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Indiana 2018: Players to Watch

A pair of quarterbacks leads an offense that needs to step it up if the Hoosiers want to return to bowl season.

NCAA Football: Indiana at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

After an investigation into player mistreatment, Kevin Wilson departed Bloomington — and immediately found an offensive coordinator role at Ohio State. Fancy that.

His successor became Tom Allen, who is a nice guy that honors past coaches and doesn’t belittle injured players. Mr. Nice Guy failed to make a bowl last year, despite finally concocting a nearly top 25 S&P defense at a traditionally defense-optional program.

Seeing the upward trajectory of said defense, and some explosive pieces to the offense, the Hoosiers may move beyond annoying the better teams of the conference. They have the talent to potentially reach eight wins for the first time since 1993.

Quarterback No. 1 — Peyton Ramsey

The Cincinnati product entered his freshman season expecting to bide his time behind senior Richard Lagow. Instead, he seized the starting job until a November injury.

His eight-game debut saw him complete 65 percent of his throws for 1,252 yards and a 2-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. His best games were at Virginia and Maryland, where he combined for 452 yards and five touchdowns.

As shown in his highlights, he can tuck and run, when necessary.

The question is whether he can do it better than our next choice. In the meantime, Ramsey should take a step forward in his sophomore season, aided by a veteran offensive line and the return of two strong wideouts exhibited later on this list.

Quarterback No. 2 — Brandon Dawkins

While Ramsey is a capable runner, Dawkins was one of the nation’s best at Arizona before Khalil Tate arrived.

Over parts of three years, Dawkins threw for 2,414 yards (with a 56 percent completion rate) and rushed for 1,582, and not including sacks he averaged 7.9 yards per carry last season.

He possesses second and third gears, as Arizona State knows all too well.

Both he and Ramsey are talented enough to split time, since Dawkins will be needed to kickstart a dormant running game — ranked No. 107 last year. The question is whether or not Mike Debord — king of the statue quarterbacks during his time in Ann Arbor — knows how to consistently deploy an athlete like Dawkins.

He oversaw Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs’ explosive 2016, but, man, the Volunteer fans were REAL happy he left.

Wide receivers — Nick Westbrook and Luke Timian

These two receivers complement each other well.

Westbrook nearly crossed 1,000 yards in 2016 before a season-ending injury in week one against the Buckeyes last year. Timian was No. 2 on the team behind Simmie Cobbs, filling the possession role to the tune of 8.7 yards per catch and just under 600 total yards.

Westbrook has a knack for big plays, including this jump-ball win over Channing Stribling.

While the low average suggests a lot of screens and short routes, Timian can get up and and make plays, as well.

In an offense that looks to lean on its passing game, both Westbrook and Timian provide security blankets for whoever lines up behind center.

Defensive end — Nile Sykes

Indiana’s defense lost some key pieces to their improved defense from last year, but some studs return from injury. Sykes — who missed last year with an undisclosed ailment — promises to disrupt off the edge.

He specializes as a late-down pass rusher, tallying five sacks and seven tackles for loss among his 18 total takedowns in 2016.

At 6-foot-2, 250 pounds, he opts to blitz standing up rather than put his hand on the turf.

His burst jumps off the screen in his “defensive player of the game” highlights against Northwestern two years ago.

Sykes needs to step up for the departed Greg Gooch if last year’s nationally elite pass wants to stay that way.

Nickel — Marcelino Ball

Ball is another who returns from injury that should offset graduation losses.

His 4.5 tackles for loss and 10 pass deflections in 2016 portend a decent chance at replacing the departing Tony Fields.

An All-Big Ten freshman in 2016, he joins Jonathan Crawford and a pretty experienced secondary that ranked top 30 in S&P pass defense in 2017. This was the first time the Hoosiers accomplished that in a quarter century.

Indiana needs an athletic nickel such as Ball to deal with the spread offenses of Ohio State and Penn State. Even against power teams like Michigan, his nose for the football could resemble box safeties like Wisconsin’s D’Cota Dixon — who dominated in Michigan’s 24-10 loss to the Badgers last year.

NCAA Football: Maryland at Indiana Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports