1. Is Ben Chappell ready to take another step?
There was plenty to like about Ben Chappell's junior season. In his first full season as the Hoosiers' starter, the Bloomington native ranked third in the Big Ten with better than 245 passing yards/game, and his 17 touchdowns ranked fifth in the conference. He spread the ball around as well, hooking up with Tandon Doss 77 times and Damarlo Belcher 61 as IU's passing attack proved to be one of the more productive in the conference.
Now, as Chappell readies for the start of his senior season, the question becomes if he's ready to go from being a solid Big Ten quarterback to one of the league's top signal callers. To do that, he'll first have to cut down on the Big Ten high 15 interceptions he threw a year ago while also helping IU improve significantly on its 10th place ranking in the Big Ten in red zone efficiency. Chappell needs to progress to where he's in the neighborhood of a 2-to-1 ratio for touchdowns to interceptions, and if he can do that there's no reason he shouldn't get serious consideration for some sort of all-league accolades.
2. Can Darius Willis stay healthy?
There are few running backs in the Big Ten that are any better than the Hoosiers' Darius Willis. The problem, though, is that there are few running backs in the league that have had a harder time staying healthy.
As a redshirt freshman, Willis ranked fifth in the Big Ten with 67.4 rushing yards/game, highlighted by a 16-carry, 152-yard effort against Michigan. He also rushed for six touchdowns, three of which came from 60 yards or more out. But Willis' issue was his health – he missed three games and was nursing various ailments even when he was on the field. Indiana has other options to turn to at tailback, and there's little doubt that they'll utilize a rotation of sorts. But there's also no doubt that Willis is the most complete running back IU has had in more than a decade, and he needs to be on the field more often than not if Indiana is going to challenge for a bowl bid.
3. How good was Rodger Saffold? For the last four years, Indiana coaches have penciled in Rodger Saffold at the starting left tackle position while also singing the praises of the Beford, Ohio, product. Saffold proved to be worthy of his four-year starter status and the praise from the coaching staff, as he was tabbed as a second-team All-Big Ten pick by the conference coaches as a senior and was then the first pick of the second round of the NFL Draft this spring.
While the notoriety of Saffold's high draft status only goes to help the program (much like Tracy Porter's effort in the Super Bowl did), Indiana now faces the challenge of replacing him at the most important spot on the offensive line. Indiana has veterans such as Justin Pagan, Will Matte and James Brewer back on the offensive line, but replacing Saffold is issue No. 1 for Kyle Conner and Mo Moriarity to figure out this fall.
4. Who will be the back-up quarterback, and will they see some playing time?
A year ago, one of the more closely watched battles in the fall was between freshmen quarterbacks Dusty Kiel and Edward Wright-Baker, a pair of players who were battling for the back-up quarterback spot. It was eventually Wright-Baker who earned the nod, earning the right to travel with the team despite never getting onto the field.
As camp prepares to open this year, that pair is still competing for the back-up role. While Wright-Baker had the edge last fall, Kiel appeared to close the gap significantly during the spring and will compete to be Chappell's back-up. Time will tell how much playing time that will mean for the Hoosiers' No. 2, but the winner of the battle this fall will clearly position themselves nicely to be the starter in 2011.
5. How much will Indiana utilize the ‘Wildcat' formation in 2010?
A season ago, Indiana unveiled the ‘Wildcat' formation and enjoyed a certain degree of success with it. Generally run by wideout Mitchell Evans – a high school quarterback who's played all over the field for IU – Indiana caught a handful of teams off guard with the formation popularized in the NFL and now in college.
But Evans has moved to safety, meaning IU won't have the luxury of being able to surprise teams with the formation. When Evans was on the field, he was as likely to line up in the slot as he was in the shotgun, so the Hoosiers' on-the-field personnel didn't tip the opposition. This year that probably won't be the case, as Edward Wright-Baker would probably the most likely to run the formation. Another option could be Tandon Doss, though, who did play some quarterback at Ben Davis H.S. as a senior when Marquis Gray was out.
Tomorrow: Five questions about IU's defense.
FALL CAMP PREVIEW: Five Offensive Questions
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