BLOOMINGTON -- Cody Latimer couldn't help himself. Can you blame him? Here we are in November and the Indiana Hoosiers, the Big Ten's perennial doormats, are talking the improbable.
Except, more and more, it's possible.
So there was Latimer, a sophomore receiver coming off a Jerry Rice-like game (seven catches, 113 yards, three touchdowns) in a 24-21 gut-check victory over Iowa, saying what everyone knew.
“We needed this win to help us get to the bowl game we want. The Rose Bowl I should say.”
He laughed. Those around him laughed.
IU in Pasadena on Jan. 1, 2013.
Like we said, it's possible.
If the Hoosiers win their final three games, they go to the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis. If they win that game, they go to the Rose Bowl. If they win that game …
OK. Take a deep breath. The Hoosiers are.
“It's very encouraging that we control our own destiny,” Latimer said, “but we have to get to Wisconsin and get the win.”
The Badgers, by the way, have embarrassed Indiana the last two years, winning 83-20 and 59-7.
Yes, the Hoosiers remember.
“I know our defense will step up and do what they have to do,” Latimer said. “They've been doing a great job in stopping people. I'm confident in them.”
That defense, as recently as a few weeks ago among the nation's worst, has suddenly evolved into a tough-minded unit. In the last seven quarters it has allowed just 17 points (seven of Iowa's points came on an interception return for a touchdown).
Coach Kevin Wilson places much of the credit to the improvement of the three senior defensive linemen -- Adam Replogle, Larry Black and Nick Sliger.
“Our defense has changed because of the way our three seniors compete, and their relentlessness and energy,” he said.
As far as bowl talk, Wilson says IU's 4-5 record, 2-3 in the Big Ten isn't close to what he envisions for the program.
“We need to learn how to be a winning team, putting good things in our bodies, taking care of our bodies, tape study,” he said. “Our whole gig is that we're not good enough to look ahead.
“We know we control our whole destiny, but we do that every day. We have to keep working hard to get better. That's what the kids hear every day. Good teams get better as you go. We need to play better.”
So can Indiana sweep its final three games of Wisconsin (6-3), Penn State (6-3) and Purdue (3-6)? Sure it can. The Big Ten is as weak as it's been, well, maybe ever. And the Hoosiers have been competitive in every game, with three defeats by four or fewer points.
Still, it won't be easy. Wisconsin's three losses have each come by three points -- to Oregon State, Nebraska and Michigan State in overtime. It has a power running game and a solid defense to offset shaky quarterback play. Because of a bye, it will have an extra week to prepare.
Still, the Badgers are coming to Memorial Stadium, and that's an edge IU has to exploit. Postseason possibilities depend on it.
Penn State has bounced back from the Jerry Sandusky scandal and an 0-2 start to be playing at the Big Ten's highest level after Ohio State.
Purdue is an 0-5-in-the-Big Ten disaster. It has been blown out in its last three home games, choked away a certain victory at Ohio State and been, perhaps, the biggest disappointment in college football after USC. Coach Danny Hope's job security beyond the next month is very much uncertain.
If the Hoosiers play with tough-minded purpose at Ross-Ade Stadium, there's no reason why they shouldn't win, and win easily.
“I don't think our kids are going to get a big head by any means,” Wilson said. “But do you learn how to come back and be tough and work hard and prepare when you've won a game? Now you've got the result. Do it again.”
If IU wins two of its last three games (say Wisconsin and Purdue) it finishes 6-6 overall, 4-4 in the Big Ten. After the Hoosiers, the Badgers (3-2 in the Big Ten) have to play Ohio State and at Penn State. If they lost to IU and also finish 4-4 in the Big Ten, IU still wins the Leaders Division because of the head-to-head matchup.
OK, technically it doesn't win the Leaders Division. Ohio State almost certainly will, with Penn State right behind. But those teams are ineligible for the postseason, giving Indiana an opportunity it might never have again.
So if the Hoosiers finish ahead of Wisconsin, Illinois and Purdue, they advance to the Big Ten title game against the Legends Division winner, likely Nebraska or Michigan, with the winner advancing to the Rose Bowl.
Yeah, we know.
The Rose Bowl.