Bloomington, Ind. – One thing is certain about this bowl-eligible, six-win Indiana football team.
It has to win again.
After the hugs and pats on the back and locker room celebration following the Hoosiers' 38-20 win over Ball State, it quickly became apparent that the only thing that win guaranteed this Indiana football team is the right to gripe about not going to a bowl game if it finishes 6-6.
With the win, Indiana became the seventh Big Ten team to be bowl eligible, joining Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Wisconsin, Illinois and Purdue. Meanwhile, Iowa, Northwestern and Michigan State remained one victory away from eligibility after Saturday's play came to a close.
With only seven guaranteed bowl slots for the Big Ten and those three other Big Ten teams on the brink of postseason eligibility, it's unimaginable, unfortunately, that a 6-6 Indiana team will be going anywhere but home to their families for the holidays.
If Indiana does lose its final two games, that guarantees Northwestern (next week's opponent) is bowl eligible with a win over IU. Iowa, meanwhile, is all but certain to become bowl eligible as well with home games against Minnesota (1-9) and Western Michigan (3-6) remaining on the schedule. And that right there is enough to extend the Hoosiers' bowl-less streak to 14 seasons.
Why? Let's start with Northwestern, which concludes its season with a Nov. 17 match-up at Illinois. Coach Tim Fitzgerald's team would sit ahead of IU in the conference standings (3-5 vs. 2-6) and would own a head-to-head win over the Hoosiers. Even the most fervent Hoosier backer would have to concede that the Wildcats would be more deserving than Indiana.
Iowa's case, admittedly, is a little more dicey. After all, Indiana did beat Iowa handily in Iowa City earlier this year, 38-20. But thanks to wins over Michigan State and Northwestern these last two weeks, the Hawkeyes suddenly have three Big Ten victories already, with the prospects of a fourth against Minnesota. In addition, Iowa's football fan base travels as well as just about anyone in the Big Ten if not the country, which is a HUGE consideration for bowl representatives.
I've heard the counter-arguments to that claim, those who talk about Indiana University's "largest living alumni base," and the fact that IU's 13-year bowl drought would all but guarantee a large fan turnout. But the bottom line is bowl reps are going to look at home attendance (IU's ranks 10th in the Big Ten ahead of only Northwestern) and past bowl trips (toward the end of the Bill Mallory era IU was unable to sell it's allotment of bowl tickets while Iowa fans have always gobbled up everything in sight). And unfortunately, there's nothing to point at to suggest Indiana would be a more worthy or profitable choice than either Northwestern or Iowa.
I'm the first to admit that Indiana's tale is one that deserves to be told in the postseason. After all, this is a team that's overcome the loss of its head coach and found a way to bring an end to a streak of 12 straight losing seasons. It's a heart-warming story of perseverance and togetherness that any college football fan would like to hear, one that makes you desperately want to see these players and these coaches get a chance to "Play 13" in honor of Terry Hoeppner.
But anything short of picking up a seventh win in one of these next two weeks means it isn't going to happen.
Bowl-Eligible Hoosiers Still Need Another 'W'
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