Let’s be honest here, Hoosier fans.
At the start of this current football campaign, you would have taken the following Indiana results, especially if informed that quarterback Tre Roberson’s season would end in the second quarter of the second game:
4-6 record to-date;
Back-to-back Big Ten wins recorded;
Big Ten’s leading passing team;
Just one blowout loss, with Indiana extremely competitive in every other game;
49 points scored against Ohio State;
Such clear overall progress that it engendered serious recruiting momentum, including the “flipping” of more than one four-star prospect from Indianapolis to IU;
Ranking third in the league in sacks against, despite starting two true freshman offensive linemen, including the left tackle;
Overt strides made in terms of soundness, if not significant enough ones as yet, on defense.
You would have taken all that, right? Especially coming off last year’s 1-11 downer, when it was so crucial that this season showcase progress?
Gladly. In a heartbeat. Damn straight.
So, sure, Saturday’s horror-show performance against Wisconsin stunk to high heaven. And, yes, it came at the worst possible time. It did wide-ranging damage off the field as well as on, in terms of very much letting the air out of what had been a burgeoning Cream and Crimson balloon.
And, to be sure, Indiana still ranks last in the league in rushing, total defense and scoring defense. And it’s entirely possible that the Hoosiers won’t win either of their last two regular-season games, Saturday at Penn State — where they are almost three-touchdown underdogs — and the following Saturday’s sojourn to West Lafayette.
The Old Oaken Bucket game is always important, of course, and will loom even larger if the Hoosiers don’t pull off a big upset today in Formerly-Happy Valley.
Purdue will likely enter the Bucket fray off two straight wins, last Saturday’s acutely rejuvenating victory at Iowa and a likely win Saturday over Illinois. And the Boilermakers will have to know that the game against IU will likely fit one of two scenarios: either they’ll be playing to preserve coach Danny Hope’s job, or they’ll be playing in his final game. Either way, they’ll be sky high, even by Bucket standards. It’s basically the same dynamic that worked in Indiana’s favor with Bill Lynch in 2010.
But if this Hoosier team finishes with five wins, with the final one coming over Purdue at their place, that should serve to really enhance what would remain a positive context this coming off-season regarding the overall direction of coach Kevin Wilson’s program.
And even if the Hoosiers finish 4-8, that will not and should not completely obscure Indiana’s total body of work this season.
Part of that equation depends upon just how Indiana plays these final two games, however. Many fans’ faith in Indiana football is inherently fickle, which is not their fault. There has simply been too much trial and tribulation, too much heartbreak and just plain too much losing over the decades, for it to be otherwise.
Fans want a team that not only will win more often but will fight the good fight even if it’s going down. They didn’t get that last Saturday. They had gotten it every Saturday before that this season, though. They need to get it these last two games.
If they do, and if this season ends 5-7 or 4-8, I think they’ll take it and look forward to the future with some hope and some good vibes.
Of course, there is also this:
If Indiana wins Saturday, becoming the first Hoosier team to defeat Penn State in 16 tries, the damage done by the Wisconsin game would be largely mitigated. And then the Bucket game would be for bowl eligibility.
Something tells me you Hoosier fans would happily take that, too.