The Indiana football program has improved all season, coach Kevin Wilson said Monday, but not in the place those strides show up most prominently.
The Hoosiers (4-7, 2-5 Big Ten) are at the same place in 2013 that they were entering the Old Oaken Bucket Game in 2012.
It’s been a season rife with what-ifs and almosts. And it culminates with a shot at Purdue, a rival going through a similarly strenuous season under first-year coach Darrell Hazell.
We are blessed to have as a team a very strong rival, quality opponent with fans that know each other, Wilson said.
Even when both programs are having tough seasons.
IU was projected as a bowl team for most of the season, but it lost two games by less than a touchdown and found itself out of bowl contention Saturday after a 42-14 loss to Ohio State.
This is definitely not the season I predicted, senior wide receiver Kofi Hughes told reporters in Columbus after the loss. Or that our team hoped for.
Disappointment aside, there’s a chance for the team to end its season with a bit of cold comfort in the form of a victory over the Boilermakers (1-9, 0-7).
Purdue’s only win this season came against Indiana State, but the Boilermakers came within four points of their second win in a 20-16 loss to Illinois on Saturday.
You can say they’re struggling, if you look at their record, Wilson said. I like the way their team is playing. I think it’s going to be a challenge.
Again, we’re sitting here four wins, needing five. We’re not going to be a bowl team. We need to have success, have a great week, and put ourselves in position to have our best week of practice and our best play against our rival.
Once again in Bloomington, the measuring stick for success has shifted from the start of the season to its end.
Wilson never said it, but the players did early, and often – this was to be a bowl season. This would be a big going-out party for the 21 four-year players who will take the field for a final time Saturday. This game was supposed to be the icing on the cake, not a bittersweet sendoff.
But none of that matters now, for Hughes, Wilson or the rest of the Hoosiers. Leaving on a third straight loss to Purdue would feel even worse.
If nothing else, there’s pride to play for.
Got a lot of respect for some seniors. I’ve got a lot of respect for our football team this year. I’ve got some kids that have done well, given us a lot, Wilson said. It would be awesome to have our best week of preparation – and that’s all I’m asking is our best week of preparation – and to go out and play as well as we can and see if that’s good enough on Saturday.