Previously in this series: Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Nebraska, and Michigan State
The Preseason Hype
Coming into 2013, there was a lot to be excited about for Indiana football. Coach Wilson had brought in a class including some homegrown 4-star recruits, there were 8 home games, including a rematch with Navy and an early test against Missouri, and a team coming off a 4-8 season which had just enough good memories associated with it that people were thinking bowl game from week 1.
The Non-Con Confusion
All four of IU's non-con opponents traveled to Bloomington, so the potential for a 4-0 start to the season certainly existed. The confidence only grew with a 73-35 beatdown of Indiana State that nearly set a school record for points in a single game, but some concerns were raised about giving up 35 points and over 300 yards of total offense to an FCS school. Most were content with a dominating victory over a team Indiana had struggled with the year before, a feeling that nearly turned into utter hilarity as that same FCS school nearly upset Purdue before yielding the Boilers their only win of the season.
And then there was Navy. The defense failed to keep the Midshipmen off the board on any of their possessions, and allowed over 500 yards to Navy, the vast majority of which came on consistent, hard rushing. Nate Sudfeld threw a redzone interception that killed what could have easily been the difference for Indiana. The loss was extremely frustrating, and the Hoosiers took out their frustrations on eventual MAC champion Bowling Green. Though the Falcons had the highlight of the game with a "blocked" punt return for a touchdown (can it really be a block if the ball was just stolen off the punter's foot?), Indiana held the Bowling Green offense off the scoreboard, allowing only a field goal the rest of the way. The defense still gave up over 400 yards of offense, but the final score was the focus of most fans.
Finally, Indiana played host to the Missouri Tigers in primetime. The Tigers had finished 5-7 in their first year as an SEC school, so there was some hope in Bloomington that IU might prevail in the only regular season meeting between the Big Ten and SEC. A late first half interception of Sudfeld returned for a touchdown ended that hope, as the Hoosiers never got closer the rest of the way. A non-con schedule man were hoping would produce 4 victories for the Hoosiers only produced 2, though all of Indiana's FBS opponents ended their seasons in a bowl game, revealing the schedule was tougher than anyone had realized going in, and Indiana may have been lucky to not start 1-3.
A New Hope, an Unkind Road, and Heartbreak
Indiana's first bye week came between the end of the non-conference season and the beginning of Big Ten play. A much needed rest delivered the biggest shock of the season from the Hoosiers: their first win over Penn State football in history. Suddenly, bowl talk, which had fallen off tremendously after the Missouri game, was right back on the table. And with the Old Brass Spittoon game the following week, Hoosier fans were hoping the rivalry would get the team pumped up enough to upset the Spartans in East Lansing.
The first road game of the season did produce decent offense against a powerful defense, but not nearly enough to bring Ol' Brassy back to Bloomington, though no one in the nation outside of South Bend, Indiana was able to, so Indiana was in good company. The second trip the following week to Ann Arbor produced more offense, but showed just how far the defense needed to come, as allowing 63 points to a team that finishes 7-6 tends not to lead to wins, especially on the road. IU's second bye week was much less optimistic, as winnable games were running out for the Hoosiers.
The last, best chance to make a bowl game started with beating Minnesota at home just after Halloween. And while the game looked good and then horrible and then amazing and then just kinda bad for Indiana, there was little doubt that the Hoosiers were right where they wanted to be, driving late in the game down only 3. And then....
Though it wasn't 100% confirmed at the time, this was the day that Indiana's bowl hopes died for good.
The Final Act Plays to Expectations
Indiana's final four games were Illinois, @Wisconsin, @Ohio State, and Purdue for the Old Oaken Bucket. A back and forth game with the Illini, where the Hoosiers finally pulled away in the 4th quarter, produced the win the Hoosiers needed to keep bowl eligibility a possibility, but requiring an upset of a top Big Ten team on the road. Traveling to Madison only produced another lopsided loss for the Hoosiers, where the offense was held out of the end zone the entire game for the only time all year. Then, a trip to Columbus produced a nationally televised blowout by the Buckeyes in the snow, officially ended the bowl dream.
With only pride and a rivalry trophy left to play for, the Hoosiers hosted Purdue. And in a performance that needed to happen, the Hoosiers blew the doors off the failtrain en route to a 56-36 victory. Though the defense allowed almost 500 yards through the air, the Indiana run game, which had been at best good and at worst dismal, exploded for 401 yards and two Stephen Houston touchdowns against the Boilers.
Giveaways, Takeaways, and the Future
For a team that came into the year expecting a bowl, finishing 5-7 is disappointing, but still an improvement over the prior year. Now, with the new divisions set to be in place for next year, the Hoosiers once again seek to rise above mediocrity and make it back to the postseason. Co-defensive coordinator Doug Mallory, who received much of the blame for the up and down (mostly down) play of the defense, was let go in January, and there was much rejoicing. Much of the defensive leadership graduated, and Cody Latimer has left school to declare for the NFL draft, but the Hoosiers are actually reloading well in recruiting, and most of the high-powered offense returns to power the Hoosiers into 2014.