DECKER: What's Happened to IU Football?

What has happened to Indiana football? It's the same question that Hoosier fans have been pondering for the better part of 13 years. But after the Hoosiers' 46-21 demolition of Michigan State Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium, it's for very different reasons.

What has happened to Indiana football?

It's the same question that Hoosier fans have been pondering for the better part of 13 years. But after the Hoosiers' 46-21 demolition of Michigan State Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium, it's for very different reasons.

Since Indiana last went to bowl game in 1993, the Hoosier faithful have, quite honestly, had plenty of reasons to lose faith in an IU program that had taken up residency in the Big Ten basement. In the last 12 years IU has finished last in the Big Ten five times, 10th on four other occasions, and interest in the program has annually dissipated long before the calendar turned to November.

But after Kellen Lewis, James Hardy, and the IU defense got done whipping Michigan State in every way imaginable Saturday, the Hoosiers find themselves 5-4 overall, 3-2 in the Big Ten, and on the brink of fulfilling Terry Hoeppner's vision of "playing 13" and earning a post-game bowl invitation.

Indiana has three cracks at bowl eligibility, starting with a game in Minneapolis next weekend against a Gopher squad that is just 3-6. A showdown with No. 2 Michigan in Bloomington follows Nov. 11, and the season (or make that, the regular season) culminates in West Lafayette Nov. 18 against a 5-4 Purdue squad that has mustered a total of three points in its last two games, losses at home to Wisconsin and Penn State.

Suddenly, what once seemed like a pipe dream is not only attainable, but probable.

Who would have thunk it? Certainly not me, not after Indiana was beaten by a I-AA team at home, followed by an anemic offensive effort in a 14-7 loss to UConn. After Wisconsin rolled into town and rolled over Indiana 52-17 to start the Big Ten season, the question being asked wasn't whether Indiana could win enough games to get to a bowl game. No, the question was whether the Hoosiers could win any more games, period.

So what exactly has happened?

What's happened is Hoeppner's team has overcome the sort of setbacks on and off the field that would have demoralized just about every other team. Remember, this team had to deal with more than just a couple of lopsided losses. It's had to endure the loss of Hoeppner for two games for a second brain surgery, coupled with the absence of its marquee player, James Hardy, for those same two games due to a suspension. It's also had to deal with a few weeks of second-guessers after the staff's decision to go with Lewis at quarterback over junior incumbent Blake Powers.

Through it all, Indiana has emerged as a team that plays like its coach coaches, a squad that makes up for what it lacks with grit and resolve.

That was apparent when IU overcame a 25-7 deficit in Champaign to knock off the Illini three weeks ago, and then again the following week when it shocked 13th-ranked Iowa for IU's first win over a top-15 team in 19 years. And it was equally obvious Saturday afternoon when IU spotted the Spartans a 7-0 lead 3 ½ minutes into the game and then rattled off 46 straight against a team that was every bit as desperate for a win.

So what's happened to IU football? It's emerged from the deepest and darkest of depths that the program has ever experienced, and is now positioned to have a whole lot more Saturdays like the one 36,444 Hoosier fans experienced Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium.

And fans have Terry Hoeppner to thank for what's happened.

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