So it comes to this ... again.
Kevin Wilson has guided the Hoosiers to the threshold of bowl eligibility for the second consecutive season, needing only to dispatch of a somehow-even-worse-than-last-year Purdue squad in the final game of the regular season to achieve something that this program has rarely seen. I'm going to take a minute to drink that in, if you don't mind.
You can be disappointed that the season wasn't as magical as we were hoping for. You can be disappointed at the dumb games that got away (Wake Forest) and the big upsets that didn't happen (Nebraska, Penn State, Michigan). You can be disappointed that the Music City Bowl seems like the absolute height of achievement for the program while our divisional peers eat each other alive for a chance to play for real championships.
No one should chastise you for wanting more out of the program, a lot of us didn't knowingly sign up for this particular brand of misery. No one on this staff set off into the wide world of college football, saw the Hoosiers, and thought "Hey, that would be fun." We either grew up too close to Bloomington to have any other option, or matriculated to the university before pledging our amateur sport allegiance elsewhere and grabbed a free ticket being handed to us outside a dormitory. Some of us fell hard for the basketball team and picked up football much like you pick up any potentially-damaging vice in college: your friends were doing it, you figured it couldn't hurt to try it out, and seemingly minutes later you're disoriented, upset, and unable to look at yourself in the mirror.
But one way or another, we're all here; so we may as well make the most of it.
The Indiana Hoosiers football program is fraught with disappointment and failure, there isn't really a more polite way to put it while remaining honest. They've existed, in one capacity or another, since 1887 and have nearly 200 more losses than victories, and more total losses than anyone else at the FBS level. They've gone to ten bowl games in their history, winning three of them, and only managing back-to-back bowl appearances twice, last doing so well-before the seniors who will be honored on Saturday were even born. They haven't won a bowl game since 1991 and there isn't an actively-played rivalry that Indiana isn't trailing in lopsided fashion.
Kevin Wilson can't change most of that on Saturday, but he can make progress. Going 6-6 for the second-consecutive season isn't going to be seen as improvement for the vast majority of programs, but it would be nothing short of monumental for the Hoosiers. You can say that's pathetic or argue that it shouldn't be considered as such, but stacking these two seasons up against the rest of Indiana's Sisyphean history leaves you with only one conclusion: we might be onto something here. Or, at the very least, we're closer to being onto something than we've been in decades.
A win on Saturday would give Indiana the Old Oaken Bucket for a fourth straight season, something they've only done once before, and that was in 1947. They've got a long way to go before they can even dream of leveling the rivalry's overall record (that's what a century-plus of gridiron ignominy will do for you) but you can only get one Bucket per year, might as well take it. Especially when it comes with a bowl invite tucked inside.
By achieving bowl eligibility regularly, even if it means Christmas in Detroit, Kevin Wilson will have already elevated the program to heights it hasn't seen outside of Bill Mallory's tenure. He'd be the only coach not named Mallory to take Indiana to more than one bowl game and he'd do it after taking over a program that barely averaged more than 3 wins per season in the 14 years since Mallory was fired.
Because, really, Mallory's tenure represents the height of what Indiana football has been able to achieve in the modern era of college football. The Hoosiers averaged a bowl appearance every couple of years and you'd have to go back to World War II to find a coach who won games at a more impressive clip, both in and out of the Big Ten Conference. But after going 2-9 and 3-8 in successive years, Mallory was sacked with the idea that, despite all his accomplishments, Indiana could do more.
And every year since has been spent doing less.
Collegiate football's natural inertia, in all likelihood, will prevent Indiana from ever rising too high above their station for very long. There is only so much talent to go around and the dynamics of their own conference's alignment don't favor an upstart looking to overthrow the status quo. But if Kevin Wilson can drag Indiana out of the post-Mallory abyss and start stringing together bowl appearances, who is to say he's not capable of taking that next step? You don't go from averaging less than four wins per year to competing for Big Ten titles without a lot of trips to heavily-branded bowl games in-between.
So, for now, I'd advise you to relish the opportunity Indiana has on Saturday and, should they prevail, embrace the opportunity to play in a bowl game, no matter where it is and who they face. The road ahead is an arduous one, and being disappointed that you aren't already further along won't get you any closer.
The kick was good.