It’s hard to believe that the college football regular season is already over, and with Christmas right around the corner, NCAA football fans are now looking forward to bowl season. The Indiana Hoosiers will take on the Tennessee Volunteers on January 2nd in the Gator Bowl, a game that the Gator Bowl’s CEO expects to sell out.
But first, let’s wrap up the season and talk about what’s happened here in Indiana and where things are going.
The Indiana State Sycamores End on a High Note
The Sycamores brought Missouri State’s football season to a close with a bang, defeating the Bears 51-24 when it finished its season last Saturday. That’s the first time that the Sycamores managed to beat the Missouri State University Bears since 2015. This time, they took the win away from the Bears right on MSU’s home turf in Plaster Stadium.
Since the playoffs weren’t on the line, the Sycamores weren’t playing for anything but glory — but that didn’t stop them from showing the team’s potential. That should leave fans optimistic about where Coach Curt Mallory is likely to take the team in 2020.
Maybe the gods of football are trying to make things up to ISU fans for the way that the 2019 season went as a whole. ISU’s team has been plagued with injuries all year, culminating in a season-ending knee injury for starting quarterback Ryan Boyle in September. Boyle was an All-Missouri Valley Football pick in the preseason and a redshirt senior leader at the time, so losing him to a torn ACL was quite a blow.
What does the future hold for ISU? A lot of it revolves around that quarterback position. The team went 5-7 (3-5 in conference) and only put up 19.58 points per game. That’s simply not enough, with QB Kurtis Wilderman throwing just six touchdowns in nine games. Of course, Wilderman is a redshirt sophomore who did not think he would start nine games this year, so there was a learning curve. How well he can step up into his new role in 2020 will help define the Sycamores’ offense.
The team will also lose senior RB Dominique Dafney. While he was outgained on the ground by junior Peterson Kerlegrand, 770 to 448, he was more productive with his average of 7.1 yards per carry, and he scored 7 touchdowns to Kerlegrand’s 3. He can and will take over the lead role, but that pairing worked well together and ISU will need to adjust in 2020.
Indiana Takes Winning Record Into Bowl Season
The Indiana Hoosiers have seven wins on the season, one more win than they needed to be bowl eligible.
Despite struggling at the end of the year with back-to-back losses to Penn State and Michigan, the Hoosiers have a lot to be proud of. After all, their losses have come to teams at the top of their game in college football. Penn State was once in the playoff talk. Michigan is a nine-win team on a four-game winning streak as they face Ohio State. Speaking of the Buckeyes, they’re one of the best teams in college football, without a loss on the year and a lock for the playoffs. They’re historically good. They were another one of Indiana’s losses.
That’s not to say that these losses didn’t sting, but just that these are high-caliber opponents. The only slip-up the Hoosiers really had was dropping a close one to Michigan State, and even that happened with MSU in the top 25. Overall, when they should have won, the Hoosiers won. They took care of business.
Injuries have held this team back from its full potential. Whop Philyor. Stevie Scott. Matthew Bedford. Coy Cronk. Michael Penix Jr. Thomas Allen. Jacolby Hewitt. It’s a significant list. Injuries may not be an excuse, per se, but they do hurt a team when the top performers aren’t on the field. You can’t have enough depth with how competitive the Big 10 is from top to bottom.
The injury to freshman QB Penix Jr. is especially notable, as he had 1,394 yards and 10 touchdowns when he got hurt — and that’s just through the air. He also added over 100 yards and two scores on the ground. Fortunately, junior Peyton Ramsey put up 1,890 yards, 10 touchdowns and just four picks — a massive improvement from his 13 picks in 2018 — and he ran for more than 150 yards and four scores.
That creates a very interesting offseason situation as Penix Jr. works his way back and the two battle it out in camp to see who will start in 2020. If Penix is healthy, it’s his job to lose, but an ACL is a tough injury to bounce back from.
When the Hoosiers started the season with four wins in a row, it was the best they had looked out of the gates since the early 90s — 1993, to be exact. Then the freshman phenom went down at QB, and things started to slide. The Hoosiers can still be very happy with everything they accomplished this year, but it does leave them wondering what could have been. If those injuries hadn’t slowed them down, they almost certainly would have beaten MSU. Would they have been closer to Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State?
The good thing is that some of their young talent will return. As noted above, the health of Penix Jr. is something they’ll monitor closely. He’s a unique talent and they want to have him lead this team for years to come. If he can, Indiana will be even more of a force following a solid year and a bowl game in 2019.
For both the Sycamores and the Hoosiers, the 2019 season showed just how much hope there is in the future. They have talent. They just found out, at the same time, how fragile that can be. Health is critical, especially at QB — in this sense, they had very similar seasons. If they can stay healthy in 2020, both will be fun teams to watch.