Most projections pegged Indiana for three to five victories this season, so with a 4-8 final record, you could say the Hoosiers met expectations.
But they could have done so much better.
Anyone who watched Indiana play this fall noticed the obvious upgrades. Junior quarterback Ben Chappell was a real weapon under center, while wideouts Tandon Doss and Damarlo Belcher could start for any Big Ten team. Running back Darius Willis showed tremendous promise at times, while the defense boasted standouts in end Jammie Kirlew and linebacker Matt Mayberry.
There seemed to be a new feeling around the Indiana program this year, but the results were all too familiar. Indiana showed it could compete against good teams. The Hoosiers simply couldn't beat them.
A second bowl appearance in three years seemed possible after a 3-0 start, and even after a very competitive performance at Michigan Stadium in the Big Ten opener. And if Indiana had held onto leads against Northwestern (28-3), Iowa (21-7) and Penn State (10-0), it would have gone bowling.
IU fans should be pleased with the individual performances from Chappell, Doss, Willis, Kirlew, Mayberry and others, but the collective result still isn't good enough. Indiana was outscored 162-106 in the second half this season and finished near the bottom of the Big Ten in several key defensive categories, including third-down conversion percentage (47.5).
Offensive MVP: Ben Chappell. Many were skeptical about Indiana's offense following Kellen Lewis' dismissal this spring, but Chappell backed up the coaches' beliefs with a solid junior season. He finished second in the league in passing (245.1 yards per game) and 15th nationally in completions (22.3 completions per game). Honorable mention goes to Doss, a first-team All-Big Ten selection by the media.
Defensive MVP: Matt Mayberry. A very tough call here between Mayberry and Kirlew, but anyone who watched Indiana saw Mayberry all over the field. The senior linebacker led IU with 108 tackles, including 11 for loss and 5.5 sacks. He also was excellent in pass coverage with three interceptions and three pass breakups. If not for a large group of solid linebackers, Mayberry would have been an All-Big Ten selection. Kirlew obviously deserves a mention here after forcing five fumbles and 15.5 tackles for loss.
Turning point: Indiana took a 4-3 record to Northwestern for what looked like a bowl play-in game on Oct. 24. The Hoosiers surged to a 28-3 lead but fell apart in the final two and a half quarters, as Northwestern mounted the biggest comeback in team history. Indiana blew a 21-7 lead the next week at Iowa and slipped out of bowl contention.
What's next: Head coach Bill Lynch will be back for a fourth season, which is the right call for a program lacking much continuity since the Bill Mallory era. Lynch still must prove he can win consistently in the Big Ten, however, and he'll need to bolster a defense that loses most of its top players.