Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Kevin Wilson is just the second head football coach to bring IU to back-to-back bowls.
By Sam Beishuizen | Staff Writer
November 28, 2016
IU football's 26-24 win against Purdue wasn't the prettiest of victories.
It wasn't a sexy win. The Hoosiers grinded it out against an in-state rival that only had the Old Oaken Bucket left to play for. But IU won, clinching its second consecutive bowl bid in the process.
You know what that looks like?
You know who deserves credit for it?
It took time for Indiana's head coach to build the Hoosiers into a competitive program, and his work is far from over. Back-to-back six-win bowl seasons aren't out of this world good, fine.
But for Indiana football, that's a significant accomplishment.
By beating Purdue for a fourth consecutive year—and oh by the way, only one other IU coach has ever done that…ever—Wilson became just the second Indiana head coach to lead the Hoosiers to back-to-back bowl teams. The other way Bill Mallory, who did it twice.
Mallory's 1991 team was the last in program history to win a bowl game. Wilson's going to have the chance to make that stat far less relevant at the end of December against whatever opponent in whatever bowl the Hoosiers get sent out to.
Yes, around the same time Zander Diamont was kneeling in the end zone for a safety to win the game against Purdue—that was a percentage play, by the way—Michigan and Ohio State were heading to overtime in a battle of College Football Playoff candidate teams. Indiana football isn't exactly front page news on a national landscape.
But Kevin Wilson is quietly doing a hell of a job at a school where the mighty basketball program will forever shadow the football program that is too often the butt of jokes among its own fan base.
This year, Indiana claimed the Old Oaken Bucket and Old Brass Spittoon in the same season for just the fifth time ever. The Hoosiers did so reinventing themselves, finishing their regular season ranked No. 40 in total defense (credit Wilson's hiring of Tom Allen there) and No. 53 in total offense.
No, the wins weren't pretty. Indiana's six victories came against opponents with a combined winning percentage of just 30.5 percent. But the wins came. Isn't that what matters?
Because remember, IU had only won six games or more in a single season ONCE in the 16 years before Wilson accepted the head coaching duties before the 2011 season. In six years, he's now gotten Indiana to the bowl eligibility mark twice.
There's a reason IU extended the man's contract through 2021 in January.
With plenty of key pieces returning next season, including who many projected to be the best offensive weapon in Simmie Cobbs back from injury, Indiana seems destined to be in a pretty spot to head to a third straight bowl game for just the third time. Another win against Purdue would mark five in a row, the longest such streak in a rivalry that dates back 119 years.
Recruiting appears to be in a good place. The classes have continually gotten better, players have developed and in-state prospects are choosing the Hoosiers now with seven Indiana natives already pledged in the 2017 class. IU fans complain about Tom Crean missing in-state talent all the time, but the same can't really be said for Wilson any more. These are Hoosiers choosing the Hoosiers.
The climb up the Big Ten's pecking order is a steep one, especially in the Big Ten East. The Michigans and Ohio States of the world are going to rule, and Penn State is surging back into national contention.
But did you notice who finished fourth in the Big Ten East behind three programs with a legitimate chance at making the College Football Playoff to fight for a national championship? You probably can guess.
Kevin Wilson's Hoosiers.
Indiana football isn't elite. It isn't going to become elite any time soon. Attendance is bad, and doesn't seem to react to the team winning. The pulse among students remains dull. There's so many bowl games that being one of 80 teams in the postseason doesn't seem to resonate all that much, and that's understandable. That is what it is.
But what Wilson is doing is noteworthy whether we choose to admit it or not.
He's fixing IU football.
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