Nobody is going to confuse Indiana for a football school, given its storied basketball history. The Indiana Hoosiers have not won a bowl game since 1991. It is one of three bowl victories in school history. This is why any suggestion that Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson enters a season on a hot seat may feel a little strange.
Following Indiana’s dismissal of defensive back Antonio Allen, who racked up quite the list of drug-related offenses this week, the attention for some has shifted to the head coach in charge of the Hoosiers. Austin Ward of ESPN suggested Wilson made the right move in removing Allen from the program (agree 100 percent) and that it turns the temperature up on his hot seat for the fall. Does it really? Ward is by no means alone in suggesting Wilson is on a hot seat. Athlon Sports placed Wilson in the top 10 of coaches on the hot seat out of the spring, making note of the step back Indiana took last season following an injury to quarterback Nate Sudfeld. Once Sudfeld went down, Indiana lost any offensive cohesion and momentum. Injuries happen, and the impact of every injury is not created equally. However, each coach must be prepared for when an injury happens and it is fair to serve up a certain level of criticism for Wilson following Sudfeld’s injury. You can only place so much blame on injuries.
Let’s keep a few things in mind. Wilson took over an Indiana program though to be pretty close to becoming a bowl team, and Wilson was supposed to help get the Hoosiers over that last hurdle. Instead, Wilson embarked on a total rebuilding project (or in Indiana’s case another new construction project). After winning just one game in his first season, Wilson managed to increase the win total each of the next two seasons to five wins in 2013 before stepping back to four wins last season. If the expectation was Indiana would have played in a bowl game by his fifth season, then Wilson has come up short and is deserving of hot seat talk. But is that the fantasy expectation for Wilson, or the realistic one?
Four seasons without a bowl game is most certainly a fireable offense at most programs, but is it really that harsh an offense at Indiana? What about the areas of improvement for the Hoosiers in that same stretch? Indiana has gone from averaging 21.4 points per game in 2011 up to 38.4 ppg in 2013 (that average dipped to 25.9 ppg last fall). The defense has failed to show the same kind of progress, floating around 35 points per game allowed during Wilson’s tenure in Bloomington. Also consider the Hoosiers are lumped in the same division that some are hyping as the best division in college football (although that is a bit of a stretch right now) with Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, Penn State, Maryland and Rutgers. The division may be a bit top-heavy for now, but expectations continue to be high for Michigan and Penn State in the long-term. That should make for a tough road to six wins most seasons for the Hoosiers.
So what is the realistic bar for Indiana football? Is it six wins? Seven? In this day and age, that is a fair ceiling that gets a team to a bowl game, but history would suggest otherwise for Indiana. The Hoosiers have played in just nine postseason bowl games in 117 seasons. If Wilson is on a hot seat, there has to be more to the equation that can be seen off the field.