As football practice for the 2013 season gets underway today, here's five questions for the Hoosiers as Indiana looks to qualify for just its second bowl game since 1994:
1. Who will start at quarterback?
As I wrote in a blog last week, I really think Tre Roberson ends up with the job. Not that Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld aren't capable players but Roberson is a threat to take off and run at any time. Indiana's running game has been suspect at times in recent seasons but having a guy like Roberson in the backfield can often times boost those rushing numbers. But Roberson was the starter at the beginning of last season before he got hurt and you have to think he'll get the same shot this season. It will still be a very competitive situation.
2. Can the defense make big enough strides? :
This is what it comes down to every season. Can IU's defense stop anybody? You can score 30 points per game all you want but unless you can stop someone you probably need to be scoring in the mid-40's every week to feel safe about your situation. Opponents averaged 35.2 points per game last season and nearly 470 yards per game in offense. Six times last year, IU managed 27 more points in a game – and lost. That just can't happen.
3. More to the point, who is going to step up and be a pass rushing specialist?
Indiana had 27 sacks a year ago but nine of those came from two interior defensive linemen in Larry Black Jr. and Adam Replogle who have both graduated. The Hoosiers need a big push from the outside and that has been lacking. There were only two games last season when Indiana recorded four or more sacks in a game. One was the opener against Indiana State and the other at Illinois. And as for the ends, the two starters last season combined for a total of five sacks. All of those numbers need to improve.
4. Can fans do their best not to look ahead?
This is another common problem for IU. You look at the schedule and you start counting Indiana State as a win, as well as Navy and Bowling Green as games in the win column. Missouri is probably the toughest of the four non-conference games, then comes the Big Ten opener with Penn State. But when people start talking about how IU should realistically be 4-0 heading into the Big Ten season that's when people start getting nervous. Just in the 15 years I've covered the team, I remember losing to Ball State the last three times in a row since 2008, losing to Southern Illinois in Terry Hoeppner's second and final season with Indiana in 2006, and almost losing to William & Mary in 2002 in Gerry DiNardo's first game at the IU helm. This is not a place where you can ever afford to look ahead.
5. Will the running game be more representative?
It simply has to be more balanced than it has been in recent years. Last year IU averaged 130.8 yards per game on the ground. Opponents, however, averaged another 100 yards on top of that running the football. Last year Indiana averaged better than 300 yards per game through the air. The balance just has to be better. If Tre Roberson can stay healthy that will clearly help the rushing numbers but if one of the running backs like Stephen Houston, Tevin Coleman or D'Angelo Roberts for example could step up and have a big year running the football IU would have a chance to be a lot less one dimensional.
These are some of the bigger questions Indiana faces going into the 2013 season. As practice begins today, are there other areas that are of a bigger concern to you as a fan? If so, let's start a thread and talk about those or elaborate on topics I've started here.
Follow Terry Hutchens at Twitter.com/foxsportshutch.