BLOOMINGTON -- So where does Indiana football go from here?
An optimist, considering the high-scoring offense and the fact nine players received All-Big Ten recognition, led by the second-team status of defensive tackle Adam Replogle and receiver Cody Latimer, could see the Hoosiers become bowl eligible next season.
A pessimist, considering IU had one of the nation's worst defenses, might wonder whether coach Kevin Wilson will ever turn this around.
Here's what we know.
The Hoosiers return 21 starters, 10 on offense, nine on defense and both kicking specialists from a 4-8 team that easily could have been 6-6. Of those, 14 will be back for at least two more years. Overall they will return 39 of the 44 two-deep players from what was the nation's youngest team.
That doesn't include quarterback Tre Roberson, who missed most of the season with a broken leg. His dual-threat ability gives IU a season-changing weapon.
"We've got some maturing to do, we've got some recruiting to do and I think on both sides of the ball we've got to keep looking at what we're doing putting our guys in good places," Wilson said.
"There are some good bodies to work with and some guys that have now played. Once you've played, it's easier to prepare because you understand some of your shortcomings. So it's easier to hit the weight room and it's easier to have a purpose in what you do.
“If we do things properly in the offseason in the weight room and have a good spring, then we will keep making some strides and keep building a team that our institution and our fans can take a lot of pride in."
Even with a pair of inexperienced quarterbacks in Cam Coffman and Nate Sudfeld, the Hoosiers made huge offensive strides. They led the Big Ten in passing. They made big jumps in scoring (30.8 points this year from 21.4 in 2011) and total offense (442 yards this year, 360 last year).
It helps to return Latimer, plus honorable mention all-conference players Ted Bolser (tight end), Jason Spriggs (left tackle), Dan Feeney (right guard), Shane Wynn (receiver) and Mitch Ewald (kicker).
“It's a young group that has got a lot of time to mature physically and mentally,” Wilson said. “There is a lot of potential, which is exciting, but potential is a dirty word if you don't continue to improve.”
The defense was another disaster. It allowed 35.2 points this season, not far off from last year (37.3 points). It gave up more yards this season (463 a game) than last year (459).
Returning defensive players include Fort Wayne Bishop Luers defensive back products Kenny Mullen and Lawrence Barnett. Both ended the season as backup cornerbacks.
IU's defensive struggles might actually be helping its recruiting. Good high school players see the potential for instant playing time. Yes, bad players might see it, too, but you hope the Hoosiers are past all that.
Oh, and that they finally learn how to tackle.
Anyway, four-star recruit Darius Latham, a scary-good defensive lineman prospect from Indianapolis North Central High School, tweeted his commitment to Indiana on Sunday night even after watching the Hoosiers get torched by Purdue, 56-35.
He is listed at 6-5 and 291 pounds, but is fast enough and athletic enough to play elite travel basketball. He's even talked about playing basketball for Tom Crean in the off-season as a walk-on if he's not too beat up.
Latham had originally committed to Wisconsin, then backed off. Powerhouse programs such as Notre Dame, Florida and Michigan offered him scholarships.
This gives Wilson four four-star players for the Class of 2013. The others are Indianapolis Ben Davis safety Antonio Allen, Georgia cornerback Rashard Fant and Indianapolis Pike defensive end David Kenney.
Allen had originally committed to Mississippi. Kenney had once committed to Iowa.
Overall Wilson has 14 commitments in this class, including Homestead receiver Isaac Griffith. The signing period is in February.
Because IU didn't qualify for a bowl, it can't conduct official practices until the spring. But it can lift weights and condition. It can have player-led practices.
“This next month will be huge,” Wilson said. “We'll hit the weight room hard the next couple of weeks. We will continue to do some prep with our players, and what they can do at player-run practices. It would be nice to see some of our young players embrace the leadership role.”