2015 Record: 5-6 (3-5)
Key Returnees: RB Genesy Roland, RB LeMonte Booker, WR Tonyan Robert, DB Marcus Grey, DB Tsali Lough
Key Losses: QB Matt Adam, WR Gary Owens, LB Connor Underwood
It’s no secret, to anyone that’s read AGS at any point in the last decade, that I’ve long considered Indiana State to be one of the worst FCS programs in the nation. While they have moved past that I still see some serious issues within the program. Yes, Indiana State was in the playoffs in 2014 and had 8 wins. Yes, Indiana State was over .500 (6-5) in 2010 and 2011. Yes, they are improved over their 2-54 record from 05-09. No, they aren’t going to become a playoff team on an annual, or even triennial, basis.
Mike Sanford is entering his 4th year in Terre Haute, and going into spring ball there was a bit of optimism around the program. The roster may not have been a title contender, but they had a legitimate QB prospect under center that would keep them in, and potentially single-handedly win them a few games in Matt Adam. Last season Adam led the team in rushing yards, when sack yardage is taken out of his total, as well as rushing TD. Adam was also a more than competent passer, completing 56.3% of his passes for 2,098 yards and 19 touchdowns. Coming into his red-shirt junior year, along with the amount of returning players around him on offense, there was a real reason to believe the offense could keep the Sycs in games. Then, in May, the bombshell that he would be sitting the 2016 season out to get his grades in order. That is a tremendous loss for Indiana State, by a great decision by Adam to prioritize academics that we don’t normally get to see from athletes.
So who takes over at QB for Indiana State? The only returning QB on the roster, or even listed on the roster as of writing this, is red-shirt sophomore Isaac Harker. That sentence, on it’s own is depressing to read on it’s own, then you add in the fact that Harker completed 2 passes for 16 yards last season and it gets real depressing, real quick. Harker did have a heavily touted high school career, but after sitting on the bench for three years I’d have concern with his ability to step in and succeed. Not all is lost though. Rumors of QB help coming in via transfer are strong, by way of Aaron Young from Wyoming. Young will be a redshirt sophomore this coming season as well. I try to stay out of speculation for incoming freshman and transfers, as there is too much room for error, and that’s the case for Young as well who saw the field only as a PAT holder last season.
Whoever Mike Sanford puts on the field come week one will have some help around him. Matt Adam may have been the most explosive weapon for the Sycamores last year but that isn’t to say there isn’t ammunition left. On the ground Roland Genesey averaged 4.98 yards per carry on his 117 carries last season and LeMonte Booker 4.97 while combing for 1,019 yards and 6 scores. Getting the two of them to repeat that type of performance is going to be key for the new quarterbacks development. I’m worried that the two will see a drop though. From the games I saw last year most of the holes that Genesey and Booker ran through were a result of the defenses reacting to Matt Adam’s dual threat explosiveness.
The receiving corps has returns quite a bit of experience, but will need to develop a rhythm with the new quarterback in a hurry. Robert Tonyan was Adam’s favorite target last year as he finished with 604 yards and 6 touchdowns on 40 receptions. Complimenting Tonyan are Sam Levingston (26 catches 319 yards 2 TD) and Kelvin Cook (22 catches 206 yards 1 TD). The loss of Gary Owens (36 catches 558 yards 8 TD) will be tough to overcome though. His last two years on campus Owens was to Indiana State what Zach Vraa was to NDSU. He was the go to guy when a big play was needed, and more often than not he made it. If Tonyan takes on that role and a younger guy slides into the role Tonyan occupied the corps should be alright.
Outside of QB play, the defense will be what holds this team back, I believe. Yes, they do return 3 of their top 6 tacklers from last year, but they are all defensive backs. Once again I’ll say that if your DB’s are leading your team in tackles it’s a bad thing. My big concern for the Sycamore defense is the loss of Connor Underwood. Yes, he missed 4 games last year so there is experience without him on the field. It’s impossible to replace the kind of intelligence and leadership a guy Connor, who was a three time All Conference, an All American, and Buck Buchanan Finalist would provide. Coming into the year there are only 19 guys on defense who recorded at least one tackle last year, and only 8 that averaged 2 or more per game.
9/3 Butler – W 1-0 (0-0)
9/10 @ Minnesota (FBS) – L 1-1 (0-0)
9/17 @ Southeast Missouri State – L – 1-2 (0-0)
9/24 Illinois State – L 1-3 (0-1)
10/1 Missouri State – W 2-3 (1-1)
10/8 @ Western Illinois – L 2-4 (1-2)
10/15 South Dakota – W 3-4 (2-2)
10/22 @ Southern Illinois – L 3-5 (2-3)
10/29 @ Youngstown State – L 3-6 (2-4)
11/5 Northern Iowa – L 3-7 (2-5)
11/12 @ North Dakota State – L 3-8 (2-6)
I see a tough year in Terra Haute. Honestly, if Adam was playing this year I could see Indiana State as a 5, maybe 6, win team. I think he makes that big of a difference. The schedule does set up early for potentially gaining confidence and running a few games that I have as losses. The SEMO game is a complete toss up for me. It was a 1 point game last year in Terra Haute, so in Cape Girardeau I give the edge to SEMO. Illinois State I could see going to Indiana State given what the Redbirds lose that game will come down to which new QB steps up more. The only game I have potentially swinging to ISU is the USD game. It’s at home so I gave them the edge.
I’d like to be wrong with Indiana State. I’d like to see them become competitive year after year, I just don’t’ see it happening on a regular basis. This season could be a key year for Sanford. Indiana State tasted playoffs, and a win. If Sanford slides back two years in row after that how does it play within the athletic department and fans?