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Indiana football, year seven and just wanting more

Indiana is coming off of a 4 OT win over Akron at home.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Indiana fans do not have to look that far in the rearview to know that it doesn’t have to be Like This.

It hasn’t even been three years since Michael Penix Jr. threw for nearly 500 yards to keep Indiana within a score of an Ohio State team led by Justin Fields en route to a 6-1 regular season that saw Indiana finish the year in the AP Poll.

How we got to this point is both up for interpretation and irrelevant for the purposes of this article. All that matters is that once, not so long ago, Indiana was fun to watch and competitive. Since then, Indiana has lost all of its program momentum, and then some.

After losing the Outback Bowl to Ole Miss, the Hoosiers have now gone 6-19 and dropped all four games to the Rutgers and Maryland programs that kept Indiana near bowl eligibility for much of 2015-2021.

In the wake of the season opening 23-3 loss to Ohio State, a game in which Indiana’s offense amassed 153 yards of total offense, the consensus among fans and media alike seems to be that the Hoosiers looked better than many expected.

For many, there was a glimmer of hope that Indiana would be a bit competitive in the remaining 11 games on this year’s schedule. Or at least more competitive than they’ve been in years past.

Since then, Indiana has defeated a hapless Indiana State, lost to Louisville with a chance to tie late in the fourth and probably should’ve lost to Akron.

Expressing any discontent with the way the program has been managed over the last three years inevitably leads to discussions about feasibility. Buyout numbers, the program’s less than storied history, and the Big Ten East scheduling are all touted as reasons that Indiana is in its current spot.

There are practical obstacles, sure, but we have seen good football at Indiana. We know it’s possible.

Being a fan is not about being practical, anyway. To me, being an Indiana football fan means wanting to see Indiana win football games, not just cover the spread against an Ohio State team that may have a quarterback issue on its hands. It means wanting spirited defensive performances to be rewarded with wins instead of 150 yards of total offense.

While I can’t pretend to know all of the financials of Indiana’s athletic department, there’s certainly an argument to be made that Indiana is losing money the longer they let the football team struggle. College football money controls all, as we’ve seen this summer, and Indiana doesn’t even seem to want their slice of the pie.

Already, the Hoosiers are struggling to pack Memorial Stadium the way it did when Cincinnati came to town in 2020, or even in 2017 when College Gameday came to Bloomington for Indiana’s opener against Ohio State.

Indiana lost both of those games, but sold out the stadium because there was a reason to be excited about Indiana football. Program momentum turns into athletic revenue in a very real way, which should cast some doubt as to whether Indiana really can’t afford to buyout its current coach and move on to somebody who can generate positive momentum.

The current late-game crowds are, well:

I want to be excited about Indiana football again, no matter what the cost is. Boosters ponied up for Archie’s (admittedly smaller) buyout and the men’s basketball team is already winning at a level not seen in years.

Indiana football has been good and I believe it can be good again. It won’t be cheap, but it may be cheaper than letting the program continue to spiral into irrelevance. Apathy has set in once again, but we know that the Indiana faithful can rally around this team when given something to be genuinely excited about.

Regardless of how things play out under the current administration and coaching regime, I refuse to accept that this is all that Indiana can be. It’s not wrong or unrealistic to want Indiana to be better than it is.

That’s what it means to be a fan.