IU now has one last chance to get that sixth win and qualify for a bowl game for the second year in a row, and it’ll have to beat rival Purdue for the second straight season to do so. The Hoosiers beat the Boilermakers in West Lafayette last season to reach 6-6, and if they win again this season, will finish with the exact same regular season record.
IU Coach Kevin Wilson took time during Thanksgiving week to update the media on the status of the program as it looks to win the Old Oaken Bucket for the fourth straight year.
IU’s let multiple chances at victories slip through its grasps this season, especially in the last two weeks with second half leads over top 10 teams in Michigan and Penn State.
Purdue may enter the contest at 3-8 overall and 1-7 in the Big Ten, but Wilson made sure to acknowledge the times it had chances against top competition too.
“They've had Wisconsin in the first quarter last week 3-0, second quarter got away,” Wilson said. “Northwestern is 14-10 at half. They've got the lead at Minnesota 28-23. They're tied up with Penn State 17-17 at the half. They have the lead at Nebraska 14-10.”
The Boilermakers didn’t win any of those games, but the Hoosiers failed to collect wins against Northwestern, Penn State, Nebraska and others, too.
Wilson has always been high on the fact that IU has a rival, noting that some schools don’t have the opportunity for rivalry games. And since it’s rivalry week in college football, anything’s possible.
“We're going to need a good week because any time you play the rival game, end of the year, there's always a lot of juice and energy from both sides,” Wilson said. “It's going to be a physical game. It's going to be a tough game.”
As this is at least the last regular season and home game of the year, it is the last of the same for IU’s seniors.
The offensive line this year has been graced with the likes of Dan Feeney, Jacob Bailey, Dimitric Camiel and Wes Rodgers. Ricky Jones and Mitchell Paige lead the receiving core, and Ralph Green II the defensive line. Dawson Fletcher has been a part of arguably one of the best linebacker groups in the Big Ten.
There are more that have contributed to the program this year and over their career, and Wilson has enjoyed the time he’s spent with them.
“You don't feel like you're pulling teeth every day to get them going,” Wilson said. “So it's a good group, they've set a pretty good standard.”
While this group has been a part of IU’s journey from the cellar of the Big Ten to a worthy competitor against top ranked foes, Wilson said the Hoosiers aren’t quite where they need to be yet.
There’s youth on the offensive line that’s shown promise for the future, youth that will have to replace the likes of Feeney, who will take part in the Senior Bowl this year as former Hoosier Jason Spriggs did last season.
The defense will have a host of its force back next year, as will IU’s skill and quarterback positions. And the number of mid-year graduations Wilson’s squad has could open up room for recruits to enroll early, or possibly be an opportunity for deserving walk-ons to be put on scholarship.
Still, Wilson’s focus has been on Purdue. Not a bowl game. Not 2017. Purdue.
“You've recruited, you have developed, you have practiced, you have played your season, and now you're into this game week, and now you have this game week and you go play this game,” Wilson said. “You go about and see if you can do what it takes to earn it. That's all we talk about.”