There's something different about this weekend's match-up with Minnesota.
It's not the team's goals, which remain the same for the Hoosiers. Terry Hoeppner's pre-season proclamation of "playing 13" has a chance to come to fruition with a victory in Minneapolis Saturday.
It's also not what others seem to expect this weekend, as Indiana is a 5 ½-point underdog to the 3-6 Gophers.
What's different is the Hoosiers are playing with a bowl bid on the line. The Hoosiers haven't been bowling since their trip to the Shreveport, La., and the Independence Bowl in 1993, and a sixth win Saturday will all but wrap up a postseason trip for Hoeppner's Hoosiers.
It could be Tempe, Orlando, Detroit or even San Antonio, but a victory pretty much guarantees IU won't be in Bloomington over the holidays.
The fact IU stands just one win away from accomplishing a goal very few outside the locker room thought was possible could be a bit of a concern for the IU coaching staff.
"There's a little bit of pressure," admits linebacker Adam McClurg. "But not as much as there's been the last couple of years. I think we'll be up to the challenge."
Bowl trips have been part of the preseason talk for years now, but sluggish starts have ended that talk early on in recent seasons. Indiana got off to a slow start this year as well, but a 3-1 run over the past four weeks has given the Hoosiers three chances to get the required sixth win.
While the Hoosiers could become bowl eligible with a win next weekend at home against No. 2 Michigan or Nov. 18 at Purdue, it's clear their best chance comes Saturday against a Minnesota team that is 0-5 in the Big Ten and has floundered offensively in recent weeks.
"We want to go to this bowl game, and no one will be satisfied until we get there," said James Hardy.
It would be particularly rewarding for a senior class that would be the first group of seniors in 13 years to go out with a postseason trip. While the group of 15 seniors includes only five starters – safety Will Meyers, center Justin Frye, wide receiver Jahkeen Gilmore, safety Troy Grosfield and defensive end Kenny Kendal – it would be an accomplishment the class would long be remembered for.
"It's been 13 classes that have gone by that haven't gotten to a bowl game," Hardy said. "To send this one off being the first…that's the motivation. It will make their lifetime that much better, that they can show their kids they were part of the first bowl game in 13 years."
There's little doubt there will be plenty of nerves on the IU sidelines early on, but expect the Hoosiers to get it done. Look for a big game from tailback Marcus Thigpen against an injury-depleted Gopher defense, which will free up Kellen Lewis to make plays in the passing game as well.
Defensively IU won't have to contend with injured Gopher tight end Matt Spaeth, a player who's caused them fits the last two years. Amir Pinnix is a quality tailback, but he doesn't create the same kind of concerns that Marion Barber, Laurence Maroney, or even Gary Russell did in recent years.
Despite what linesmakers say, this is a game Indiana should win…and needs to win.
"Since you're almost there, you don't slow down – you sprint for that finish line," Hoeppner said. "Turn up the juice, turn up the heat."
Look for Indiana to do that in the Metrodome.
HoosierNation.com Prediction: Indiana 30, Minnesota 13
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