BLOOMINGTON – Is Indiana's football performance roller coaster about to end?
Can the Hoosiers, once and for all, bury the stigma that has left them in also-ran status for a generation?
Was the Penn State victory a season-changer, perhaps a program-changer?
Saturday's game at Michigan State will put that to the test, but it starts, senior receiver Kofi Hughes says, with the process and not the distraction.
“We have to know how to forget about a win, just like we do a loss,” he says. “We have to take each game as an equal challenge. It's like (quarterbacks/receivers coach Kevin Johns) says, after every game, we're back to 0-0. Each week we're trying to go 1-0.”
IU is 3-2 overall and 1-0 in the Big Ten to Michigan State's 4-1 and 1-0.
The Penn State victory earned the Hoosiers national attention, and if the Nittany Lions aren't what they once were because of NCAA scholarship reduction, that didn't diminish the sudden praise heaped upon players the last few days.
“With Indiana football, you're not used to getting any attention at all,” Hughes says. “When you do win, you do get guys patting you on the back. You get kids on campus or professors saying, 'Good job,' and they've never talked to you before.
“It's hard. It's human nature to pay attention. It's a big distraction. At the end of the day, our team hasn't gotten a lot of attention. It's all a part of the process of building a productive program.”
The building has had an up-and-down quality that can't continue if the Hoosiers are to reach the level of success envisioned when coach Kevin Wilson was hired three years ago. IU has yet to win consecutive games this season.
Attitude, Wilson says, is a major factor. Take for instance, the Hoosiers' approach to the Navy game after smashing Indiana State 73-35 to open the season.
“I thought that first week against Navy, we got a little ... laughing like it was easy,” Wilson says. “Towards the end of the week, we were in a good mood. You need to have some confidence and feel good, but I don't know if you're in a good mood when you're getting ready to throw your body around and smash people a little bit.
"There's a way a guy goes into the ring. He's feeling good, but I don't know if he's a Chuckles the Clown kind of guy.”
The result: Navy won 41-35 and rushed for 444 yards.
“Our team has had trouble with dealing with success,” Hughes says. “Whether it was last year where people were thinking about the possibility of a Rose Bowl and you saw what happened at Wisconsin (a 62-14 loss). We completely laid an egg.
“This year we beat Bowling Green and everyone gave us pat on the back and we didn't play nearly the way we should have against Missouri (a 45-28 defeat). You see this up-and-down kind of thing. We have to play better than that.”
Beating Penn State, he adds, is a sign the Hoosiers can -- and will.
“It was a huge step for our team. It proved to a lot of guys we are good. We put in the hard work and we put the team in position to win and have a chance at having a great season. This was the first sign we can really do something here. Hopefully it makes people more hungry and not just excited about beating Penn State. It's much more than that.”
The Hoosiers face a severe challenge against a Spartan team that boasts the Big Ten's best defense. Michigan State has won the last four meetings and eight of the last nine. The Spartans lead the series 42-15-2. The last time IU won in East Lansing was 2001.
Oh, yes. This is the Hoosiers' first road game of the season.
“It's going to be a tough challenge,” Wilson says. “We're not going to be consumed with going to win. We're going to be consumed with how we prepare in the process of going up and putting forth a good effort and playing as hard as we can. We'll check the scoreboard out and see if we coached right and made the right calls and made the right plays.
“At the end of the day, I'd like to see if our kids can handle the success of a winning team. We're going to win some, but we've got to learn how to handle it if we're going to be a winning team.”