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Big Ten Football Preview 2015: Indiana's season outlook

Things were going so well for Indiana last year until Nate Sudfeld's season-ending injury. Will Indiana be able to claim a bowl bid for the first time in eight years this season?

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

On the heels of an explosive 2013 season, Indiana's dream of a long-awaited breakout came crashing down in early October with quarterback Nate Sudfeld's season-ending shoulder injury.

The Hoosiers were 3-2 at the time of Sudfeld's injury against Iowa and appeared on the verge of their first bowl bid since 2007, but sputtered to a six-game losing streak until the season finale against Purdue.

This week, Maize n Brew takes a look at Indiana's 2015 season.

Replacing Coleman

My, how different Indiana's season would be if Tevin Coleman stayed for his senior season.

That's how large of an impact the running back — who is now pursuing NFL dreams with Atlanta Falcons — had on the Hoosiers.

Imagine a healthy Sudfeld handing the ball off to Coleman in 2015; that's an offensive combo that could at least match last season's win total.

But that's in the past now. The Hoosiers have to find a way to replace Coleman, who rushed for a whopping 2,036 yards last season.

One player that can lighten the blow of Coleman's absence is Jordan Howard, a junior transfer from UAB.

As Anthony Broome pointed out Monday, Howard will be eligible immediately. He totaled over 1,600 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground in 2014, and although he won't be Coleman, Howard can be a feature back the team requires to compliment Sudfeld.

Key returnees

Twelve starters return for the Hoosiers, per Phil Steele, and the wealth is spread evenly, with six offensive and six defensive returnees.

Sudfeld will play a significant role in Indiana's offensive success sans Coleman.

The senior quarterback played well before his season ended in the Hoosier's sixth game of the season last year. He completed 101 of 167 passes for 1151 yards and six touchdowns.

Sudfeld's performance against Missouri, an SEC power that finished the year with 11 wins, on Sept. 20 was strong. He went 18-for-33 passing with 252 yards and a touchdown.

Junior Antonio Allen leads a defensive backs corp that allowed 251.1 passing yards per game last season. Allen led Indiana with a team-high 74 tackles in 2014 and should be a factor defensively for the Hoosiers.

Nate Hoff started eight games and appeared in all 12 at nose tackle as a redshirt freshman. He was second on the team with 3.5 sacks. With Bobby Richardson gone, Hoff will be relied upon to fill his shoes.

Indiana loses most of its receiving depth but sophomore J-Shun Harris II remains after a solid debut season. The true freshman caught 18 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns, including a 33-yard score against Missouri.

Harris II was named Indiana's Offensive Newcomer of the Year last season, but he will need to continue to improve in year two as Sudfeld's projected top target in the passing game.

Redshirt junior offensive lineman Dan Feeney rounds out Indiana's key returnees. Feeney anchored an offensive line that paved Coleman and company's way to a single-season record with 3,163 rushing yards. He started 12 games at right guard and allowed one sack in 801 snaps.

To-do list

If Indiana hopes to end its bowl drought in 2015, it's starts with Sudfeld under center. He will have to remain healthy and pick up where things left off last season.

There's a lot of work to do on third down. Per cfbstats.com, Indiana finished 124th in the nation in third down conversion percentage in 2014. That's an atrocious, drive-killing number. Only Temple, UTSA, Wake Forest and Vanderbilt were worse.

The defense has to improve, too. Indiana allowed 34 or more points in eight games and 433.8 yards per game last season. The Hoosiers can't afford to keep playing themselves out of games.

The schedule

Indiana opens the season Sept. 5 against Southern Illinois. Florida International and Western Kentucky stroll into Bloomington before a trip to Wake Forest ends non-conference play.

The start of Big Ten play likely won't be welcomed, either.

The defending national champion Buckeyes travel to Indiana on Oct. 3, followed by a road contest vs. Penn State. Homecoming features Rutgers, before a battle against Michigan State in East Lansing.

There won't be any trick-or-treating on the field for the Hoosiers this season as their bye week falls on Halloween.

Iowa, Michigan, Maryland and Purdue wrap up Indiana's regular season.

Indiana should be able to glide through the first four weeks of the season unscathed before a reality check from the Buckeyes.

Penn State and Rutgers offer tough tests but are on opposite ends of the offensive spectrum. Christian Hackenberg is one of the Big Ten's top quarterbacks while the Scarlet Knights have to adjust to life without three-year starter Gary Nova.

Michigan State is one of the best teams in the country, while Maryland and Michigan are trending upward.

If you're an Indiana fan, expectations should be average. The Hoosiers won't be able to compete in the division barring a few unforeseen miracles with the big boys at the top, but a bowl bid is certainly attainable.

Wins: Southern Illinois, Florida International, Western Kentucky, Wake Forest, Rutgers, Purdue.

Losses: Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State, Iowa, Michigan.

Toss up: Maryland.