Greetings, Michigan fans. More of the Big Ten In Review series coming your way, where we look (briefly) at the other football teams in the conference and how they did in 2012.
In this issue, we're taking a peek at how the Indiana Hoosiers performed.
So. Kevin Wilson. How good is he?
His 2011 debut season as a head coach was bad. The Hoosiers couldn't seem to do anything on their way to a 1-11 record. In 2012, Indiana went 4-8, but it wasn't a bad 4-8. It was a very competitive 4-8. I know, that doesn't make any sense.
The Hoosiers took wins wherever they could get them, starting out 2-0 against Indiana State (an FCS school) and Charley Molnar's UMass Minutemen, newly minted for the MAC but not really. Indiana then proceeded to lose their next five straight games, but here's the thing: four of those losses came by four points or less. The worst of the bunch was against Northwestern, to whom Indiana lost by 15.
Wilson then won two conference games against Illinois and Iowa, the Big Ten's bottom dwellers for 2012. In a strange twist of fate, all Indiana had to do was beat Wisconsin in the following week and, with Ohio State and Penn State ineligible to represent the Leaders Division in the championship game, it could be Indiana of all teams that would have been possibly in the discussion for the Big Ten championship at the end of the year.
Sadly, that's where Wilson's limited amount of luck ran out. The Hoosiers lost their final three games handily.
Expectations Coming In:
Your expectations can't be too high for your football team when you're a basketball school, you just hired a new coach, and he just went 1-11. There was more skepticism than optimism in Bloomington as Kevin Wilson ruffled feathers with his curmudgeon-like demeanor and many were questioning if the coach, at 51, was ready for a head coaching gig (especially in the Big Ten) at this point in his career or if he ever would be.
Best Moment of 2012:
Wilson and his offense certainly silenced the doubters by staying in games against much more talented teams. It's tough to say which one of them all was the "best." Our friendly Indiana brethren at fellow SB nation blog Crimson Quarry didn't post a great deal about the football season as it was going on, so it's not easy to gauge the fanbase's reaction to the season or to individual game performances.
So, I'm taking a wild guess on this one. I'm going to say it's a tie between two moments.
The first was the extremely close loss to Ohio State, where Indiana was an onside kick away from upsetting the No. 8-ranked Buckeyes. However, the failed onside kick recovery sealed the deal in the final 30 seconds of the game. Although the Hoosiers may have lost, the game was a sign that Wilson's offense could go toe-to-toe with anybody.
The second was the defeat over Iowa, where the Hoosiers went out 24-21 to secure their second Big Ten victory. That win propelled Indiana into the discussion of representing the Leaders Division in the championship game. As bizarre as that might sound, with Wilson's offense doing so well, it didn't seem entirely out of the question.
A runner-up to the tied Best Moment(s) may be the onetime commitment of No. 1-rated quarterback Gunner Kiel to the class. The few Indiana football fans that were out there had a few months of sheer delight. Kiel eventually switched his commitment to LSU and ultimately Notre Dame, where he is expected to ride the pine for the next three years behind Everett Golson, but the fact that Kiel even gave Wilson a "yes" at all showed that Wilson can at least get Indiana in the conversation with the best high school prospects.
Worst Moment of 2012:
Losing out on Kiel hurt, but it wasn't unexpected. The worse moments of 2012 came on the field, for much in the same reason they were simultaneously considered the best.
Indiana was so close to pulling off the upset against Ohio State that the loss had to be heartbreaking. Going into the final three games of the season, the Hoosiers were two wins away from bowl eligibility but lost all three. The worst was probably the season-ending defeat at the hands of a struggling Purdue team, which clinched a post-season appearance while preventing Indiana from finishing the year on a high note of 5-7 instead of 4-8.
A runner-up to Worst Moment could be when Indiana frosh QB Tre Roberson, considered the primary engine behind Wilson's offense, shattered his leg against UMass. This actually may make more sense for the Actual Worst Moment, but I'm not so sure especially after Indiana went on to have a competitive offense even without Roberson leading it. For the moment that it happened, however, all the hearts in Bloomington collectively sunk, and a 2-10 season looked to be on the horizon. Fortunately, that didn't happen.
Expectations Going Forward:
Since this is Indiana we're talking about, expectations are always going to kept on an even keel. You could say that this year's Hoosier fans are last year's Minnesota fans: they've seen the progress, and they want a bowl game. However, given that Indiana has struggled to go to bowl games consistently for past two decades, they've learned to be less demanding.
Kevin Wilson's competitive offense kept the Hoosiers in games that many expected them to lose (and lose big), so there's the sense that the team, which was one of the youngest in the Big Ten, will only get better with age.
Given how close Indiana was in 2012, 5-7 in 2013 will prompt some rare grumbles from devoted football fans of Indiana, while 6-6 or 7-5 seems to be the most realistic target. Anything better than that would be gravy.