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December 29, 2007
Insight Bowl: Indiana vs. Oklahoma State
WHERE: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.
WEATHER: Sunny and clear, about 65.
TV: NFL Network (Bob Papa play-by-play, Sterling Sharpe and Mike Mayock analyst)
THE LINE: Oklahoma State by 4
RECORDS VS. BOWL TEAMS: Indiana 3-3, Oklahoma State 2-5.
RECORD VS. BCS TOP 25: Indiana 0-2, Oklahoma State 0-4.
BCS RANK: Indiana N/A, Oklahoma State N/A.
SCHEDULE STRENGTH: Indiana 56th, Oklahoma State 1st.
COACHES: Oklahoma State – Mike Gundy (0-1 in bowl games), Indiana – Bill Lynch (0-1 in bowl games).
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: If you enjoy offense, you should enjoy this. Both teams have playmakers at wide receiver and quarterback and have struggled on defense.
KEY STATS: Indiana is No. 69 nationally in total defense at 394.2 yards per game. Oklahoma State is No. 8 nationally in total offense at 484.1 yards per game and No. 104th nationally in total defense at 446.7 yards per game.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Oklahoma State TB Dantrell Savage ends his career as a model of consistency. He has run for at least 100 yards in 14 of his past 17 games.
In Indiana coach Terry Hoeppner's final days, he communicated with his team via e-mail to his assistants.
In each e-mail, he coached until the end, offering words of encouragement and asking players to work hard. He asked his team not to feel sorry for him. And he signed each one "Play 13."
Sixth months after Hoeppner died from complications from a brain tumor, the Hoosiers are fulfilling his final rallying cry. "Play 13" was one of Hoeppner's many slogans during his short tenure at Indiana, a program whose last postseason appearance was 1993.
In Hoeppner's absence, the Hoosiers fulfilled that goal, going 7-5 and earning a bid to Monday's Insight Bowl against Oklahoma State in Tempe, Ariz..
"We think about him each and every day," said wide receiver James Hardy, a Rivals.com second-team All-American who was closer to Hoeppner than any of his teammates. "This was the goal and dream he had for each and every one of us. For it finally to be accomplished, it's a wonderful feeling not only for him and us but his family and the Indiana University alumni and everything."
Indiana playing in a bowl is a rare occurrence, so credit Hoeppner's charisma with reigniting alumni and student support for the football team. And don't think his work is lost on the players.
"We're looking at it as the biggest game of our careers," Hardy said. "We don't want to go down there and be a part of history and lose a game. Everyone has that mind-set that we're going to dominate and bring it back home."
Since Hoeppner's death June 19, Indiana's players and coaches and Hoeppner's widow, Jane, have granted numerous interview requests to talk about the former coach and his effect on the program.
"The entire program – we made a point of not shying away from it," Indiana coach Bill Lynch said. "He was such an important part to this and all of us. We were never going to shy away form that. His presence is going to be here. We did do a good job of focusing on the 'one day at a time' and attention to details, and the big picture took care of itself."
The same couldn't be said of last season. Hoeppner missed two games in September after having a second surgery related to the brain tumor, and the Hoosiers lost to Southern Illinois and Connecticut. Hoeppner returned to the sideline and Indiana eventually got to 5-4. But IU couldn't seal the bowl bid, losing its final three games to Minnesota, Michigan and Purdue by a combined 125-48.
"Going into the Minnesota game (a 63-26 loss), we thought they'd lay down and let us get the victory to go to a bowl game," Hardy said. "That didn't happen. That changed our entire year because we lost two games in a row (early)."
That nearly happened again this season. Indiana jumped to a 5-1 start before losing three in a row. A 38-20 win against Ball State on Nov. 3 ensured bowl eligibility. But by the final week of the season, it became clear that a six-win season would not bring a bowl guarantee.
Indiana took a 24-3 lead over rival Purdue in the regular-season finale before allowing three unanswered Boilermaker touchdowns in the second half. But IU sealed the win on a 49-yard field goal by Austin Starr in the final 30 seconds.
"All season we've been fighting adversity," said defensive end Greg Middleton, who led the nation in sacks with 16 and was named a Rivals.com second-team All-American. "Going into that game, knowing to reach our goal to play 13, it was our last game – we had to lay it on the line and let it all out. You can't hold back."
The change in culture had been brewing all season. Michigan State routed Indiana 52-27 to drop the Hoosiers to 5-2, and though Indiana suffered a hard-fought loss to Penn State the following week, Lynch saw it as a sign that the team wouldn't let the previous season's collapse repeat itself.
"We came home and played Penn State and played them hard and competed and when that game was over – I think in my mind when that game got over, I knew we were going to win seven or more," said Lynch, an assistant on Bill Mallory's staff on Indiana's last bowl team in 1993. "They had bounced back from a really bad loss when a lot of people were saying 'same old Indiana.' The way we came back against Penn State – this wasn't the same."
Lynch was named Indiana's interim coach June 15 when Hoeppner took medical leave. He kept the interim tag through the season as Indiana "read up" on potential coaching candidates, athletic director Rick Greenspan told reporters in November.
After the regular season, the interim tag was removed from Lynch's job title, and he received a four-year contract.
"I honestly felt it would have been foolish to have another coach or someone else come in. We'd be taking a backward step," Hardy said. "This is a guy who had been here for three years and gladly he's going to be here for the next four at least. He knows each and every individual and he knows what it takes to get to a bowl game."
Now comes the challenge of taking Indiana to consecutive bowl games; that hasn't happened since the Hoosiers played in the 1990 Peach Bowl and the 1991 Copper Bowl.
The extra 12 practices this postseason are a start. So is the publicity and recruiting perks that come with playing in a bowl.
"Hep's deal, 'Play 13,' we talked about it a lot," Lynch said. "It wasn't the end-all. If you're going to build a program, you've got to be a bowl team. Then it's got to be something you do on a consistent basis."
David Fox is national college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.