This is the first in a series of position-by-position previews for the IU football team that will run Monday-Thursday this week and next week. The running order will be in the order weâ€™ve ranked the units, starting with the most solid and leading up to the group we think has the most questions heading into the season.
PROJECTED STARTERS: kicker Austin Starr, 6-3, 204, Sr.; punter Chris Hagerup, 6-5, 207, Fr.; kickoff returner Marcus Thigpen, 5-9, 199, Sr.; punt returner Ray Fisher 5-9, 172, Jr.
STARTERS LOST: punter Michael Hines, returners Tracy Porter and James Bailey
KEY RESERVES: kickoff returner Demetrius McCray, punt returner Nick Polk
2007 REVIEW: Special teams were a major strength for the Hoosiers. Starr led the way with one of the best seasons an Indiana kicker has ever put together. He hit 21-of-23 field goal attempts and all 48 extra point attempts. His season highlights included hitting four field goals against Minnesota and nailing the game-winning 49-yarder against Purdue that sent the Hoosiers to a bowl game. Starr was a second-team All-American and a first-team all-Big Ten pick.
Indiana ranked second in the conference in punt returns (12.0 avg.) and fifth in punt returns (21.0 avg.). One area where the Hoosiers could use improvement is kickoff coverage where they finished seventh in the Big Ten.
2008 OUTLOOK: This should be again be a strong point. Experienced players are back at the key positions with the exception of Hines. Punting is obviously the question mark. After struggling during the spring, Hagerup, a redshirt freshman, has been much better in preseason camp. He has plenty of leg, but needs to avoid the occasional shank he has shown at times in practice.
STATS THAT MATTER: During Big Ten play last season, Indiana finished first or second in the league in kickoff return average, punt return average, field goal percentage and extra point percentage.
DID YOU KNOW? As a sophomore, Thigpen led the country with a 30.1 kickoff return average.
TUESDAY: Defensive line
Q&A with Austin Starr
Whatâ€™s your major and how did you pick it? My major is biology. Iâ€™m going to get a minor in chemistry. I chose it because in order to go to dental school most of the classes you have to take are biology classes. I just picked biology as a major because I was going to take that many classes anyway.
Whatâ€™s your best class at IU so far? The best class was sports psychology because it allowed me to understand the psychological aspect of athletes. Iâ€™d say a close second would be when I took a media relations class and that helped me to understand that you donâ€™t have to answer whatever question comes at you, even though my first inclination is that normally I just say the first thing that comes to mind.
Whatâ€™s your favorite place to eat in Bloomington and why? Malibu Grill because they have the Hawaiian Ribeye. That was the first thing I had when I went there and I try to get it almost every time.
Explain your gameday ritual. Any superstitions? No superstitions, I just have this little prayer card that I say in the hotel room the night before and then before the game, and then I have coach Hepâ€™s picture in my locker. I take it on the road, too, and I look at it before each game.
Whatâ€™s one thing you want to do better this year than last year? I want to make every field goal and I want every kickoff to go in the end zone. Iâ€™d like a longer field goal, too.