Wilson, Indiana seniors' patience rewarded in Bucket victory

Saturday's Old Oaken Bucket victory over rival Purdue rewarded the patience of Wilson and his first recruiting class.

Nate Sudfeld could've gone to UCLA, Stanford or Arizona. Nick Mangieri could've chosen Boston College or Northwestern. Jason Spriggs had some offers from MAC schools. Jake Reed got the attention of Louisville and Stanford. 

But they all committed to Indiana, buying into IU head coach Kevin Wilson's vision of turning around a program which hadn't had a winning season since 2007. 

Saturday, their buy-in and patience was rewarded in a 54-36 win over Purdue in the Old Oaken Bucket game at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind. The Hoosiers are bowl-eligible for the first time since 2007. 

"It means a lot," Sudfeld said. "This is what we came here for." 

The current and previous seasons for Sudfeld and his senior classmates weren't without their struggles. 

Before winning the second and third ever Big Ten road games of their careers, Sudfeld and co. endured four losses by eight points or less through their first six Big Ten games. Close, but not close enough, or something along those lines, became a familiar phrase for the program during that time. 

But this season, they were closer in Big Ten play than they'd ever been before. Some of those losses came against teams ranked in the top 15, including Michigan, Iowa and Ohio State, by a combined 25 points. 

There was also the blown 25 point lead at home against Rutgers during IU's homecoming game. Still, the Hoosiers persevered.

"Looking back on the season, it's still a little frustrating because we felt like we could've had a lot more wins," Sudfeld said. "But at the same time, ultimately we made to the postseason, or are at least bowl-eligible." 

Despite being 1-17 in Big Ten road games under Wilson, Indiana found a way to win its final two games of the regular season - both on the road - without star running back Jordan Howard, who injured his knee against Maryland and did not play against Purdue. 

Indiana relied on a committee approach to the running back position, and together those running backs accounted for 309 of the Hoosiers' 659 yards of total offense in the Bucket game. 

It was the third-straight bucket victory for Wilson and this senior class, a feat which hadn't been accomplished by Indiana since it won the Bucket four consecutive years from 1944-1947. It was also just the third time since 1993 Indiana has reached the postseason. 

Even with the close losses, the approach remained the same and the players came in each day and worked hard. 

"Really, I'm just proud of the seniors and thankful for them," Wilson said. "To me, it's more about them than me or the coaches." 

After staying committed and playing through 4-8, 5-7, and 4-8 seasons respectively through their first three years, those seniors now have a potential bowl game to look forward to. 

Where the Hoosiers go won't likely be determined until Sunday, according to Wilson. However, bowl projections have mentioned Indiana as a potential candidate to play in the Foster Farms Bowl in Santa Clara, Calif. or the Pinstripe Bowl in New York. For what it's worth, representatives from the Pinstripe Bowl attempted Indiana's homecoming game against Rutgers on Oct. 17. 

Sudfeld likely would prefer the Foster Farms Bowl because it's only 30 minutes away from his hometown of Modesto, Calif., though I'm sure he and the rest of the Hoosiers will be pleased wherever they may end up.

After all, this is what they patiently worked for. 

"I'm just proud of those guys as seniors, those fourth- and fifth-year guys," Wilson said. "To me, they had already done a lot - win, lose or draw. And they have a high esteem in my world, no matter the outcome of the day. 

"I'm just glad we get a chance to spend a few more weeks together. The chance to practice a little football over the holidays is always a good deal." 

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