Indiana quarterback Nate Sudfeld could barely sleep last week.
He knew what was on the line -- the Hoosiers’ first bowl appearance in seven years -- so he was more nervous than usual. Maybe the most nervous he’s been in his career. He tossed and turned at night, envisioning different scenarios for his 5-6 team, and saying out loud every so often, “We got to win this, we got to win this.”
Even his roommate and friend, defensive end Nick Mangieri, admitted he was nervous for his quarterback. But Sudfeld did just fine. He needed to win, and he did, becoming the Big Ten offensive player of the week in the process and beating in-state rival Purdue, 54-36. Indiana (6-6, 2-6 Big Ten) is now going bowling for just the second time in 21 years.
“You know what? It hasn’t been perfect,” Sudfeld said. “But we did it.”
Added Mangieri: “The four years that I’ve been playing here, this is the best feeling I ever had.”
No Big Ten team might’ve endured a more emotional season than the Hoosiers. They started off 4-0 – their best start in 25 years – but then dropped six straight, meaning their last two games were must-win. That’s, in part, why Sudfeld was so nervous just one week ago. A bowl game was on the line, but so was his and his fellow seniors’ legacies.
Now, after a 350-yard, four-touchdown passing performance, any concern has long been replaced with relief and ecstasy. The Hoosiers haven’t reached six wins since 2007, and they haven’t won a bowl since 1991. Making it to the postseason, wherever the destination, is an accomplishment these Hoosiers aren't taking for granted.
“Knowing our program’s history and our lack of going to the postseason – going twice in the last 21 years – we are very proud and honored to be that class that was able to get us over the hump,” Sudfeld said. “And I believe, for this program, this is just the starting point.”
Sudfeld and Mangieri said the team has talked a lot this week about where they might go. Maybe they’ll wind up in New York for the Pinstripe Bowl, California for the Foster Farms Bowl (Sudfeld’s preference), or maybe even a bowl in sunny Florida. But they don’t much care where they wind up; they’re just enjoying the ride right now.
Mangieri said several students approached him at his two Monday classes to ask him about the bowl destination. And Sudfeld, too, perked up when asked about the buzz on campus. He said he’s received a lot of messages – like “thank you” and “we’re so proud of you” – that have stuck with him.
“Personally, this means a lot,” Mangieri added. “I came in four years ago with a bunch of good guys and we kind of had the same vision to turn this program around. I think going to a bowl game kind of solidifies that for us.”
Both hoped that this could act as the springboard for a brighter Hoosiers future. The two cited the bowl’s impact on recruiting, which can’t hurt considering Indiana has signed just one ESPN 300 prospect over the past two classes.
At any rate, these Hoosiers are relishing in their postseason opportunity. Sudfeld admitted his palms were a bit sweaty right before Saturday’s kickoff, but he’s relaxed now. These Hoosiers are just looking forward to where they’re heading next.
“I’d be thrilled with wherever we go,” Sudfeld said. “We’ve always talked about going to a bowl and we’re actually going. We’re doing it.”