This is a tricky non-conference schedule. Mizzou will be favored in all four games, but after Murray State, the Tigers don't have a truly easy out. And the defense will get some serious seasoning in preparation for conference play.
Indiana's basically a more extreme Toledo, with a potentially better offense and worse defense. Thanks to Ohio State's and Penn State's postseason ineligibility, the Hoosiers briefly found themselves in the race for the Big Ten title game last year, but the defense was just too awful to keep up; while the offense improved from 82nd to 42nd in Off. F/+ in 2012, the defense improved from just 117th to 110th in Def. F/+. If Mizzou avoids mistakes on offense, the Tigers will win this game. But as with Toledo, this one could be pretty high-scoring.
There are 62 returnees listed below. One received a four-star rating from Rivals.com. Meanwhile, in Indiana's incoming class of 23 recruits, there are five. Wilson reeled in three of the state's six four-star recruits (a five-star linebacker went to Notre Dame), and four of the top nine recruits overall. That is rather unprecedented. (Meanwhile, in-state rival Purdue nabbed one of the top nine.) And of the five four-star recruits in this class (including players from Florida and Georgia), at least three, and maybe four, will play on the defensive side of the ball, where the most help is needed.
Wilson will need to win more games to keep up this increased pace, but he is raising the ceiling in Bloomington, even if his 2013 squad won't quite be ready to reach that ceiling.
Combined, Indiana's three-headed quarterback still had a hell of a year: Treron Sudmanson threw for 3,734 yards with 24 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, and a 61 percent completion rate. Considering the uncertainty and shuffling, that's not bad. Still, one guy separating himself from the others would be a very positive development. Sudfeld and Roberson seem to have higher ceilings (and more remaining years of eligibility).
Whoever wins the job from week to week will have quite a few familiar faces around him. Most of Indiana's skill position players produced at pretty average (or below-average) levels, but in running back Stephen Houston and receiver Cody Latimer, there is a couple of keepers. Houston was explosive in a way that the other runners were not, and while Latimer disappeared at times, he had a few breakout games -- four catches for 115 yards and two scores versus Ball State, four for 97 versus Northwestern, seven for 113 and three scores versus Iowa. For the season, he managed a rare, elite combination of a 79-percent catch rate and 15.7 yards per catch. His upside seems higher than the more frequently-targeted players in the receiving corps (Shane Wynn, Kofi Hughes).
And speaking of upside, if freshman Taj Williams wanted to pretty quickly prove his four-star rating, there is certainly playing time available.
The ends all return, including four-star sophomore Zack Shaw, and a couple of four-star freshmen indeed show up to fill out the rotation. But returning defensive tackles combined for just 5.0 tackles last year, which means the pressure will be on youngsters like redshirt freshman Ralphael Green, freshman Darius Latham, and a pair of two-star junior college transfers -- Jordan Heiderman and Christopher Cormier -- to produce immediately.
Losing your two best players is typically going to be problematic no matter who you are or how good you are, but the loss of Replogle and Black is particularly worrisome, simply because they were just about the only play-makers Indiana had. Linebackers David Cooper and Griffen Dahlstrom combined for a relatively impressive 16 tackles for loss and four sacks, and safety Greg Heban was an occasional wrecking ball (seven tackles for loss, 11 passes defensed), but if Indiana wasn't making a stop in the backfield, the Hoosiers were getting burned in a major way. There just isn't enough talent here yet. The 2013 recruiting class will help immensely, but it will only help so much in 2013.
Indiana's biggest advantage
The Hoosiers have depth in the receiving corps. Six returnees were targeted about six times per game or more, and two others were targeted twice per game. Mizzou is going to be in the nickel a lot, which opens up the risk of Kevin Wilson finding a pitch-and-catch matchup he likes (against Randy Ponder or whoever is Mizzou's No. 3 cornerback that week) and beating Mizzou into the ground with it. Wilson, the former Oklahoma offensive coordinator, is the master of the "hurry up after a good play and beat them again" attack, and Indiana will almost certainly end up with a couple of quick scoring drives because of it. The goal, obviously, will be to have more of those drives than the Hoosiers have.
Missouri's biggest advantage
Indiana's defense ranked 121st in Passing S&P+ last year. There were 124 teams in the FBS. And that was with a pretty good pass rush. The secondary was some combination of too young and not talented enough, and while the top three corners and top three safeties return, the options will be to either play the same guys as last year or break in a couple of four-star freshmen. Either way, Mizzou should just have too many weapons in the passing game, and James Franklin should have enough time to find them. A lot.
The week of the game, you will be nervous and trying to reassure yourself. Indiana could be just salty enough to take this game if Mizzou doesn't play well, and you should be nervous. But Mizzou will still win this game six or seven times out of 10. Missouri's offense has a bigger advantage over Indiana's defense than Indiana has over Missouri's, and while mistakes could absolutely put this game into doubt, the odds still favor the Tigers. Give me something like Mizzou 38, Indiana 30.
Oh yeah, and Michael Sam has a chance to pull off a unique feat: If he can sack Indiana quarterback Cameron Coffman (one of three different Hoosier quarterbacks vying for playing time), that would mean he took down both Cameron and his brother Carson, whom Sam and Jacquies Smith teamed up to bring down in the fourth quarter of the 2010 Mizzou-Kansas State game.