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Rutgers a Must-Win for Bowl-Starved Indiana

The dream is not dead.

If coach Kevin Wilson needs to share any message with his Indiana Hoosiers, it is precisely that: The dream is not dead.

Not by a long shot.

As we’ve written here several times this season, the singular goal for Indiana football under Wilson has been clear and simple: get to a bowl game. Any bowl game. Whether it’s a sunny locale in Arizona or cold and gray Detroit in winter—it really doesn’t matter. Because more than anything else, what this program needs is to play football in the postseason.

Wilson knows this. In fact, he’s been completely open about the fact that he knows this. In order to get the program to where he probably would want it to be—an occasional contender for maybe nine or 10 wins, perhaps—he knows he’s first got to get over that bowl-eligibility hump. If he can simply do that on a semi-consistent basis, he truly believes his program can move forward.

And you know? He’s right.

But the Indiana administration can’t wait forever—and that’s why this weekend’s showdown against Rutgers is so hugely important.

The Hoosiers started the season a surprising 4-0, and then put up a tremendous fight in their eventual 34-27 loss to Ohio State. It was a game the Hoosiers really could have won—and probably would have won if they had bit more talent on defense; as it was, the still paper-thin Indiana defense was gashed by Ezekiel Elliott, and that was that.

The result of the Buckeye clash was disappointing, yes, but it wasn’t just a game that was lost that day. The Hoosiers that night in Bloomington also lost the services of tailback Jordan Howard, who has been so hugely important this season, as well as quarterback Nate Sudfeld, who is undeniably one of the finest passers in the Big Ten.

Without those two guys, the Hoosiers limped into Happy Valley last week and, though there were some who believed they could pull of the victory, eventually turned nothing short of a dud of a performance. It’s true, of course, that having Howard and Sudfeld would have been helpful. But the Hoosiers are a better team than they looked in that 29-7 loss—and now, sitting at 4-2, they need to prove that, yes, they really are ready to make that big leap forward.

For this team, in other words, it’s time to put up or shut up. Because their dream is on the line.

In that context, there can hardly be a better team to be playing right now than the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. The Knights have been a hot mess for weeks now, and with coach Kyle Flood only this week finally coming off suspension, it certainly can’t be said that this is a program firing on all cylinders.

Rutgers put up a fight against Michigan State last week, yes, but one must wonder how the Knights will respond to the bizarre and heartbreaking way the game ended—with quarterback Chris Laviano spiking the ball to stop the clock on a last-minute drive, apparently unaware that it was, unfortunately, fourth down. The play in many ways symbolized Rutgers’ entire season. The Knights aren’t a good team, they aren’t a confident team, and they aren’t a particularly smart team.

Which is to say, yes, a victory for the Hoosiers is there for the taking—and yes, that’s even taking into account the fact that both Howard and Sudfeld are apparently going to be game-time decisions.

With those guys or without them, the Hoosiers are better than the Knights. They just are.

Now they need to go out there and prove it.

Is this the biggest game of Wilson’s tenure in Bloomington?

It just might be. And if he wants to eventually see his vision for this program come to fruition, he had better win it.

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