Three questions for Indiana

August, 20, 2008
8/20/08
10:30
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

I'm headed to Bloomington to spend the day with the Indiana Hoosiers. I'll be talking with the quarterbacks, coach Bill Lynch and this guy Matt Mayberry I've heard so much about from you guys, so check back throughout the afternoon/evening.

Here are three questions the Hoosiers will face in their quest for consecutive bowl appearances:

 
 Scott Boehm/Getty Images
 Can Kellen Lewis return to form after missing spring practice?

1. Who starts at quarterback?

Lynch did the right thing in making Kellen Lewis compete to earn his job back after the junior was suspended for spring practice. Lewis, who admitted Monday that his "party lifestyle" had taken his focus away from the field, must regain the respect of the coaches and his teammates. Fortunately for him, he's got the talent to make up for lost time. Ben Chappell got the lion's share of reps this spring and has taken advantage, making the quarterback competition closer than expected. But it's hard to envision Lewis sitting on the bench, especially since Indiana implemented a no-huddle offense that fits him perfectly.

2. Will the defense take the next step?

The Hoosiers received great individual performances last season from national sacks leader Greg Middleton, cornerback Tracy Porter and others. But as a unit, the results were too predictable. Indiana ranked ninth in the Big Ten in points allowed (28.5 ppg), rush defense (159.7 ypg) and pass defense (243.7 ypg). The word is out on Middleton, and the Hoosiers need players like Jammie Kirlew and Ryan Marando to capitalize on the favorable matchups they'll see this fall. Cornerback is a concern after the loss of both starters, but a linebacking corps featuring Mayberry, Will Patterson and Geno Johnson could be the strength of the defense. If Florida transfer Jerimy Finch is allowed to play, he'll provide a big boost at safety.

3. Are there enough playmakers?

Wide receiver James Hardy was one of the Big Ten's toughest matchups, particularly in the red zone. His scoring production is tough to replace, but Indiana should be fine at wide receiver with veteran Ray Fisher and Andrew Means, who gave up playing baseball in the Cincinnati Reds' organization for one final year on the gridiron. A bigger concern is getting more from the running backs. Marcus Thigpen bulked up during the offseason and wants to prove he's more than a speed back and can handle 25-30 carries a game. If Thigpen falls short, the Hoosiers will need Bryan Payton, Demetrius McCray or brawny freshman Darius Willis to step up.

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