Bloomington – Indiana has one last chance to do something special with its 2008 football season.
Everyone involved knows there won't be a second straight bowl trip or an upper-division Big Ten finish. When Hoosier football historians reflect on the '08 season, they will detail how the season began to unravel back in September thanks to an upstart Ball State squad, and how a smorgasbord of injuries decimated the team and derailed its chances at the postseason.
But there's still one more game and one final chance to do something worth remembering.
On Saturday, a pair of 3-8, last-place Big Ten teams will tangle at Ross-Ade Stadium with only pride and an Old Oaken Bucket on the line. But the significance of both of those items aren't lost on IU Coach Bill Lynch and what it could mean for his team.
"We bring the Bucket back to Bloomington, second year in a row, it sends your seniors off on a positive note," Lynch said. "The memory of that will override some of the disappointments of the year."
The disappointments have been plentiful. There have been both near misses and blowouts. There have been solid first half performances erased by second-half collapses. And there have been a rash of injuries that Lynch believes stunted the team's chances of developing over the course of the three-month season.
"The lack of continuity has really hurt us from an offensive standpoint," Lynch said. "When you're playing different guys up front at different spots every week, it's going to affect your progress. When you're not sure who your quarterbacks are, it's going to affect your progress.
"As a coach, you're always looking for your team to improve as you go through the year. When you don't have that continuity, you don't make the same sort of progress and improvement that you'd hoped to make."
That has contributed to an extremely disappointing season for everyone involved with IU football, one that both Lynch and his players don't want to go through again anytime soon. But that pain and disappointment could be eased immeasurably by a win Saturday against Purdue.
"It's Bucket week," Lynch said. "Anytime you have a rivalry game like this the last game of the season, no matter what's gone on before, it's a big football game."
After bemoaning the injury situation of his team on a weekly basis, Lynch actually feels better about the health of his squad this week.
On the offensive line, both tackle Rodger Saffold and center Pete Saxon made it through the Penn State game without re-aggravating injuries, as did tailback Marcus Thigpen. At defensive tackle Deonte Mack is expected to be back to full strength, and at quarterback both Ben Chappell and Kellen Lewis are expected to be ready to go.
"At the quarterback position, we're as healthy as we've been in four or five weeks," Lynch said.
On the defensive side Lynch said the availability of linebacker Will Patterson and cornerback Richard Council won't be known until later in the week, but Patterson said Tuesday he expects to be on the field.
"I'm confident it will be alright by Saturday," Patterson said.
Saturday's game will mark not only the conclusions of the season for both IU and Purdue, but also the collegiate coaching career of Boilermaker Coach Joe Tiller. Tiller is retiring after 12 seasons and turning the program's reins over to Danny Hope.
Tiller has compiled an 86-62 record in West Lafayette and guided Purdue to 10 bowl games in 12 years. He'll retire as the winningest coach in school history, eclipsing Jack Mollenkopf earlier this season.
Lynch has known Tiller since he was an assistant at Purdue, and applauds his accomplishments during his dozen years in the Big Ten.
"He's had a real impact on football in the Big Ten, throughout the Midwest and certainly in the state of Indiana," Lynch said. "As a coach in the coaching profession, I think you could go around and to a man they'd say Joe Tiller is one of the really good guys. He's a football coach's coach and enjoyable to be around."
One of the biggest positives about the 2008 season has been the job the IU staff has done on the recruiting front. After a disappointing season, the biggest concern becomes keeping the class in tact.
Indiana has 16 verbals to date, including a handful of very highly-recruited players from the Midwest. It's a grouping that could be IU's highest-ranked class in 10-15 years.
But there's already concern about defections. Earlier this week highly-coveted linebacker Jeremy Gainer from Livonia, Mich., said he had re-opened his recruitment and is now considering a handful of other Big Ten programs. Lynch's hope is that once the coaches are able to get out on the road in a couple of weeks that they'll be able to prevent similar decisions from others.
"You do everything can within the rules (Lynch said about keeping the class together)," Lynch said. "Right now we're still limited to one call a week and dropping notes in the mail. You stay in contact with their high school coaches. It opens up here pretty good after Thanksgiving when we can go see them in person."
December will also be a big month, when IU brings most of the members of the class to campus for official visits.
"When we can get them on campus, that's when we can have them and the families here and get back to selling the whole product, which is Indiana University, the academics and everything we have going here, the facilities, and the positive things that are going on."
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Hoosiers Get One Last Shot to Save Season
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