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December 29, 2007

Insight Bowl: Indiana vs. Oklahoma State

Insight Bowl: Who has the edge? | Bowl rematches | Bowl Central | Bowl schedule

Indiana (7-5) vs. Oklahoma State (6-6)
WHEN: 6 p.m., Monday.
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."

Insight Bowl: David Fox breaks it down
Indiana run offense vs. Oklahoma State run defense
EDGE: Indiana The Hoosiers never found consistency in the ground game during the regular season. QB Kellen Lewis led the team in carries, yards and rushing touchdowns. Starting TB Marcus Thigpen has one 100-yard rushing game, with 140 in the finale against Purdue. Good news for Indiana is that Oklahoma State's run defense isn't particularly impressive. The only team that wanted to run against the Cowboys but wasn't able was Florida Atlantic.
Indiana pass offense vs. Oklahoma State pass defense
EDGE: Indiana The combination of Lewis and WR James Hardy should cause problems for the Cowboys. Hardy was a Rivals.com second-team All-America, with 74 catches, 1,075 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns. At 6 feet 7 and 220 pounds, Hardy is a matchup nightmare. Oklahoma State ranked 109th in pass efficiency defense and 117th in overall pass defense. The Cowboys have allowed 25 TD passes and have just 12 picks.
Oklahoma State run offense vs. Indiana run defense
EDGE: Oklahoma State TB Dantrell Savage returned from abdominal and groin injuries in the fourth week of the season to start a streak of nine consecutive 100-yard games. Quarterback Zac Robinson has three 100-yard rushing games and a total of 777 yards for the Big 12's top rushing team. The Cowboys rushed for at least 230 yards seven times and for at least 195 10 times. Indiana ranked ninth in the Big Ten in rush defense at 155.4 yards per game, and the Hoosiers were all but helpless against teams that truly featured the run (281.8 yards per game and 12 rushing TDs against Illinois, Michigan State, Penn State and Wisconsin).
Oklahoma State pass offense vs. Indiana pass defense
EDGE: Oklahoma State The Cowboys get a major boost from the return of star WR Adarius Bowman. He missed the final two games of the season with a knee injury after catching 61 passes for 932 yards and seven touchdowns in the first 10 games. In Bowman's absence, freshman Dez Bryant became a more viable option in the passing game. Indiana's best weapon against the pass is DE Greg Middleton, who led the nation with 16 sacks. Oklahoma State has allowed just 11 sacks. While IU has allowed 18 TD passes, it also has 18 picks. The Hoosiers have intercepted at least one pass in every game this season, and CB Tracy Porter (six picks) is the standout in the secondary.
Indiana special teams vs. Oklahoma State special teams
EDGE: Indiana Indiana boasts one of the best kickers in the country in Lou Groza finalist Austin Starr, who made 19 of 21 field-goal attempts - including the game-winner against Purdue. Oklahoma State hasn't kicked a field goal of longer than 32 yards, and Starr has kicked 10 of at least 40 yards. Opponents have tried to avoid Indiana's Marcus Thigpen, who returned three kickoffs for touchdowns last year. Oklahoma State sophomore Perrish Cox returned a punt and kickoff for a touchdown this year. Cowboys punter Matt Fodge averages 42.9 yards per kick.
Indiana coaching staff vs. Oklahoma State coaching staff
EDGE: Indiana Bill Lynch is taking Indiana to its first bowl since 1993. Lynch also took Ball State to the 1996 Las Vegas Bowl. Oklahoma State makes its second consecutive trip to a bowl under Mike Gundy. The Cowboys will also have to find a new offensive play-caller with coordinator Larry Fedora having left to become coach at Southern Miss.
Indiana will win if
Indiana hasn't stopped a running game of the caliber of Oklahoma State's all year. Thus, it's likely Lewis and Hardy will have to continue to their end zone connection.
Oklahoma State will win if
The Cowboys need a strong rushing attack above all else. They also need to keep IU's Hardy somewhat under wraps.
Will Indiana be too emotional? "Play 13" meaning reach a bowl was one of the final messages from Hoosiers coach Terry Hoeppner before he died in June.
The picks
Rivals.com expert picks:
Mike Huguenin, national college editor: Indiana 33-31
Olin Buchanan, national college football writer: Indiana 35-34
Steve Megargee, national college football writer: Indiana 34-27
Bill King, Rivals Radio host: Oklahoma State 28-24
Check out the rest of the Rivals.com Expert Picks.

David Fox is national college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.

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