This post is sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 2011.
This is the second in a series of posts about being an IU fan. Be sure to check out yesterday's post and contribute there as well.
During my time as an IU fan, the Hoosiers have had only three winning seasons, so the picking are sadly slim for this category. The 1993, 1994, and 2007 teams are the only winning teams. The 2001 team finished 5-6, but played very well at points. That's about it. My vote is for the 2007 team. The 7-5 Hoosiers were mediocre, but the team endured the death of coach Terry Hoeppner and gave IU its only bowl berth of the last 16 seasons.
We all know the backstory. Shortly after the end of the the 2005 season, Hoeppner's first at IU, he was diagnosed with brain cancer and underwent surgery. Hoeppner didn't miss a beat until early in the 2006 season, when he missed two games because of another surgery. In 2007, Hoeppner missed spring practice, and in June 2007, IU announced that Bill Lynch would be the head coach for 2007. A few days later Hoeppner died, and the uncertainty that had surrounded the program for the previous season continued. The Hoosiers had shown some promise in 2006. IU finished 5-7, but 3-5 in the Big Ten, sadly IU's best conference record since 2001. The 2006 season included an upset of a highly-ranked Iowa team and a 46-21 beatdown of Michigan State. Unfortunately, while under the leadership of interim coach Bill Lynch, when Hoeppner missed those two games, IU dropped nonconference games to Southern Illinois and Connecticut., which made the difference between 5-7 and 7-5. The preseason prognosticators, understandably skeptical about Lynch (based on his 2006 interim performance and his mediocre record at Ball State) and the ability of the team to weather the loss of Hoeppner, placed IU in the cellar. Still, with the potent combination of quarterback Kellen Lewis and receiver James Hardy, IU fans were somewhat optimistic about the season.
The Hoosiers began the season with necessary but not overly impressive nonconference wins over Indiana State, Western Michigan, and Akron, but lost the Big Ten opener to Illinois at home. At the time, that loss was very disappointing. No one knew that the Illini were Rose Bowl bound, and the Illinois game had seemed like a must win for any bowl scenario. This disappointment lasted only a week. IU next traveled to Iowa, and jumped out to a 21-0 lead on the way to a 38-20 win. Following the surprising win at Iowa, IU beat a bad Minnesota team, and suddenly the Hoosiers were 5-1 on October 6, needing only one more win for conditional bowl eligibility and two more to ensure a bowl bid. The Hoosiers then began a three game losing streak, with beatdown losses to MSU and Wisconsin and a close home loss to Penn State. That put IU at 5-4 with a crucial three game stretch: Ball State, at Northwestern, and Purdue.
IU handled Ball State's potent offense and ensured a non-losing season for the first time since 1993. The next week, at Northwestern, was one of the all-time gut punch games. IU led 14-3 early in the game when Kellen Lewis missed a third down play because of injury. Ben Chappell stepped, in, and on the first meaningful play of his career, the coaching staff allowed him to throw a sideline route, which was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. Northwestern was back in it and ultimately won. That meant that the Old Oaken Bucket Game would be for all of the marbles, from IU's perspective. The Hoosiers had not defeated Purdue since 2001, but in the third quarter, IU pulled out to a 24-3 lead. I had always said that I didn't just want to beat Joe Tiller once more, I wanted to run it up on him like he did in his first couple of years at Purdue. Unfortunately, the Hoosiers took their collective foot of Purdue's neck, and the Boilers came back to tie the game at 24 before Austin Starr's 49-yard field goal sealed the deal.
The Purdue game was something of a microcosm of the season. There were times in 2007 when IU looked really good. There were some very ugly moments: the blowout losses to Wisconsin and MSU, the collapse at Northwestern, the near-collapse against Purdue, Kellen Lewis's midseason fumble-itis. Still, at the end of the Purdue game and the end of the season, things somehow worked out. The 2007 Hoosiers certainly weren't the best IU team I have seen, but they may have been the most important. The team ended a 13-year bowl drought and provided some much-needed happiness to themselves and to a fan base still in mourning over the death of a coach who seemed born to coach at IU. Even if IU somehow turns the corner in football and reaches the point where 7-5 is an expectation or even a disappointment, the 2007 Indiana Hoosiers will hold a special place in the history of the program.
Again, this series will work best if you contribute your thoughts in the comments. Have at it.