BLOOMINGTON -- Indiana is not ready to win the Leaders Division, go to the Big Ten title game and show the college football world that 1968 was not a Rose Bowl fluke.
But guess what -- suddenly, surprisingly, you can see signs that maybe, just maybe, it could happen some day.
OK. Let's take a deep breath.
Yes, IU (2-4 overall, 0-3 in the Big Ten) has lost four straight games, three at Memorial Stadium, and that's never a good sign.
Except, if you've seen the Hoosiers play in those games, you've seen at least the appearance of a program on the slow, steady rise. They compete, and that gives them a chance.
“We're getting better,” coach Kevin Wilson says. “We've got to move past beating ourselves.”
Second, and we're not going to sugar coat this, the Big Ten stinks. The league doesn't have any team listed in the BCS standings. The SEC and the Big 12, by the way, have seven teams each.
Ohio State is the conference's best squad and it ain't good in the manner that, say, top-ranked Alabama is good.
The Buckeyes have yet to beat a good team. They struggled to beat a mediocre Cal squad, and wins over Michigan State and Nebraska don't mean as much given they've already combined for five losses.
Ohio State also has major defensive issues, especially against spread attacks, and, boy, did Indiana exploit that last Saturday. Its 49 points were the most ever scored against Ohio State or a top-10 team.
Unfortunately for the Hoosiers, the Buckeyes scored 52 points in a game that demonstrated why defense can be very over-rated in an era of no-huddle, hyper-speed spread attacks.
Anyway, the Big Ten isn't what it used to be, so playing Ohio State and Michigan State tough also isn't what it used to be.
The Hoosiers in Year Two of the Kevin Wilson coaching era still can't play defense the way it should be played. Talent issues remain. Mistakes continue. But they are hitting harder and making more plays.
The offense is far from perfect, but when it gets on a roll, look out. And that's with quarterback Tre Roberson out for the season with a broken leg.
Eventually, it will get better. IU will win more than it loses.
So while losing close to Michigan State and Ohio State doesn't mean much in the big picture, it does provide reason for hope.
“Going toe to toe with teams like that means a lot,” defensive tackle Larry Black says. “We just have to keep coming.”
That means continuing to showcase resiliency, determination and competitiveness, attributes that are crucial for long-term success.
“It stems from our coaching staff,” quarterback Cam Coffman says. “Coach Wilson has changed the attitude around here. We're going to fight to the end, no matter what. No matter what the score or situation is. We'll give 60 minutes of all we've got.
“Our players have bought into that and we're getting better every week. We fight every week, even when we're down, no matter what the situation is.”
That's not going to change, defensive tackle Larry Black
“We're a family and we won't give up,” he says. “Every one puts pins against us, but we know that if we stay strong and stay together, there's a lot we can overcome. Good things will happen.”
Until it does, Wilson has some advice for the Hoosiers.
“Don't you worry. Let me do that. As hard as we played (against Michigan State), could we dig deep and play hard again? I didn't know if we could fuel that tank up again.”
In fact, they could.
Now they have to fuel up to go on the road and face Navy (3-3), which has won two straight games behind a strong rushing attack. The Midshipmen rank 16th in the nation in rushing, at 231.7 yards a game. They rank 115th in passing.
IU has been working on some form of option football since the spring in anticipation of the Navy game. That reflects the attention to detail, passion and preparation Wilson is trying to instill in the players and program.
“No matter what, you can't lose your attitude or your fight,” defensive back Greg Heban said. “If you do, it's going to get ugly. We have to keep the attitude up, the mentality up. Once we put a whole 60 minutes together, we'll have a good team.”
After nearly a generation of struggling football, that can't come soon enough.
Those are just fundamentals.
Can't lose attitude or your fight. If you do it's going to get ugly. Keep attitude up, mentality up. once put 60 whole minutes together we'll have a good team.
The Hoosiers have been working on some.