BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Indiana's seniors went into this season with one major goal — earning a bowl bid.
There's no chance now.
When that dream officially ended Saturday night in a 42-14 loss at Ohio State, players inside the locker room reacted glumly to the sudden reality that their season would end this weekend against Purdue.
"It's definitely been hard to take," safety Greg Heban said Monday. "Once we realized we weren't going to make it to a bowl, it was hard. But we do have one more week together."
One more week to salvage something out of a season by bringing the Old Oaken Bucket back to Bloomington.
It's an annual rallying cry Hoosiers fans, and players, are sick of hearing. Over the last two decades, Indiana has been to the postseason only two times — the 1993 Independence Bowl and the 2007 Insight Bowl.
This year was supposed to be different.
For the first time in school history, the Hoosiers opened a season with five consecutive home games, each of which was considered winnable. They did not have to run the gauntlet that they will when division realignment takes place next season, and after beating Penn State for the first time in early October, those postseason plans seemed to be on track.
But the Hoosiers (4-7, 2-5 Big Ten) couldn't take advantage of their opportunity.
Instead, they lost three straight games and five of the next six, beating only struggling Illinois as they faded fast from postseason contention before being eliminated over the weekend.
All that's left now is Purdue.
"It's a little bittersweet," tight end Ted Bolser said, explaining how the Hoosiers are trying to turn the page so they can win their biggest game of the season. "We've been wanting to go a bowl game since I've been here and we've been planning to go since I've been here. It's definitely disappointing, but I think we (the seniors) have definitely helped the program."
Coach Kevin Wilson even acknowledged that much during his weekly news conference Monday even as he critiqued the Hoosiers offense for not being as efficient as it needed to be against Ohio State. Indiana ran 92 plays and scored only two touchdowns, or one score for every 46 plays.
But they never quite solved this season's most glaring problem — the defense.
It allowed a mind-boggling 39.1 points and 529 yards per game, numbers that simply aren't good enough to deliver on the promises Wilson has made about rebuilding this program and turning it into a Big Ten contender.
"Right now we have to get ready for another team this week and play as well as we can and see if we can get to five (wins)," he said. "It's not going to be easy. We're going to have a really good week to have that one. Until we get score boards, it's all rhetoric."
Players and coaches insist this has not been a lost season. They point to the win over Penn State, competitive games at Michigan and Michigan State and the one that got away from them against Minnesota as indications they are close. Indiana players are now pointing to Saturday's game as the kind that can lay the foundation for the future.
"We have to be ready for this week," running back Stephen Houston said. "The Bucket Game is just as big as a bowl game for us because it means a lot to the university and to the past winners and it means a lot to us."
They just wish it could have meant a whole lot more — like 2007, when it sent Indiana to its last bowl game.
"We have to play our best and give ourselves a chance to win Purdue. That would be three Big Ten wins. Four goes to five, it's a little better. Even if 5 got to 6, it's still not what you want," Wilson said. "We're a work in progress. You can look at teams in your league that are there, and all of a sudden not. It's competitive. It's tough."
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