We can all agree on this: Taking the Indiana Hoosiers to a bowl game is no easy task.
Which, of course, is why so few coaches have ever managed to do so.
In truth, only one coach in the entire history of Hoosier football has ever managed to make the program a consistent winner. His name was Bo McMillan, he served as head coach from 1934 to 1947, and he somehow and someway managed to rack up a career record of 63–48–11 in Bloomington. In Big Ten play, he was 34–34–6 (at Indiana, believe me, this is a true achievement). And he delivered the school’s only ever outright Big Ten title.
No coach has ever done better. Yes, the program had some good years under John Pont (1965-1972, including a shared Big Ten crown in 1967), Lee Corso (1973-1982) and Bill Mallory (1984-1996), and yes, the late Terry Hoeppner offered a hint of what might be for this long-suffering program during his too-short stint from 2005-2006, but for the most part, and for most of its history, Indiana has been a loser of a program.
Great in hoops. Miserable in football. That’s Indiana.
The perennial challenge facing every Hoosier football coach, then, is obvious: Getting to six wins. Getting to a bowl game.
Sounds easy. But it hasn’t been. And never will be.
The Hoosiers have made only nine bowl appearances in their history, with the most recent coming in 2007; before that, the most recent was way back in 1993. And the simple reality is that no coach in program history has ever consistently taking the Hoosiers bowling.
Now entering his fifth season in Bloomington, coach Kevin Wilson has yet to accomplish that goal, and though I am of the opinion that Wilson needs to be given more time, there almost surely is a faction among the Hoosier faithful who, given another losing season, might want to see Wilson ushered out. Fair or not, the benchmark for success at Indiana has been clear and straightforward: bowl-eligible, or bust. Wilson hasn’t achieved that.
But how close is he to doing so?
I fear they are still at least three of four quality players—and at least one more year—away. In fact, even though Wilson has now had some time to build this program the way he wants to build it, this year’s squad probably won’t be his strongest.
Gone from last year’s team is star tailback Tevin Coleman, and it’s unlikely Wilson will have anyone on the roster who can fill that guy’s shoes. Yes, quarterback Nate Sudfield is back after injury last season, and his return will bolster what had been a pretty dreadful passing game in 2014. So, too, will a better-than-think crop of young wideouts. Even without Coleman, and thanks mostly to Wilson’s offensive chops, this team will score points. Maybe not a ton of points. But enough to win.
Unfortunately, that offense will be offset by a defense that is certain to once again be among the worst in the Big Ten.
The defenses have been awful for years now at Indiana. This year’s unit won’t be any different. The Hoosiers aren’t big enough, strong enough or fast enough to compete against the better teams in the Big Ten. They just aren’t. Because of that, a bowl bid seems like a long-shot this season. And because of that, too, a bowl bid pretty much any season will be a long-shot.
The bottom line? Unless and until Wilson manages to build some semblance of a defense, he and his program will just keep chasing their collective tails.
The dream of a bowl bid is there. It’s not an unattainable dream. But it won’t be realized until some fundamental changes—and fundamental improvements—are made across the defensive front seven. Whether or not Wilson is the guy who can get that job done remains to be seen.