That was the last year the Indiana Hoosiers finished the season with a record that barely reached the waterline of bowl eligibility. Heading into the 2014 season many Hoosier faithful believed that it was bowl game or bust for Kevin Wilson, who took over the program in 2011.
With so much talent offensively with running back Tevin Coleman, wide receiver Shane Wynn and quarterback Nate Sudfeld, a .500 mark looked like a plausible goal and would be enough to keep Wilson in Bloomington for a little while longer.
Through the first five games of the season, the Hoosiers sat 3-2 with a disappointing loss to Bowling Green and a surprising upset win over Missouri serving as pivotal moments in the early portion of the year. With struggling foes like Michigan, Rutgers, Penn State and Purdue still on the docket, a 6-6 mark appeared feasible and the Hoosiers would reach the postseason for the first time since the beginning of the Bill Lynch era.
Disaster struck for the Hoosiers, however, when Sudfeld suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in a mid-season game against Iowa. Even with plenty of talent on the offensive side of the football the absence of a 2,500-yard and 21 touchdown passer in 2013 put postseason hopes for the Hoosiers on hold.
Indiana finished the season 4-8 and the only victory after Sudfeld was sidelined came in the final week of the season against rival Purdue.
The injury to Sudfeld and two-straight Old Oaken Bucket victories appears to have bought Wilson one more year in Bloomington, where he hasn’t posted more than five wins in his four seasons.
As Sudfeld’s recovery continues, he’ll look to suit up in 2015 and reclaim his starting role under center. With the experienced play-caller on the field for his senior season, the expectations for the football program will grow.
Without Coleman and Wynn to ease the burden a bit offensively, Sudfeld will be heavily relied on to get the Hoosiers to the six-win mark to reach bowl eligibility and potentially save Wilson’s job.
Other aspects of the 2015 Hoosiers will have to be cleaned up if Indiana wants a shot to compete in the conference, without question. The defense can’t allow more than 30 points per game in the upcoming season. Even against teams with insufficient offenses, the Hoosiers struggled to keep them out of the end zone. Wilson’s teams have been able to put a plethora of points on the scoreboard on a consistent basis, but without a strong defense, or even mediocre for that matter, it’s difficult to win Big Ten football games.
That’s why Wilson sports a 14-34 record with the Hoosiers and just six conference wins during that four-year span.
Sudfeld’s presence on the field is going to be a huge boost for the Hoosiers offensive unit next season. Without much proven talent at the skill positions next season, Sudfeld’s 25 starts and more than 4,000 yards of throwing experience should give IU some stability in the passing game. And, with Wilson under the headset, the Hoosiers should be able to throw the football around the field with some success.
Will that be enough to secure at least six wins, though?
The non-conference schedule is full of must-wins, playing Southern Illinois, Florida International, Western Kentucky and Wake Forest. If the Hoosiers don’t survive that rather cupcake-ish portion of the schedule unscathed, it’s highly unlikely Indiana will be bowling in 2015.
Residing in the Big Ten East and battling powers like Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State make wins in the conference hard to come by for Wilson and company.
The return of Sudfeld should provide some optimism in Bloomington as one of the top returning quarterbacks with plenty of experience will be back on the field for the cream and crimson. But success in the improving Big Ten is going to take more than a healthy quarterback and a maneuverable offensive scheme.
Sudfeld can lead the Hoosiers back to bowl eligibility for the first time since George Bush was in the White House, but not without a little help.