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posted: 8/29/2013 12:01 AM

Hoosiers ready for 1st test of revamped defense

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Associated Press

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Kevin Wilson spent the last two seasons rebuilding Indiana football.

He's ready to unveil the results.

After going 5-19 in Bloomington, the Hoosiers coach and his players are eager to start giving fans the one thing they've yearned for most -- more wins.

"It's about getting your body right, getting your mind right and what are you doing to be at your best for those 12 game days," Wilson said. "That's what we're working toward."

Wilson has seen championship resumes, before, and those teams score points, play defense and win the turnover battle. There's little doubt the Hoosiers can score, but they've been trying to beef up the defense and fix the mistakes.

Fans will finally get a glimpse into what's changed with the new-look Hoosiers during Thursday night's season opener against Indiana State.

It's not just another game. The rematch from last season's opener will serve as the first real barometer for both teams. Here are five things to watch.

1. QUARTERBACK CAROUSEL: Wilson has three options at quarterback, but he's not saying who he's chosen to start. Heck, even the players may not know till game time. The quarterback derby has come down to Tre Roberson, who made seven career starts before breaking his lower left leg early last season, and Cam Coffman and Nate Sudfeld, who traded starting assignments after Roberson's injury. Coffman and Sudfeld helped put the Hoosiers in contention for a division crown. And finding out the winner will be one of the most watched parts of the pregame ceremonies, which will include the booming sound of fireworks, a smoky entrance for players and the raising of the American flag on the tallest flagpole in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

2. THE BELL TOLLS: Last season, Indiana State RB Shakir Bell showed the Hoosiers they made a mistake by not recruiting him. The Indy native ran 24 times for 192 yards and a touchdown and caught four passes for 31 yards. There's no doubt Indiana will key on stopping the two-time Walter Payton Award finalist Thursday. Wilson referred to Bell by name, noted last season's performance and that it wasn't his decision to overlook Bell, a decision made by the previous regime. But the Sycamores star has something else to prove. He briefly weighed his NFL options after last season, and this might be his biggest stage to impress pro scouts and Payton Award voters.

3. DEFENSE: Stopping Bell is only part of the challenge for Indiana. The Hoosiers have tried desperately to improve a defense that allowed 163 points in last season's final three games and 35.2 per game over the entire 2012 season. For Indiana, this has become an annual rite. Since 1999, the Hoosiers have allowed 31.2 or more points 11 times. The other three seasons, they gave up 27.1, 28.5 and 29.5 points. Wilson knows that can't continue, even in an era with point totals soaring. While Indiana won last year's game 24-17, it gave up nearly 400 yards in offense and couldn't put the game away till late. Thursday's game will be the first real barometer for Indiana's defense.

4. NEW START: Trent Miles took Indiana State's decimated program and brought it back to respectability. With Miles off to Georgia State, the next step of the Sycamores' project -- reaching the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs -- falls to new coach Mike Sanford. Indiana State's new coach spent five seasons as UNLV's head coach and helped Utah State emerge as a national power last season. But the biggest advantage Indiana State has Thursday night, is that their new coach has nothing on tape for the Hoosiers to scout. Should Sanford try something new, the Hoosiers will be scrambling to adapt.

5. OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS: Expectations are high at Indiana this season, and one reason is a manageable schedule. The Hoosiers have eight home games and for the first time in school history open the season with five straight games at Memorial Stadium. But with road games at Michigan State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State, Indiana cannot afford to stumble at home. And Thursday night's matchup is one of those potentially troubling scenarios -- an in-state school with something to prove against the big boys of the Big Ten. Indiana has to ace this test. Anything less would be a devastating blow to a season that starts with so much promise.

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