NEW YORK --- For Indiana senior quarterback Nate Sudfeld and senior left tackle Jason Spriggs, Saturday was a bittersweet end to their careers.
In their fourth and final season, they accomplished what they and the rest of their classmates set out to achieve when the arrived in Bloomington in the summer of 2012: getting Indiana to its first bowl game since 2007. But their fourth and final season was concluded in heartbreaking fashion with a 44-41 overtime loss to Duke in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.
Still, Indiana's senior class has a lot of to be proud of and has set the foundation for what should be an energized offseason for the Hoosiers.
This season, five of Indiana's seven losses were by eight or less points - including a double-overtime loss to Michigan and and seven-point loss to Ohio State. In past seasons, the Hoosiers might've given up and lost by more. But this group did not give up until the game clock hit zero.
Losses like the one Saturday night and over the course of the 2015 regular season will give the Hoosiers motivation they haven't had in eight years.
They should also be encouraged by a record-setting offense which set a program mark in total points (475), total yards (6,556), passing yards (3,820), first downs (337) and passing first downs (168). Those records led the way in making IU the Big Ten leader in scoring offense, total offense and pass offense.
There are some uncertainties that will affect Indiana.
The most immediate: will Kevin Wilson get a contract extension? He's in the fifth year of a seven-year deal and, aside from saying he has an agent that handles negotiations, hasn't publicly commented on the status of any potential negotations between him and Indiana Athletics Director Fred Glass.
Given how well he got his first group that has played under him their entire college careers to buy into the program, he certainly seems to have earned one. It would also benefit Indiana's recruiting by giving committed and potential recruts reassurance that Wilson is the program's leader for the forseeable future.
Running back Jordan Howard's status next year will also affect the expectations of the team by the players and their fans. Eric Galko of Optimum Scouting reported on Dec. 7 that Howard was expected to declare for the NFL Draft, but Howard hasn't officially declared yet or made any public comments about his draft status.
There's also the defense which has been historically bad and continues to give up big plays.
Despite forcing three turnovers in Saturday's Pinstripe Bowl, Indiana's defense gave up a 73-yard touchdown run by Duke quarterback Thomas Sirk, an 85-yard touchdown run by running back Shaun Wilson and a 98-yard kickoff return by Wilson.
There is reason for optism with the defense, though, with the players coming in. Indiana's secondary should improve with the addition of junior college safety Jayme Thompson, former four-star cornerback and South Carolina transfer Wesley Green. Redshirt sophomore safety Chase Dutra, who did not play in the bowl game because of an injury and was on crutches on the sidelines, will be healthy again. Redshirt sophomore corner Rashard Fant, who for much of the regular season led the nation in pass breakups, will also be back. With their experience, it's reasonably to expect Indiana can cut down on the big plays which plagued it so often Saturday and throughout the regular season.
Saturday was a tough loss, but the foundation set by Indiana's senior class and the projected improved defense should give Indiana a reason to be optimistic about its current state heading into the offseason.