What a difference it makes to win the bowl game. I have been on both sides of that fence. I was 2-3 in bowl games, and the off-season after the three losses can mess with your confidence. A team can have shaken confidence if they lose that bowl game, asking things such as "How good are we? Are we as fast as the other teams out there? Do we have what it takes?"
Don't confuse what I am saying. If you think you are a gift to the college football gods, you will be embarrassed. If you think you can put it on cruise control and just roll the helmets out there for the Big Ten ring, you will be exposed. Your work ethic, concentration, and practice habits must resemble the hungry freshman fighting for a spot on the depth chart. Your confidence, though, must resemble the All-World playmaker returning for that senior season.
I get the sense that the coaches and players genuinely feel this can be a special year. The confidence is there. The pieces of the defense should come together while the playmaking on offense should be elevated. We need that sound kicking game and of course there are issues to think about in every facet of the game. However, this team feels like the core -- things like talent, depth, leadership, mental toughness, intelligence -- are there. The big things line up real nice for 2005. The players get scholarships and the coaches get paychecks to take care of those smaller things.
That is so great to see after the team struggled early in the Big Ten last year. I was unsure how the team would respond after Iowa. Well, they showed me there is life after Krenzel and Smith and Gamble. They got on a roll. They beat a good Michigan team. They beat a good Oklahoma State team. The confidence is there as they try to build during spring ball. We will need that confidence when Miami comes in thinking they can beat us. We will need that confidence when Iowa or Texas have us in a close one in the 4th quarter.
That Oklahoma State victory sure was a nice springboard.