Tue Mar 16 05:36pm EDT
Measuring up the fall's most intriguing players, in no particular order. Today: Junior Indiana receiver/kick returner Tandon Doss.
• Typecasting. Like most of Indiana's roster, Doss was a largely overlooked two-star recruit who chose the Hoosiers over the likes of Kentucky and Purdue. But he arrived with promising size (6'3", 195) and quickly made a name for himself as a true freshman as the unlikely star of the Hoosiers' lone Big Ten win of 2008, a 21-19 upset over Northwestern in which Doss hauled in eight passes for 107 yards and scored the decisive touchdown. (Although he didn't touch the ball again until the season finale against Purdue a month later thanks to a combination of nagging knee and shoulder ailments.)
It was as a sophomore, though, that Doss assumed the yoke of the semiannual Antwaan Randle El Award, following in the esteemed footsteps of Randle El and successors Courtney Roby, James Hardy and Marcus Thigpen as the sole reliable offensive playmaker on Indiana's roster at any given time. In the same tradition, Doss was a jack-of-all-trades, leading the team in receiving and kick returns and occasionally lined up in the backfield to take advantage of his speed as an option back, eventually finishing as the Big Ten's leader in all-purpose offense with more than twice as many total yards as any other Hoosier.
• Best-Case. Doss was also a second-team all-conference pick by league coaches (and first-team by the media), plausibly setting him up as the best multi-purpose threat in the entire conference as a junior. He's already hovering around the top of the list statistically, and he didn't shrink in the biggest games: Against three top-10 defenses, Doss eclipsed 100 total yards against both Iowa and Ohio State (where he made highlight reels with a crazy one-handed catch, immediately followed by his first touchdown grab of the season) and came close with 93 against Penn State; he shredded Wisconsin and rival Purdue for more than 200 yards apiece and lit up then-unbeaten Michigan for 193 in a near-upset in front of the the biggest crowd of his life. With at least four catches and 78 yards in every game (and at least five catches against everyone except Purdue), he was never really shut down, and only rarely slowed.
• Worst-Case. As reliable as Doss was in his second year, he was far more sporadic as a big-play guy. Five opposing defenses held him below nine yards per catch with no big plays, and six touchdowns in 120 touches is hardly an eye-popping number. As a return man, Doss' longest run was a relatively pedestrian 37 yards. It would be wrong to say he's not a threat at all to break free for big gains -- he had four catches for at least 30 yards against Big Ten defenses, and a pair of runs against Michigan and Purdue covering 25 and 27 yards -- but he's not regarded as a speedster, and at just 12.5 yards per reception falls squarely into the "possession receiver" category most of the time.
This is not a damning criticism: The guy can obviously play.
• (Moderately) Fun Fact. Doss (who wore No. 81 as a freshman and switched to No. 2 last year) wanted the same No. 1 jersey he wore in high school, but it already belonged to fellow receiver Terrance Turner, the team's most experienced receiver going into last season after a tumultuous round of position changes and dismissals last spring. Doss still could have had it, for a price: "I told Tandon he would have to pay me for it, but I don’t think the NCAA would think that was very funny," Turner said with a smile. ... "I think we had better keep it the way it is." Oh, I don't know, kid: As long as you agree to donate all the proceeds to Adidas or another officially sanctioned profiteer, the NCAA doesn't seem to mind.
• What to Expect in '10. Doss' 77 catches last year put him just shy of James Hardy's school record for a single season (79), which -- like leading the conference in all-purpose yards -- isn't the kind of number many players can pull off two years in a row, even if healthy, if for no other reason than he'll be wearing a bigger target this time around for opposing defenses. At best, Doss will match his sophomore stats, and more likely he'll come a little short. The quantity, however, will matter less than the quantity: With a veteran quarterback (Ben Chappell) a productive counterpart drawing attention on the other side of the field (Demarlo Belcher) and the kind of defense that guarantees to keep the Hoosiers throwing early and often, Doss will still see plenty of ball his way again. If he can find a way to convert one or two more of them per game into big gains or touchdowns, his reputation as a hidden gem on a terrible team can begin spread beyond the small circle of Big Ten beat writers.