Hoosiers hoping for turnaround in DiNardo's second season

Updated: August 21, 2003, 8:13 PM ET

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana's football office is lined with trophies, helmets and celebration photos, but one picture frame is noticeably different.

It contains only the words: Reserved for first Indiana University bowl team of 21st century.

After a decade of futility, the Hoosiers enter their second season under coach Gerry DiNardo with a renewed hope.

"In the past, the first time something would go wrong, people would be like 'Here we go again," senior safety Joe Gonzalez said. "I think that has changed."

The reality is the Big Ten's longest bowl drought still belongs to Indiana, still dates to 1993, and at first glance, it appears little is different.

Indiana again has a new quarterback, new defensive assignments, a daunting schedule and starts the season with only 65 scholarship players, the same total as last season and 20 fewer than the NCAA limit.

It's not pretty.

But DiNardo sees it another way.

There's more depth, fewer questions, no weekly quarterback derby and a full roster of 105 players when walk-ons are included. He believes his players are in better shape and better understand his expectations.

The question is whether the Hoosiers (3-9 overall, 1-7 Big Ten in 2002) have what it takes to win.

"The difference is the number of big guys they have that we don't have," DiNardo said. "We don't have enough big, physical guys on the defensive line."

To make up for their smallish size, the Hoosiers are trying a new tactic.

DiNardo hopes to improve the Big Ten's second-worst run defense (235.0 yards) by changing assignments and stacking more players at the line of scrimmage. The Hoosiers hope opponents struggle to figure it out.

"It's really hard to identify who's playing what," linebacker Kyle Killion said.

There's less confusion on offense.

Last year's rotating quarterbacks -- Tommy Jones and Gibran Hamdan -- have graduated.

Their replacement, Matt LoVecchio, becomes the fourth quarterback to start at Indiana in three years. LoVecchio, a former starter at Notre Dame, gives the Hoosiers a proven leader, a strong arm and stability.

DiNardo hopes LoVecchio's postseason experience also rubs off on his teammates. He's the only Hoosier player with bowl game experience and his performance may well determine if this year's Hoosiers replace the words in the picture frame with a team photo.

While LoVecchio will be in the spotlight, he will have help.

Junior Courtney Roby and senior Glenn Johnson both return after nearly becoming the first pair of 1,000-yard receivers in Indiana history last season.

Roby finished with 1,039 yards -- the highest single-season total since Thomas Lewis in 1993 and third in school history.Johnson had 837 yards, which ranks No. 5 all-time.

"Glenn has the ability go up and get the ball," LoVecchio said. "Courtney, if you can get him in space, can pick up some yards down field."

There's more help in the backfield, even without running back Yamar Washington, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during spring practice. He will miss this season.

Washington's absence clears a spot for Brian Lewis, one of only five seniors, to get the bulk of the carries. Chris Taylor and fullback John Pannozzo will give opponents different looks and true freshman BenJarvus Green-Ellis, a bigger tailback, has been impressive in practice.

The greatest uncertainty is on the offensive line, which has had almost a complete makeover.

Only two starters return, Adam Hines at left guard and Chris Jahnke who moves from center to right guard after finishing last year at tackle. The three other starters have yet to make a college start.

There's also a big hole at linebacker.

Leading tackler John Kerr transferred to Ohio State and 5-foot-11, 205-pound Herana-Daze Jones has moved to safety.

So Indiana will rely on a relatively untested group -- Killion, junior college transfer Josh Moore and part-time starter Kevin Smith -- to help stop the run.

"We gave up too many big plays last year," DiNardo said. "If you look at our rushing defense stats, you can tell whether, win-loss wise, this team improves."

DiNardo believes they will improve.

To reach a bowl, however, the Hoosiers will have to win on the road. They've won only four conference road games since 1994.

Still, the Indiana players are convinced things will change and that the spot reserved on the football office wall is theirs.

"We have the same expectations we've had the last four years," Gonzalez said. "To win games and go to a bowl game. That's not going to change."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index