I'm not going to lie, or hand-wring, or call for a coach's head. For Indiana football, close is at least fun.
After so many years of leave-early beatdowns from the power programs in the conference, Indiana has solidified its reputation as #CHAOSTEAM -- the mercurial, high-scoring defensive sieve that can beat or lose to any team in America. In its last three network television apperances, the Hoosiers have had held or had opportunity to take a lead in the fourth quarter against a top ten opponent. Sure, they lost each of those games, not likely the result Kevin Wilson would like. But, hell, it's something.
But for this Indiana team, this season, all those somethings are quickly adding up to what could have been.
What if the secondary hadn't lost Antonio Allen?
What if Jordan Howard & Sudfeld don't get hurt against Ohio State?
What if they both could've recovered for the Penn State game?
How in the world did they blow that lead against Rutgers?
What if Oakes doesn't miss those kicks against Michigan State?
This is the nature of sports -- fans finding ways to rationalize positives from close losses -- but it feels especially relevant for this Indiana team that's come so close so many times in the the month of October alone. But close losses do not add up in the aggregate to help one draw closer to the rare bowl bid that means so much in Bloomington. They don't garner you votes in the polls. They probably don't do a lot to garner the type of program-changing recruits that Indiana needs to take the next jump as a program. They're simply just becoming another opportunity crossed off for this Hoosier team.
And the concern for this Indiana team and program is if not now, when? In the Big Ten East alone, the cards are stacked against the Hoosiers in future seasons. Ohio State and Michigan State have solidified themselves as perennial powers that are here to stay. Penn State and Michigan each have dynamic coaches and recruiters that have both programs better than they should be, already. All four of those schools have top 11 recruiting classes next season right now, per 247 sports. In those same rankings, Indiana's ahead of only two other power five schools: Purdue and Kansas. Maryland will have locally-driven class centered around quarterback prospect Dwayne Haskins and Under Armour money to throw at a big-name coach. Indiana hasn't beaten Rutgers in the Big Ten yet. This thing isn't getting any easier.
This is hardly a lost season for this Indiana team. They're talented -- and probably better than a .500 record indicates. They've shown an ability to play with anyone in the country. Now they'll get a bye week to get healthy before another likely Top 10 opponent in Iowa comes to town November 7.
Iowa. Michigan. Maryland. Purdue.
Four games, two wins. Two more chances to reel in the big fish that keeps snapping the line at the last moment.
Take care of one of those or both, and we can all stop talking about what might have been.