1. SUDFELD’S RETURN
During the Hoosiers’ team media day in Bloomington, senior quarterback Nate Sudfeld said felt like he was 100 percent healthy in June. Remember, the separated shoulder injury he sustained – an injury that affected his left, non-throwing shoulder – occurred in October of last season against Iowa. It took about eight months for him to get healthy. So when you think about it, even though he played in the spring game in April, he’s had only two months’ worth of throwing a football at full strength. He’s looked sharp in practice and preseason camp over the last month, but his return to game speed for the first time since October 2014 will be worth watching.
2. THE SECONDARY
It’s been well-documented that Indiana’s secondary is inexperienced. Four starters had to be replaced for the upcoming season – Tim Bennett, Mark Murphy, Antonio Allen and Michael Hunter Jr. Additionally, its two most experienced returning players – Allen and would-be fifth-year senior Kenny Mullen – left the program. Allen was dismissed following his arrest in June, and Mullen opted not to use his final year of eligibility. The next most-experienced player, Donovan Clark, will sit out and redshirt this season because of a back injury. Co-defensive backs coaches Noah Joseph turned to redshirt sophomores Rashard Fant and Noel Padmore as the starting cornerbacks on the depth chart as a result. However, Fant and Padmore both had limited playing time last season much like the rest of the secondary. The secondary’s performance will be observed closely throughout the game.
3. THE FRONT SEVEN
With how young the secondary is, one could argue there’s an increased amount of pressure to get to the quarterback. That falls on the front seven of Indiana’s defense, which as of this week is defensive tackle Darius Latham, nose tackle Adarius Rayner, defensive end Nick Mangieri, bandit Zack Shaw, linebacker Clyde Newton, linebacker T.J. Simmons and linebacker Tegray Scales. Fair or not, that’s the situation currently facing that group of players. Not only will this be worth following during the game, it will be worth following for at least the first two or three games of the season as the secondary gains experience. I’ll be watching to see how the front seven performs with that perceived pressure.
4. THE DEBUT OF UAB TRANSFERS Jordan Howard AND MARQUI HAWKINS
The University of Alabama at Birmingham shut the doors to its football program last December. As the program disbanded, so did its players. Two of those players, then-sophomore running back Jordan Howard and redshirt freshman wide receiver Marqui Hawkins, left and transferred Indiana with immediate eligibility. Howard, now a junior, and Hawkins, a redshirt sophomore, figure to be key players in Indiana’s offense this season. Howard is listed as the starting running back this week and likely will be the entire season. Hawkins, at 6-foot-2 and 216 pounds, brings size to the receiving corps that has plenty of it but lacks experience. However, he likely won't play much at receiver. At Monday's media availability, Wilson said Hawkins will likely be used as a hybrid/h-back. That means he'll probably spend more time in the backfield and only line up at receiver in jet sweep plays. This will be Hawkins’ first college football game, as he didn’t get any playing time during his freshman year at Florida or his sophomore year at UAB, where he sat out due to NCAA transfer rules. How will Howard do in his first game? And will Hawkins get any playing? That’s worth following as well.
5. DEPTH AT WIDE RECEIVER
As mentioned in the previous point about Hawkins, Indiana has plenty of size at the receiver position but lacks experience. Simmie Cobbs, Ricky Jones and Mitchell Paige are the top three receivers. However, other receivers might get playing time because of the depth. Freshmen Leon Thornton and Nick Westbrook both have been brought up often, and I’m curious to see how they do. Their role increased with the academic ineligibility of JUCO transfer Camion Patrick. Keep an eye on the number of offensive snaps each receiver gets – I’ll be doing so and looking over the participation report at the end of the game to see who got playing time. Out of all the positions, wide receiver will probably be most in flux throughout the season as it develops depth.