Kevin Wilson and Indiana can pick up key recruiting lift by beating Purdue
Beating Purdue carries a lot of importance for Kevin Wilson and Indiana this Saturday.
The Hoosiers are on the cusp of beating the Boilermakers for fourth-straight season. That hasn’t happened since the days of World War II when Indiana punched out wins each year from 1944 through 1947. It would also secure bowl eligibility in consecutive seasons for Indiana, a sparse occurrence down in Bloomington.
If you asked Indiana students if they remember the last time their football team earned consecutive bowl berths, they’d have to respond “no.”
25 years have passed since that last occurred. Bill Mallory led the program to a 13-9-1 record and trips to the Peach Bowl in 1990 and the Copper Bowl the following season. Thanks to a talented running back named Vaughn Dunbar, the Hoosiers looked a lot different in those two seasons than in the following three decades.
Dunbar was a gifted ball-carrier and played an important role in those back-to-back bowl bids the Hoosiers had in the early 90s. He rushed for 3,029 yards and 25 TDs in those two seasons and earned All-American honors after his senior campaign in 1991. He was a first-round draft pick by the New Orleans Saints in 1992.
With our memory fixated on the program’s more recent years, it’s hard to believe a player of Dunbar’s caliber ever actually signed to play at Indiana.
And in that two-and-a-half decade drought of consecutive bowl appearance, there haven’t been many Vaughn Dunbars that have passed through the Sample Gates. Indiana has landed a few gems throughout the years: Antwaan Randle El, Tevin Coleman and Nate Sudfeld have had significant individual accomplishments but haven’t manufactured much success for the program.
Despite those few bright stars speckled throughout the 90s and 2000s, Indiana hasn’t harnessed enough talent to compete consistently on a high level. Recruits – even those in the state – have overlooked Bloomington as a potential landing spot and flocked to Michigan, Ohio State – even Illinois and Purdue – to continue their football career.
Mostly, Indiana has been the store greeter on Black Friday for 25 years, trampled by the rest of the B1G programs in search of a cheap win.
Opting against Hoosier football hasn’t been a tough decision in the past.
Since the 1990-91 seasons, the Hoosiers have played in just two bowl games, period. In 2007, a Bill Lynch squad earned an Insight Bowl bid after beating Purdue and ending the year 7-5. It was eight seasons before Indiana was back in the postseason, scrapping its way to a 6-6 record to land in the Pinstripe Bowl last season. \
Each of those seasons, Indiana needed to bring the Old Oaken Bucket to Bloomington to secure those bowl bids.
The Hoosiers are in a similar situation this year. Despite having one of its better teams since the Mallory days – particularly defensively – Indiana enters the season finale against Purdue needing to latch another “I” to the Bucket to continue the season past Thanksgiving weekend. This time, though, it feels like there’s more on the line.
The state of the program appears to be headed in the right direction. Even though the Hoosiers still have plenty of work ahead, they’re no longer the kids on the sidewalk getting noogies because they’re too small to fight back. Wilson has this program finally starting to fight back.
Knocking off Michigan State at home was a big deal. Strong showing against Ohio State and Michigan – and in consecutive seasons – is a big deal. Proving to be a consistent bowl contender would be a big deal, too.
Rather than selling IU as a program of the future, Wilson can market his brand as a consistent winner and a team that’s ending all the nasty trends that have hovered around Memorial Stadium for so many years. That’s a pretty motivating factor.
Wilson runs a fun offense that usually results in a lot of points. If it weren’t for injuries this season, who knows how potent the Hoosiers might be on that side of the ball. Bringing in Tom Allen has given the defense an identity, too.
More so than any other time in recent memory, Indiana has developed a winning mentality. Recruits are going to start taking the Hoosiers seriously. That’s what a win over Purdue can do for Wilson and his program on Saturday.
The Hoosiers have gotten some talented guys in the past. Sudfeld was a four-star prospect, linebacker Tegray Scales was highly-sought after and Darius Latham drew several offers from other big-name programs. But not enough of those guys have signed on Indiana’s dotted line to elevate Indiana to a conference contender.
Currently, Indiana’s 2017 class ranks 11th in the B1G with just 14 commits. There are no four or five-star prospects that have agreed to continue their college careers in Bloomington.
A win on Saturday could change some of that.
Indiana isn’t going to start stealing recruits from Michigan, Ohio State or Penn State. And though they’re starting to win the battle in state against the Boilermakers, the Hoosiers can start separating from Purdue before it hires its next head coach in the coming weeks.
Currently, Indiana’s 2017 class ranks 11th in the B1G with just 14 commits. There are no four or five-star prospects that have agreed to continue their college careers in Bloomington. A win on Saturday could change some of that.
Maybe if Wilson lands the next Vaughn Dunbar, Indiana won’t have to wait another 25 years for back-to-back bowl bids.