Indiana coach Bill Lynch can't wait to get started.
His players are ready, too.
Lynch told reporters Friday he believes a physical preseason camp and a change in leadership have made the Hoosiers a stronger team heading into Thursday night's season opener against Eastern Kentucky.
"I know our guys are really anxious to get into it," he said during a conference call. "I think our guys really responded well to it (camp). I like what I see."
It's a good, early sign after last season's debacle.
After ending a 14-year bowl drought in 2007, the Hoosiers dropped to 3-9 last year, won just one of eight Big Ten games and ended the year with an embarrassing 62-10 loss at Purdue _ their most lopsided loss in the series since 1893. Then in April, Lynch was forced to kick former all-conference quarterback Kellen Lewis off the team for violating team rules a second time.
The rare Thursday night start gives the Hoosiers a chance for a fresh start.
Junior Ben Chappell has taken over as the uncontested starting quarterback, Lynch has a new stable of running backs and the injury-riddled offensive line is essentially back in place with the possible exception of tackle Justin Pagan, who injured his left ankle in practice last week.
Lynch still isn't sure if Pagan will play Thursday.
Lynch believes the defense, which allowed an average of 35.2 points and at least 42 points five times in the past seven conference games, also is stronger.
But the prime goal Thursday night is giving fans something to cheer about in the newly renovated Memorial Stadium. Indiana has enclosed the north end zone, putting new offices, an expanded weight room and new meeting areas in the facility that has changed the look of the stadium.
"I think everybody has gone above and beyond to create a game experience that will be exciting," Lynch said. "I think the fans will really enjoy what's going to take place. It's going to be different. We went through a dry run last night, and our guys were really jacked up about it."
Lynch is hoping Indiana carries those emotions into the game.
Though the Hoosiers face an Eastern Kentucky team that lost 20 seniors and 14 starters from last season, the Colonels have posted 30 straight winning seasons and are still among the strongest teams in the Football Championship Subdivision.
But the key to Thursday night will be the players' effort.
"The fine line in an opener, from a coaching standpoint in the opener, is how hard you go," Lynch said. "You want to go bang and bang, but you don't want them to bang too much if they're not ready to go. As a coach, you need to know where the are."
Based on Lynch's observations over the past several weeks, he believes the Hoosiers are ready to start hitting someone in a different color jersey.
Indiana opened preseason camp with a new emphasis on getting physical. The result, Lynch said, has been evident and his top players agree.
"I think we're ready to play another team," Chappell said Wednesday, the last day of camp. "I think we're ready to go against someone else."
All they have to do now is win.
"Going into the opener, you're never really sure about who you're going to play. I'm sure they feel the same way about Indiana," Lynch said. "But I think when you're going into the opening, you're always more concerned with yourself than about the other team."