By MICHAEL MAROT
AP Sports Writer
BLOOMINGTON -- Indiana coach Bill Lynch looks around the college football landscape and sees hope in the heartland.
He's watched Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri go from afterthoughts to BCS games. He saw Illinois emerge from its recent doldrums by making a Rose Bowl trip last season, and now Lynch is prodding his Hoosiers to follow the same path after finally ending the Big Ten's longest bowl drought.
It's not going to be easy.
"First and foremost, you've got to develop a consistency in your program, where your players expect to play well," he said Tuesday. "If you get enough of them to expect to play well, then it becomes an expectation to win. Then, I think you can create the environment that you want, where your fans aren't shocked, where your fans expect it."
Fans and players are pinning this season's hopes on more than just getting a bowl bid.
Indiana opens with four straight home games, has reinstalled Kellen Lewis as the starting quarterback and got an unexpected boost when the NCAA allowed safety Jerimy Finch to play this season after transferring from Florida.
There is a new field after floods destroyed the previous one and the renovation project in the north end zone is finally beginning to take shape.
But the biggest changes in Bloomington have been in the locker room, where players have a new approach and higher goals.
"In past years, we didn't really have the energy about us throughout the year," said running back Marcus Thigpen, one of the team captains. "This year it is like we have the enthusiasm and camaraderie as a team, and everybody is just together."
Will that be enough to help the Hoosiers turn the corner for good after finally producing a winning season in 2007? That's the plan.
"I don't think any of us have ever said this is the magic or this is when we know we've arrived," Lynch said. "It is a long process, but I think we certainly took a big step last year. I like the kids that we have and the way they practice. I like the recruits we've brought in. So, we're building toward that."
MORE MOTIVATION: Many of the preseason predictions and college football magazines appear to believe that Indiana's 7-6 mark last season was a fluke.
Many of them have picked the Hoosiers to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten standings, and the perceived slight hasn't escaped the attention of coaches or players -- although Lynch says he hasn't even discussed it.
"They read those things all summer long and they talk," he said. "But until you do it on a regular basis that is what happens. We've got to go out and try to prove ourselves every Saturday."
STILL UNDECIDED: Lynch has announced most of his starters for Saturday's opener against Western Kentucky. One spot, cornerback, remains undecided.
Fifth-year senior Chris Phillips, who was elected a team captain, will start on one side, but the other was unsettled between Chris Adkins, Donnell Jones, Richard Council and Adrian Burks.
"The competition has been really good," Lynch said. "It is not because we're trying to find a guy, I think we're trying to make sure they all keep competing because they all have done a very good job."
ONE IN, ONE OUT: While Finch got his waiver from the NCAA after transferring to Indiana, Lynch has announced he has also lost one player, defensive lineman Emile Bass, who plans to transfer out.
Bass, a 6-foot-3, 297-pound junior was about to start his fourth season in Bloomington.
The Detroit native had compiled just eight career tackles and one career sack in 2006 and 2007. He redshirted in 2005.
QUICK KICKS: If Indiana wins Saturday, it would mark the fifth straight year the Hoosiers have won on opening day. It would match the second longest streak in school history. The Hoosiers also won five straight season openers from 1992-96. But there's a long way to go to set a new school record. Indiana won 14 straight openers twice, from 1904-17 and 1924-37. ... Lewis needs one TD pass this season to break Antwaan Randle El's career record. Both players have thrown 42 TD passes. ... Receiver Andrew Means returned to the program after spending the summer in the Cincinnati Reds minor-league system. Means was taken in the 11th round of June's Major League Baseball draft. ... Defensive end Ryan Marando, who had six sacks last season, will replace Greg Middleton in the Hoosiers lineup Saturday. Middleton led the nation with 16 sacks last season but has been suspended for one game for disciplinary reasons.