CHICAGO — Bowl game or bust?
Just as before last season, Indiana coaches and players won’t even mutter the word “bowl.”
“I’d still say it’s taboo,” Nate Sudfeld said. “I don’t want to put a limit on how good we can be. We can be pretty good, and I’ll leave it at that.”
Entering their fourth year under coach Kevin Wilson, the Hoosiers – still a work in progress – were as confident as ever Monday at the Big Ten media days.
The team hasn’t been bowl-eligible since 2007, even though last year was supposed to be the year.
And the schedule isn’t any easier this season, with three nonconference games against teams that won at least nine games last year in Missouri, Bowling Green and North Texas.
But the Hoosiers – picked to finish sixth in the seven-team East Division by a media poll – do have some promise.
Sudfeld gets the quarterback job all to himself after the offseason transfer of Tre Roberson.
Meanwhile, new defensive coordinator Brian Knorr has retooled the schemes and personnel.
“No matter where they rank you, we have to keep doing what we need to do to win,” Wilson said. “It’s not going to be easy. I think we’re going to be more talented and have a chance to match up.
“I think we’ve gotten past trying not to beat ourselves. Now, we’re trying to beat the other team.”
Indiana’s player representatives in the Windy City – Sudfeld, receiver Shane Wynn and linebacker David Cooper – didn’t garner a lot of attention from national reporters but radiated enthusiasm.
They aren’t waiting on the law of averages to prevent a seventh consecutive losing season.
“Nate’s a phenomenal player,” Wynn said. “He’s the leader of the team.”
Wilson explained for the first time Roberson’s departure last month for Illinois State.
“He (wanted) a chance just to be the guy,” Wilson said.
“It was tiring, just as a competitor wanting to see the field,” Sudfeld said. “It made me a lot more mentally strong.”
Mentally strong, or physically, for that matter, has rarely been a descriptor for Indiana’s historically woeful defense.
Wilson is counting on Knorr to make it respectable.
“We’re not expecting it to be lights-out,” Wilson said. “I think they’re starting to bond as a family on defense. I think they’d been a little disjointed.”
Cooper referred to Knorr as a players’ coach. “A real great guy,” Cooper said. “He likes to hang around the locker room, joke around.”
If switching to Knorr’s 3-4 works even to a slight degree, the Hoosiers likely won’t just talk about a bowl – they’ll be in one.
“From what I saw in spring, we’re going to be significantly improved on D,” Wilson said. “We have a nice culture. I think the next step is winning some games.”