Bloomington, Ind. – This is uncharted territory for everyone on the IU football roster.
For the last 13 years, their Memorial Stadium lockers have been emptied by the first week of December. A couple of those seasons have ended with success against Purdue in the regular season finale, most of them with failure, but every one has ended without a trip to a postseason bowl game.
Until now. Austin Starr made sure of that with his game-winning 49-yard field goal in the final minute against the Boilermakers 2 ½ weeks ago, and now the Hoosiers are preparing for a Dec. 31 match-up with Oklahoma State in the Insight Bowl in Tempe, Ariz.
Instead closing the books on each season a couple of days before Thanksgiving, this team will be playing all the way up to New Year's Eve.
That's something new for all 110 players on the Hoosier roster.
"It's a great feeling to feel like we have another season," said sophomore Jammie Kirlew. "We have a chance to do some more things."
While Indiana ultimately achieved its stated preseason goal of "Playing 13" by earning a trip to a bowl game, earning a trip to the postseason has been the objective for each of IU's teams since the 1993 team earned an invite to the Independence Bowl. But 13 straight senior classes capped their career with that goal unfulfilled, leaving it to the next group to try to accomplish.
But this year's 16-man senior class will go out as the group that finally achieved that objective.
"That means a lot," said fifth-year senior middle linebacker Adam McClurg. "It's something we've been preaching for the last five years, but we hadn't been able to get it done. It's something special for these seniors, something we can remember for the rest of our lives."
Indiana's trip to Insight Bowl will also be more than just a memory. Each of IU's bowl teams has its team picture on the Memorial Stadium office walls, and McClurg is glad knowing that this year's accomplish will always be around for others to see.
"That's an awesome feeling," McClurg said. "I'll be able to bring my kids and anyone in my life and show them how we go this program going. It's going to be a good feeling."
It would be an even better feeling, though, if McClurg, Kirlew and the rest of the Hoosiers can go out with a win in Tempe against its Big 12 Conference foe. Both know that Coach Mike Gundy's team has an explosive offense with plenty of playmakers, but each feels the mission won't be complete unless they are able to hoist the Insight Bowl Trophy later this month.
"Now that we're going it's important to go and compete and to win," Kirlew said. "We want to come back with a ring."
The Hoosiers are already getting ready for the Cowboys, having practiced three times over the weekend. They have a pair of practices scheduled for this weekend as well, and they'll go hard beginning Dec. 17th in preparation for the team's departure for Tempe Dec. 27.
"You'd think you'd be dreading practice, but it's actually kid of fun," said McClurg. "With a bowl game, everyone is up-tempo and excited. Coaches aren't trying to kill you, you're just trying to get back into football.
"I don't know what to expect from this game, but everyone will be back to full strength, it's going to be a good feeling – like playing the first game again."
Uncharted Territory for IU Football
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