It has been a hyper-busy few days for Indiana football. As the Hoosiers remake their program following a 2-10 season that fell far short of anyone's expectations, they added four transfers from Power Five programs Sunday. I wrote about each of those additions here:
A day later, the Hoosiers settled on a replacement for offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan, who was let go the day after the season ended. Former Massachusetts head coach and Florida State and Maryland offensive coordinator Walt Bell, 37, will hold the position for Indiana going forward. I wrote about Bell here:
In the last two days, there has been a further flurry of activity, including decisions about the 2022 season for arguably Indiana's four best players on defense in a 36-hour span. Here is a rundown of everything that happened.
Micah McFadden headed to NFL: Hoosiers linebacker Micah McFadden announced this afternoon he will forego his final season of eligibility and declare for the NFL Draft. He was a four-year contributor, three-year starter and two-time captain for the Hoosiers and is likely headed for back-to-back All-American seasons when the teams are released at the end of the year. The Tampa, Florida, native was an entirely unheralded recruit, ranking barely inside the top 2,000 in the country in his class, per 247sports.com.
He defied those rankings by earning All-Big Ten honors three times and in 2020 became the first Hoosier to lead the Big Ten in sacks since Greg Middleton in 2007. He was Indiana's team MVP in that 2020 campaign and followed that with 15 1/2 tackles for loss as a senior this season, ranking third in the Big Ten in that category. More than any other single moment, McFadden's ejection for a highly questionable targeting call with the Hoosiers up 14-0 in the second quarter against Cincinnati – a game the Hoosiers eventually lost 38-24 – set Indiana's 2021 campaign on its disappointing path.
“I could never express the gratitude I have for the opportunity to play this great game for such a prestigious school like Indiana University,” McFadden wrote on Twitter. “I would like to thank everyone who has guided me along this journey, but especially Coach (Tom) Allen for believing in me and trusting me to play and lead his team over the past few years.
"To Hoosier Nation and our fans, thank you for your contact support towards this team. Although the season wasn’t to our standards, the future will be better than the past and there is a building full of individuals determined to make this happen. It has been an honor to wear this uniform for the past few years and regardless of the outcome, I loved stepping on the field and playing for this school every Saturday."
McFadden's departure makes former Miami linebacker Bradley Jennings Jr.'s commitment to play for the Hoosiers next season even more important.
Tiawan Mullen will return in 2022: Mullen was one of the best cornerbacks in the country as a sophomore in 2020, becoming the first Indiana corner ever to be named First-Team All-American after posting three interceptions, a forced fumble, four pass breakups, a quarterback hurry, 3 1/2 sacks and 4 1/2 tackles for loss. He was able to slow down some of the better receivers in the Big Ten, including Ohio State's Chris Olave in the second half of the Hoosiers' 42-35 loss to the Buckeyes in November 2020.
Many thought Mullen might jump to the NFL after his junior season in 2021, but this year turned into a difficult campaign for the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, native. He got beaten over the top for what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown against Cincinnati and then injured his foot midway through the season, an issue that kept him out of six of the final eight games.
Mullen's return is important for a Hoosiers team that was devastated by injury at cornerback this season and struggled to stop even middling Big Ten passing attacks. The corner's decision to come back for another year (he has two seasons of eligibility remaining) means he will play with his brother, four-star cornerback Trevell Mullen, who will be a true freshman in the fall.
"The season didn't go how we wanted it to go, but my work here at Indiana is not done," Mullen wrote on social media. "The future is bright for the 2022 Indiana Hoosiers. Excited for what's in store.''
Jaylin Williams will return in 2022: The cornerback playing opposite of Mullen will also return next season. Williams was Second-Team All-Big Ten in 2020, when he was eighth in the country with four interceptions, including one each in long-sought wins over Penn State and Michigan. He sustained a concussion this season against Western Kentucky that limited him to only nine starts in 12 games, but he was still able to tally 11 pass breakups, fourth in the Big Ten, plus 41 tackles, including one for loss. He broke up three passes in a loss to Michigan. Williams earned Honorable Mention All-Big Ten honors for his 2021 season.
With Indiana's top two cornerbacks returning and (presumably) healthy in 2022, the Hoosiers' struggling passing offense should come closer to its 2020 peak.
"After talking and praying with family, friends and my coaches, I have another year of eligibility and I will use my final year to finish what we started," Williams wrote on social media. "I am excited to have another year with my brothers. The sky is the limit.
"I would not change a thing about my career here at Indiana, except it is not done. I came here to help build this program to the best of its abilities."
Devon Matthews will return in 2022: Indiana's secondary got yet another boost when Matthews, a safety nicknamed "Monster," announced he will return for his final season of eligibility. Matthews is a three-year starter with the Hoosiers and was Third-Team All-Big Ten in 2020, when he had 40 tackles, two for loss, a sack, six pass breakups and an interception. He was even better in 2021, posting eight tackles and a TFL against Michigan State and 12 tackles and a TFL against Maryland, but was limited to just nine games because of multiple injuries, including a scary nerve issue against Iowa after a big hit that left him in the Iowa City hospital. He suffered a second injury against Minnesota and missed the season-finale against Purdue.
"Even though the season didn't go as planned and had many ups and downs, I still cherished every moment of it with this team and I have zero regrets," Matthews wrote on social media. "Nobody said it would be easy. I am going to do everything in my power to help this program.
"We definitely have unfinished business and things we want to accomplish as a team and I want to continue to help and be a part of it and also become a better leader on and off the field for this team. My work here at IU isn't done and I'm thrilled to come back and work with my brothers."
Michael Penix Jr. officially announces transfer: Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr., the team's Week 1 starter each of the last three seasons and an All-Big Ten performer in 2020, officially announced his intention to transfer. Reports of his entering the transfer portal had previously surfaced, though until his announcement it was unclear whether he would consider returning. I wrote about Penix's looming transfer here:
"I talked to Coach Allen about it, and it's my decision,'' Penix told Sports Illustrated. "I'm a Hoosier, and I'll always be a Hoosier. I'm graduating in May and I have loved everything about playing for Coach Allen and being a part of this team. These are my brothers.
"But I just want a new start, a new beginning. I want to finish my college career the best way possible, and I think I need to do that somewhere else.''
Josh Hoover decommits: Indiana's potential replacements for Penix included incoming true freshman Josh Hoover, a three-star recruit from Rockwall, Texas. That is, until Hoover announced Tuesday his decision to decommit from Indiana and instead commit to TCU and new coach Sonny Dykes. The 6-foot-1, 206-pound Hoover had been recruited by Sheridan and it's possible the coach's ouster made him look elsewhere.
"Just wanted to thank the entire Indiana program for the opportunity to be a Hoosier," Hoover wrote on Twitter. "After praying and talking with my family I have decided to go a different direction. Special Thank you to Coach (Tom) Allen and the entire coaching staff. Wishing nothing but the best!"