Indiana football at the halfway point.

Pat Lovell-US PRESSWIRE

The Hoosiers stand at 2-4/0-3 with six games on the books and six to go. What should we expect going forward?

As some of you may have noted, I have been absent for the last few days. Many, many thanks to Devin and AJ for keeping things afloat while I was out of town and mostly offline (although Devin's "Indiana 49, Ohio State 52" headline made my heart skip a beat when I got back online Sunday, until I read the second half of it). That explains the absence of Blogpoll and Q&A coverage this week, but we're back at full steam starting today.

At the halfway point, Indiana stands at 2-4, 0-3 in the Big Ten. Before the season, I think most of us would have considered such a record to be something close to the worst case scenario, although perhaps the most pessimistic among us might have considered a loss to Indiana State possible as well. The Hoosiers are in the midst of a four game losing streak, lost to Ball State for the third consecutive meeting, and have now lost 11 consecutive Big Ten games. The defense rates 103 overall and 109 against the run. Yet, there is an unmistakable air of optimism surrounding IU football right now. Why is that?

  • The offense has been very effective. While its periods of stagnation (third quarter against Ball State, first half against Northwestern, second half against MSU) have turned what could have been wins into close losses, IU ranks #27 in total offense, #15 in passing offense, and #54 in pass efficiency.
  • The quarterbacks. I think this season always will involve an element of wondering what would have happened if Tre Roberson hadn't broken his leg. Roberson looked very polished as a passer during the limited time we saw him this season, and it's easy to wonder whether this passing offense plus his ability to improvise wouldn't have been the difference in IU's close games. Still, Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld have been very good in relief. IU has three scholarship quarterbacks. Coffman has two years of eligibility remaining after 2012, and Roberson and Sudfeld have three each. I would be comfortable going into 2013 with any of the three as the starter, yet IU will have all of them for multiple seasons.
  • The fight. I've mentioned this before, but the trend continued against Ohio State. There now have been several games in both of Kevin Wilson's two seasons as IU's coach in which IU appeared to be out of it but fought back to have a chance in the final minutes: Ball State, Virginia, North Texas, Penn State, and Purdue last season; Ball State, Northwestern, and Ohio State this season. That's eight of Wilson's 18 games. Now, of course the gut-wrenching loss to MSU defied that pattern. IU blew a big lead in that one. And none of the comebacks have been finished. Still, it says something about the character and the buy-in that the players aren't willing to pack it in.
  • The recruiting. Kevin Wilson is beginning to punch above IU's weight on the recruiting scene. Darius Latham, a 4 star defensive tackle from Indianapolis, decommitted from Wisconsin and is rumored to be interested in IU. There are other rumblings as well. It helps that Purdue is a mess right now, although it wouldn't be a surprise if the Boilers turn things around.
As we've discussed in many a comment thread this year, there isn't really anything wrong with moral victories this season. Year three is a reasonable point to expect wins in a total rebuilding job. But I agree with the sentiment expressed around here following the Ohio State game, which is that there are some opportunities remaining this season. Most notable are IU's next two games, at Navy and at Illinois. The Midshipmen seem to be improving, having improved to 3-3 with road wins over Air Force and Central Michigan in the last two weeks. Still, they aren't what they were a few years ago and should struggle to stop IU's offense. IU has long struggled in Champaign, winning there only once since 1979, but the Illini are bad. Illinois's record is comparable to IU's--2-5/0-3--but the Illini haven't been competitive with an FBS program since they beat Western Michigan in week 1. I agree with the consensus. I'll be a bit bummed if IU doesn't win at least one of the next two games and quite disappointed if the Hoosiers go 0-2. A team that can go toe-to-toe with Michigan State and Ohio State is good enough to at least go 1-1 against Navy and Illinois. That's not to say that I will be down on this staff or the trajectory of this program if IU doesn't win one of these games. I still feel good about the program overall. But finding some wins, to make the appearance of progress based on something more than competitive losses, could have very positive repercussions on the recruiting trail.

Ultimately, close losses go only so far. Remember Cam Cameron's second season, 1998? IU had excruciatingly close losses to Kentucky (a very good UK team with Tim Couch at QB), Wisconsin, and Michigan State, and played a reasonably close game against Michigan at the Big House. Those games, plus a nice win over Hayden Fry's last Iowa team, had us optimistic about the future. As we learned over the next three seasons, close losses and bad defenses were Cam's calling cards. Obviously, it's too early to draw any conclusions about Wilson's tenure. But at a certain point, competitiveness has to give way to winning football. Since it has to start somewhere, then why not Saturday?

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