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Our 13th annual preseason Top 25: No. 13 Indiana has reloaded with promising transfers

Indiana running back Stevie Scott celebrates a touchdown with quarterback Jack Tuttle during last year's Outback Bowl loss to Ole Miss. Scott, a three-year starter, has moved on to the NFL and Tuttle, who took over when Michael Penix Jr. went down with a knee injury in the fifth game, will revert back to backup.

For the last 12 years, the American-Statesman's sports staff has spent July breaking down our own preseason Top 25 rankings. Last year's eventual College Football Playoff semifinalists ranked first, second, third and ninth in our 2020 poll.

No. 13 Indiana

It's taken a native Hoosier to turn things around at the long-time Big Ten doormat. Tom Allen, a native of New Castle, Ind. and a long-time high school coach in the state, is now in his fourth season in Bloomington and has Indiana approaching the lofty heights once seemed reserved for the school's lofty men's basketball program. At one point last year, the Hoosiers were ranked as high as No. 7, their highest ranking since 1969. With playmakers back at every position, expect Indiana to make a spirited run at conference heavyweights Ohio State and Wisconsin. For a program that had just one winning season between 1994 and last year, even the possibility of a Big Ten title is a heady thought.

Indiana wasn't ranked in our preseason poll last year. The Hoosiers ended up 11th in the final CFP poll, 12th in the AP's and 13th in the coaches'.

About the Hoosiers

2020: 6-2 overall, 6-1 in the Big Ten — one game behind Ohio State in the East Division. Their lone conference loss was a 42-35 setback in Columbus. Indiana lost 26-20 to Ole Miss in the Outback Bowl.

Coach: Tom Allen, 24-22, all in five seasons at Indiana. The veteran defensive assistant was previously the coordinator for Indiana and South Florida.

Returning starters: 17 (8 offense, 9 defense)

Shoes to fill: Defensive coordinator Kane Wommack (South Alabama HC). The Hoosiers had only one player taken in the NFL draft — safety Jamar Johnson (Broncos, 5th round). Other players who left include RB Stevie Scott (Saints, UFA), WR Whop Philyor (Vikings, UFA) and DT Jerome Johnson (Dolphins, UFA)

Catching up

The roster was reshaped during the transfer window. RB Stephen Carr, a former five-star recruit at USC, helped ease the loss of Scott, a three-year starter. Other newcomers are WR D.J. Matthews (Florida State) and OL Zach Carpenter, who started as a sophomore at Michigan. And a pair of SEC defensive linemen, Ryder Anderson (Ole Miss) and Jaren Handy (Auburn), could step right into the starting lineup. ... Former Georgia DBs coach Charlton Warren replaces Wommack as defensive coordinator, and new RBs coach Deland McCullough is the father of Hoosiers DB Deland McCullough II. And that hiring coincides with the commitment of 2023 DB Daeh McCullough, a four-star recruit. According to 247Sports' composite rankings, he's the highest-rated prospect ever to pledge to Indiana. ... The Hoosiers traditionally rank near the bottom of the Big Ten every year in recruiting, but Allen is making inroads. Donaven McCulley, a 6-5, 195-pound dual-threat QB from Indianapolis, is arguably the highest-rated QB ever to sign with IU, and the Hoosiers plucked four-star WR Jaquez Smith from SEC country in Georgia.

Michael Penix Jr. was on his way to a solid season in 2020 when he went down with a knee injury in Indiana's fifth game. The quarterback hopes to pick up right where he left off this year, and will be helped with some notable offensive transfers.

Returning leaders

Passing: Michael Penix Jr. 124-220-1,645, 14/4 (led team); Jack Tuttle 44-72-362, 2/1 (2nd)

Rushing: Tim Baldwin Jr. 22-141 (2nd), Sampson James 32-96 (3rd)

Receiving: Ty Fryfogle 37-721-7 (led team), Miles Marshall 19-290-1 (3rd)

Tackles: LB Micah McFadden 58 (led team)

Sacks: LB Micah McFadden 6 (led team), DB Tiawan Mullen 3.5 (3rd), LB Cam Jones 3 (4th)

Interceptions: DB Jaylin Williams 4 (T-1st), DB Tiawan Mullen 3 (3rd)

Returning all-conference

Offense: WR Ty Fryfogle (1st team, receiver of the year), QB Michael Penix Jr. (2nd), TE Peyton Hendershot (3rd)

Indiana linebacker Micah McFadden tackles Michigan State quarterback Payton Thorne during their game last November. The Hoosiers won 24-0. McFadden led the Hoosiers in tackles and sacks last year.

FYI

How the pandemic affected Indiana: The pandemic cost the Hoosiers arguably their most important game of any regular season. For the first time since 1919, there was no in-state rivalry game with Purdue for the Old Oaken Bucket trophy because of a COVID-19 outbreak at both schools — each side had at least 30 players in quarantine at one point.

Penix for your thoughts: Midway through last season, many thought Michael Penix Jr. was the best quarterback in the conference other than Ohio State’s Justin Fields. But Penix, a 6-3, 215-pound Florida native, suffered a torn knee ligament in the fifth game of the season after throwing for 1,645 yards and 14 touchdowns on 56% passing. Penix has a big arm and likes to take his shots downfield, especially to Ty Fryfogle. If Penix can return to form, the Hoosiers would have a claim to the conference’s best quarterback. 

Texan transfers: Unlike some of their conference rivals, Indiana doesn’t recruit heavily in Texas. But some notable Lone Star State players have arrived in the transfer window; receiver Camron Buckley earned Under Armour all-American honors at Cedar Hill and had 62 catches for 877 yards at Texas A&M before arriving in Bloomington this spring, and defensive lineman and Katy native Ryder Anderson — the younger brother of former Oklahoma running back Rodney Anderson — started nine games for Ole Miss last year, including the Outback Bowl win over his current team. Crowley’s Bryson Bonds, Argyle’s Andy Buttrell and Manvel’s Alfred Bryant are other Texans on the roster.  Austin Westlake tackle Bray Lynch committed to the Hoosiers earlier this month.

2020 national stat rankings

Where Indiana ranked nationally in various statistical categories last season — and how the Hoosiers ranked in 2019.

Scoring: 59th (2019 — 43rd, -16 spots)

Scoring defense: T-19th (45th, +26)

Total offense: 94th (41st, -53)

Total defense: 43rd (36th, -7)

Passing: 43rd (15th, -28)

Pass defense: 75th (46th, -29)

Rushing: 114th (106th, -8)

Rush defense: 34th (43rd, +9)

Sacks: 15th (69th, +54)

Interceptions: 2nd (100th, +98)

Red zone offense: T-62nd (56th, -6)

Red zone defense: 1st (115th, +114)

Turnover margin: T-10th (T-50th, +40)

Time of possession: 37th (7th, -30)

Our Top 25 — so far

No. 25 Ole Miss: Rebels have plenty of firepower to work with

No. 24 Washington: Huskies back for more after 3-2 season

No. 23 Louisiana: Ragin' Cajuns out to prove that they belong

No. 22 Penn State: Nittany Lions want to keep the momentum going

No. 21 Oklahoma State: Cowboys have offensive questions, for a change

No. 20 Iowa: Hawkeyes hope this is the year to bump the Buckeyes

No. 19 Coastal Carolina: Upstart Chanticleers look here to stay, ready or not

No. 18 Texas: Longhorns are starting over at coach, quarterback, offense, defense

No. 17 Wisconsin: Badgers eager for a bounce-back season in Big Ten

No. 16 Miami: Hurricanes banking on D'Eric King's return from injury

No. 15 Oregon: Ducks out to make it three straight Pac-12 title game wins

No. 14 LSU: Last year's hard knocks may pay off for this year's Tigers

No. 13 Indiana

Coming tomorrow

Our No. 12 team. Want a hint?

This school could be considered a wayward program for Longhorns; it's got a former Texas defensive coordinator, safeties coach and recruiting coordinator on the coaching staff and a former Texas running back, wide receiver and safety on the roster.

For bonus points: Name all six.