium.

From other sources:

  • ESPN's Adam Ritteberg writes a bit about Marcus Thigpen's peach suit, but also notes that Thigpen has gained about 20 pounds since last season in an effort to improve his ability to run up the middle.
  • Not media-day-related, but Off the Tracks has a nice preview of IU. I have some questions from Travis sitting in my inbox that should be a subject of the post some time next week.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Odd hire.

As I mentioned earlier in the week, Chad Hawley, an assistant commissioner for compliance for the Big Ten, changed his mind about becoming IU's assistant AD for compliance and decided to stay at the Big Ten office. Hawley, who has a law degree, was to make just over $100,000 per year. IU now has elevated Ian Rickerby, who had held the title of "director of compliance" since March 2007 (I think I have been using that term sloppily--the position being filled is assistant athletic director for compliance). I can't find the article that included his salary, but it is somewhat lower than what IU was going to pay Hawley. The good news, of course, is that Rickerby wasn't with the compliance department when the worst of the worst was occurring. He joined the department on March 1, 2007, just a few weeks before the sanctions on the basketball staff were to end. Of course, that also means that IU's new assistant athletic director for compliance has just over a year of experience in the field. He previously had been an assistant soccer coach at IU, Iowa, Evansville, and Purdue. As Chris at the Hoosier Scoop notes in comments, it's fair to assume that this probably isn't a long-term hire and was a move made by necessity given the current upheaval in the athletic department. Still, while I mean no offense to Rickerby, the idea of hiring an outsider with conference-level experience to oversee what certainly will be a period of probation was much more appealing than promotion of a relatively inexperienced insider.
Also, the British Empire's takeover of IU continues. President Michael McRobbie is an Australian, and Rickerby is from England. And whatever the merits of the hire, "Ian Rickerby" is fun to say in a fake British accent.
In other news:
  • Today is the first of two Big Ten media days. Hopefully there will be much to say tomorrow and Saturday.
  • ESPN has introduced a Big Ten blog (terrorist fist bump: Black Shoe Diaries). The blog is authored by Adam Rittenberg, formerly of the Arlington Heights Daily Herald, a suburban Chicago paper long known for its excellent sports writing (Bruce Miles, the DH's Cubs beat writer, runs circles around his competitors at the Tribune and Sun-Times). I haven't read much yet, but he seems to be posting a wealth of information daily and doing some original reporting and interviewing as well. I don't expect that he will cover any individual team as well as those on the right sidebar do, but it seems like a nice quick way to catch up on the entire conference.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Around Indiana.

Spring practice still is a few weeks off, but here are a few IU-related notes from around the Internet:
  • The Hoosier Scoop reported this on July 10, but on July 19 the Indianapolis Star decided that it was news and then the wire services picked it up: Chad Hawley, who was going to leave a position at the Big Ten office to become IU's director of compliance, changed his mind and is staying in Chicago. On June 3, a few days before IU's NCAA hearing, IU announced that compliance director Jennifer Brinegar would be assigned to a new position overseeing on-campus recruiting. It's probably irresponsible to speculate, because Hawley might have had personal or professional reasons unrelated to IU that led to his change of mind. But I'll speculate anyway. There has been some speculation concerning whether Rick Greenspan's resignation, announced on June 26 effective at the end of 2008, was long-planned or was a direct response to the NCAA's addition of the failure to monitor charge. The timing of Hawley's decision when compared to the NCAA timeline suggests that he expected to be working for Rick Greenspan for the forseeable future and changed his mind after Greenspan's sudden resignation. Again, that's one of dozens of possible explanations for Hawley's decision, and I have no information other than the circumstantial evidence above, but certainly it's another event that tends to suggest that IU and its counsel were blindsided by the FTM charge.
  • IU will use FieldTurf to replace the five year-old Astroplay surface that was ruined by the early summer floods in southern Indiana. Although the press release promises only that the field will be ready for IU's August 30 opener, all indications here are that the field will be ready for the Drum Corps International championships, which begin on August 7, less than three weeks from today. As I have mentioned before, conducting this event as Memorial Stadium is itself a contingency plan: DCI and Indianapolis entered a multi-year deal to host the championships at the new Lucas Oil Stadium with the understanding that the 2008 event would be in Bloomington if LOS wouldn't be ready by early August.
  • Football recruiting continues. Be sure to follow the Hoosier Scoop for recruiting news, including this post noting that IU now has 14 commitments for its 2009 freshman class. As far as the recruiting services are concerned, most of these players are in the two star range (and committing to IU won't help their rankings no matter how they play as high school seniors) but newcomer Hugh from the Hoosier Scoop makes a good observation:
    The hidden benefit of receiving so many verbals so early is that you can now focus on the big fish, the four and five-star recruits that are game-changers. Instead of spending the fall and winter trying to slam together a class, Lynch can focus on a few players and give them more time than might have been available in years past.
    Recruiting isn't an exact science, but that certainly sounds like a decent plan.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The season that was, game 2: Indiana 37, Western Michigan 27.

As I noted last year, despite mostly less-than-stellar teams during the period, IU has dominated the MAC over the last three decades. Since 1978, IU, Ohio State, and Michigan are the only Big Ten teams not tripped up by a MAC school. I'll break this down further sometime during the season, but IU, which entered 2007 with a 17-0 record against the MAC since losing to Miami in 1978, improved to 20-0 during that timeframe with wins over Western Michigan, Akron, and Ball State in 2007.
In the second week of the season, IU traveled to Kalamazoo for the first time. As is always the case when IU plays a MAC school, many pundits predicted an upset. This further supports my pet theory that the reason IU plays well against the MAC is because every IU-MAC matchup is hyped as an upset special, so unlike other Big Ten schools, IU is unlikely to overlook a MAC opponent. In any event, here's the box score.
This game was a mixed bag. IU played extremely well for most of the game. IU led 31-7 at halftime, and with 4:57 remaining in the third quarter, an Austin Starr field goal extended the lead to 34-7. Unfortunately, Western Michigan outscored IU 20-3 for the remainder of the game, and WMU's Tim Hiller picked IU's defense apart in the second half. As I noted last year, IU defensive line dominated WMU's running attack, held to 30 yards on 30 attempts.
Positive performances from returning players:
  • Mitchell Evans, then a true freshman subbing for injured Austin Thomas, intercepted two passes.
  • Ray Fisher led the Hoosiers with 9 catches and 77 yards (Hardy caught only three balls, but two were touchdowns).
  • Greg Middleton had "only" one QB sack, but scooped up a fumble and returned it 44 yards for a touchdown.

The Broncos finished with a disappointing 5-7 record, but salvaged something from the season, and saved IU from a December trip to Detroit, but upsetting Iowa 28-19 on the same day as the Bucket game.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Billy Packer, RIP (RPI?).

Okay, he's not dead, and good for him. But good for us, at least those of us who don't follow the ACC: after allowing him for years to cultivate his reputation as the most loathed college basketball announcer, CBS finally has pulled the plug on Billy Packer (above on left, I think). I'm not sure if I'm thrilled that Clark Kellogg is getting the nod, but literally anyone would have been better than Billy.
That's a good start. Even better would be if Jim Nantz would take his schmaltzy act to NBC, where he could more appropriately put his skills to use by broadcasting Olympic gymnastics and figure skating. I can always hope that Nantz will be gone by the next time IU plays in the NCAA Tournament, but that doesn't do much good in the short term.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Other people's work.

Not much time for original content today, but:
  • Mike at Black Shoe Diaries (Penn State) has posted a less-than-optimistic preview of the 2008 Hoosiers. He is predicting 4-0 in the non-con, 0-8 in the Big Ten. I'll certainly be disappointed if the season turns out that way, but as always, Mike is very thorough. In IU circles, optimism is high, considering IU's 2007 record and Bill Lynch's recent recruiting success, so it's worthwhile to consider how an outsider views the state of the program. As Mike notes, last year he predicted that IU would finish 3-9, so the prediction game is tough even for the most thoughtful and detail-oriented bloggers. Let's hope he's wrong in 2008.
  • Louisville is host to some big recruiting shindig. It's not my cup of tea, but be sure to check out Inside the Hall and Hoosier Scoop for ongoing reports.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Did I say every day?

News is still a bit slow. Here are a few items:
  • If this is the worst criticism leveled at Bill Lynch this season, it will be a great year. John Decker of Hoosier Nation thinks that IU is making a mistake by not sending Kellen Lewis and Greg Middleton to Chicago for the Big Ten media day, instead electing to take seniors Marcus Thigpen, Greg Brown, and Austin Starr. Guys in Decker's position have to write about something, I suppose, but this doesn't make much sense. He says:
    Because the Big Ten Kickoff event is all about generating preseason publicity, and IU football could have been the topic of conversation and upstaged the traditional conference powers.
    Sure. While Decker acknowledges this argument before dismissing it, I don't see any good reason to send a guy to Chicago who will face more questions about off-the-field issues than about football. IU's fan support and publicity as the season progresses will be determined by performance, not by a media event held before the season begins.
  • I don't follow recruiting closely, but thing seem to be going reasonably well. Check out Mac624 for comprehensive updates on recruiting, as well as various rumors of uncertain credibility.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The season that was: Indiana 55, Indiana State 7.

The 2007 season began as it should have, with a whipping of Indiana State, one of the worst teams in Division I-AA. Here's the box score, and here's the blog wrap-up. As I noted last year, a blowout win wasn't necessarily a good sign except as the absence of a bad sign. Also, the ISU game ended an unfortunate run of competitive games against I-AA opponents: Katrina-affected Nicholls State nearly won in Bloomington in 2005 and during Terry Hoeppner's sick leave in 2006, Southern Illinois overcame a significant deficit to win. In 2006, another historically bad ISU team was competitive with Purdue for three quarters or so. It wasn't to be for the Sycamores in 2007, and ultimately ISU fired coach Lou West just 3 weeks into the season.

This game doesn't have much relevance to the 2008 season, so I'm not going to belabor this review, but it's worth noting IU's five quarterback sacks in this game. In many of my early season posts, I questioned whether IU's new-found pass rush was genuine improvement or was merely a reflection of the level of competition. I was skeptical, but IU's transition from one of the worst pass rushing teams in the country to one of the best and Greg Middleton's sudden emergence as one of the best defensive ends in the nation were the Hoosiers' most compelling on-the-field story lines.

Of course, given the expected easy win, off-the-field story lines dominated the early part of that evening. The ISU game was IU's first game since the death of Terry Hoeppner in June 2007. IU honored Coach Hep and his family in an emotional pregame ceremony.

If this game is remembered for any on-the-field moment, it's for the most justifiable unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in IU history: James Hardy, after scoring his first of two touchdowns, holding the ball to the sky in tribute to his former coach.


According to the Hoosier Scoop, Kellen Lewis will be reinstated.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Where from here.

As I said last week, my goal is to return to more-or-less daily posting from now through the Thursday of the Big Ten Tournament (see, because the basketball team...it's gallows humor). The big caveat is that we are expecting son #2 in mid-October (yep, great timing, especially with my Cubs in first place), so things may get a bit dicey around that time. When football season begins, I'll be doing the usual preview/wrapup posts as I did last year, and I'm sure that the Big Ten Bloggers roundtables will begin soon (Northwestern blog Lake the Posts has been sponsoring an insanely detailed preseason prediction roundtable, but I did not partake).
Between now and then, I'll be doing the following:
  • Before last football season, I did a "season that was" feature from scratch, recapping each game of the 2006 season. I plan to do the same this year, but this time I'll be able to recycle my own work, refreshing your mind and mine about how the memorable 2007 season transpired. These won't be on any sort of regular schedule, but I plan to start this week.
  • In August, of course I will take a look at IU's returning roster: what the Hoosiers lost, who is returning, and the like.
  • As with last season, I probably will preview IU's opponents during game week rather than before the season, but I will do my best to point you in the direction of preseason previews posted by bloggers covering IU's opponents.
  • Last summer, I wrote quite a bit about the Big Ten Network saga. It's not nearly as up-in-the-air as last year, but it will be interesting to see whether the other major cable providers such as Time Warner and Bright House (I don't know if Bright House counts as major, but BH covers quite a bit of central Indiana, including downtown Indianapolis, the old city limits of Indianapolis, and some suburban areas) are on board by the time the football season begins.
  • Of course, I'll continue to follow the NCAA saga and IU's search for a new athletic director.

What you won't see from me are any more predictions about the NCAA proceedings. Most conspicuously here, but also elsewhere, I was quite confident in my prediction that IU would not face a failure to monitor charge. I still stand by what I said about NCAA precedent, but this situation is unique and doesn't seem to fit in to any sort of framework. While penalties such as TV bans and postseason bans seem a bit much in these circumstances, it's now obvious to me that even though IU's NCAA record was pristine, the NCAA is going to treat IU as a "repeat offender" to the full extent possible as punishment for hiring Sampson. Nothing would surprise me at this point, so no more confident predictions from this corner. As I said in the linked post:

I think there are two competing equities here that will pull the NCAA Committee on Infractions in two directions: first, the temptation to hammer IU for knowingly hiring a coach with an NCAA history who then committed similar infractions in his first year, on one hand; and on the other, IU's attempts to monitor the behavior of the staff and IU's prompt self-report and investigation.

The Committee made clear a couple of weeks ago in which direction they are being pulled.

In any event, it's football season, and my focus will be there for now.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Housekeeping and Crean interview.

I'm likely to be away from the computer for the next few days, but beginning next week I plan to resume daily posting as the buildup for the 2008 college football season begins. Have a nice weekend, and here's an indepth interview of Tom Crean from the Detroit News, generously pointed out to me by Kyle of Spartans Weblog.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

John Pont, 1927-2008.

John Pont, the coach who led IU to its only (or, as I prefer to call it, first) Rose Bowl appearance, died today at age 80. Pont went 31-51 in eight years in Bloomington. He followed up the 9-2 1967 season with a 6-4 record in 1968 (those were IU's only winning seasons between 1958 and Lee Corso's Holiday Bowl champs of 1979). In 1969, IU began the season 4-3, but as Maryann Wynkoop's "Dissent in the Heartland" documents (p. 132 if the link doesn't take you directly there), a disagreement between Pont and African-American players ultimately led to a walkout, and Pont's program never recovered. After his departure from IU following the 1972 season, he coached Northwestern for five years.