I can't think of anything more overplayed in Football Talk than "turning points" and "momentum." Most of the time it's just narrative, an analyst looking back to see when something changed and applying causation to it. A critical interception is the moment that wins a team a game, until their quarterback fumbles the snap and turns it right over. Usually it's not quite what it seems.
This, though, could be an exception. 2016 could be a massive turning point for Indiana University football, and it could be a season that makes (or breaks) the program for the foreseeable future.
Indiana played in a bowl game last year – the tenth ever. The last was in 2007. The one before was in 1993. IU football hasn't appeared in the postseason two seasons in a row since 1990 and 1991, and we haven't had a coach reach multiple bowls since Bill Mallory.
So it should be clear that if Kevin Wilson’s program wins six this year and becomes bowl-eligible, that would be a pretty big deal.
But this same program also hasn’t won a bowl game since 1991 (though, of course, The Kick Was Good). If we can not only get to a bowl but actually walk out winners, with whatever pseudo-trophy the organizers dream up, that's a massive step forward for this program.
Yeah, often it's overly simplistic to talk about momentum. But when you're trying to attract people to your team, winning helps. Being in bowl games helps. Winning bowl games helps. Players want to be part of successful teams, that's no secret; losing isn't a lot of fun and if you can make a choice to avoid losing, usually you'll do that. Fans don't want to go watch crap teams either.
Going to a bowl game once can be a fluke. Going twice in a row could be, but it's way less likely – especially after losing your quarterback and RB1 to the NFL. Going twice in a row is a step to going three times in a row, and that's a step toward being a winning program. It's been a long time – decades – since you could call Indiana a winning program, but we could be on the cusp of it right now.
Great reward comes with great risk, though. If IU fails to take a step forward – if Richard Lagow can't adequately replace Nate Sudfeld, if there's no New Jordan Howard, if the defense can’t figure out a way to not be a massive tire fire – well, there’s probably going to be a regression. Regression is bad. Regression sends the signal that this is still Indiana Football, with all that entails; that players like Sudfeld are rarities and good seasons are flukes. Regression doesn’t mean that the promised land of consistent success is impossible, but it does give the pessimists a lot of ammunition.
For the first time since Terry Hoeppner walked the Memorial Stadium sidelines, I’m excited about IU football. For the first time in a while, I feel like good things are coming. If we don’t screw it up, of course.