Since I spend most of my time writing and reporting on Ohio State, I can only pretend to know so much about college football's other teams.
That’s why I’ll be enlisting the help of others from around the country to help us preview the Buckeyes’ opponents this season in a new (well actually, reborn) feature here at Eleven Warriors that we’ll call Across the Field.
Before each game this season, I’ll be asking someone who knows Ohio State’s opponent much better than I do to answer five questions about the team they cover or are otherwise associated with.
For the season-opening edition of Across the Field, I’m joined by Zach Osterman, the Indiana athletics beat writer for The Indianapolis Star. A graduate of Indiana University, Osterman has covered the Hoosiers for the Star since 2013 and previously covered for the Hoosiers for multiple additional outlets.
Osterman, who covered the entirety of Kevin Wilson’s coaching tenure at Indiana, already provided us his insight last month on how Wilson could bring tempo back to Ohio State’s offense as the Buckeyes’ new offensive coordinator. So we’re not going to rehash that topic again. That said, I did ask Osterman for his insight on how Wilson’s tenure is being remembered at Indiana, as well as his insight on what to expect from the Hoosiers in Thursday’s season opener – the first game of Tom Allen’s tenure as Indiana head coach – in Bloomington.
Q: Zach, it just so happens that Kevin Wilson's first game as Ohio State's offensive coordinator is against the team he coached last year. How is the Wilson era being remembered in Bloomington?
Osterman: I think broadly speaking, it’s being remembered pretty well. I think the majority of folks I’ve talked to and interacted with are at peace with what happened, and why IU and Wilson felt it necessary to part ways. And I think the enthusiasm and excitement surrounding Tom Allen have helped ease the transition. But generally, most IU fans I do think appreciate what Wilson did for the program, the success he had, the way he raised standards in terms of recruiting and development, and then eventually on the field, considering IU hadn’t been to back-to-back bowl games in two decades. Fans are excited for the future, but I would imagine most of them have a healthy appreciation for Kevin’s impact.
Q: Indiana has overhauled its offensive coaching staff since Wilson's departure. In what ways do you expect the Hoosiers offense to look different this year? Have the defensive coaches made any significant changes on their side of the ball?
Osterman: To the second question first: I think you’ll see more rotation, because this staff seems to really like and trust its depth in ways it didn’t last year, but the broader scheme will remain the same. It’s still Allen running it, and the same assistants backing him up, so technically speaking, it will look familiar.
As for the offense, it’s tough to say. Many players have suggested it won’t look terribly different to the naked eye, that it’s only if you know all the calls and checks and combinations and so forth that you’d realize how much things have changed. My gut feeling is IU might run the ball a little bit less and throw it a little bit more, but in terms of emphasis, you should still see a spread-style up-tempo offense that wants to move fast and score often. I don’t know how different it will seem to casual observers.
Q: Who are some of the Hoosiers' potential breakout players that Ohio State and its fans should be aware of entering this game?
Osterman: Just a few that come to mind … Donavan Hale, a wide receiver who has kind of been on the cusp for the last year or so and seems to be breaking through … Ian Thomas, a one-time junior college tight end who didn’t quite catch on last season but seems to have really built a strong rapport with Rich Lagow this offseason … Cole Gest, a small, explosive running back Ohio fans might know from his time at St. Edward … Chris Covington, a senior middle linebacker who spent a lot of time backing up Marcus Oliver last season and will likely take over for him now … Marcelino Ball, a guy who was actually a regular starter and true freshman All-American last year, but I’m not sure how many people really know how high his ceiling appears to be. Those are a few that roll off the tongue I suppose.
Q: Tom Allen proclaimed at Big Ten Media Days that this game is "the biggest home opener in the history of Indiana University football." Do Hoosiers fans see it that way? How would you gauge the excitement level in Bloomington heading into this game?
Osterman: It’s high, no question. IU fans are excited because of Allen, because it’s a primetime opener against a bigtime opponent, because GameDay’s in town, the whole bit. There’s definitely been a steady building of momentum for Indiana in recent years, because of the bowl games, the winning streak over Purdue, a more competitive brand of football, etc. I think this primarily feels like a new sort of sign post in that journey, win or lose. There’s going to be a buzz this week that’s unusual for IU football, without question.
Q: How competitive do you see this game being? Do the Hoosiers keep it close and push for a season-opening upset, or do the Buckeyes run away with it?
Osterman: I would be surprised if it’s not competitive. I think Ohio State will win, and perhaps in the end win comfortably. But so long as Indiana doesn’t let the spectacle kind of override its focus — and that’s totally a possibility; so much of this is uncharted ground for IU — then I think the Hoosiers should have enough to keep the game competitive for most of the night. If you told me IU would lose by 14-17 points but that it would be within a touchdown or so for most of the game, I wouldn’t be surprised.