The lifting of the bowl ban was followed immediately by four losses and a lot of angst. Then the win against Indiana and suddenly there was the light at the end of this season’s tunnel. It’s a such a relief!
We always knew we were enough. We have always had the heart and the drive and the family of loyal fans. That sense of self has carried us through two long bowl-less, sanction-y seasons. Now we have the wins go to with it. Finally being enough in the eyes of the college football system feels pretty darn good.
But something nags at me. Something feels like a hidden thorn in this happiness.
Please don’t get me wrong. I am beyond happy for our players and for our coaches. I’m so thankful that they will be able to experience a bowl game. What a great season for them: starting it off in Ireland and finishing with a bowl trip. I really couldn’t be happier for them.
It’s just that the recent events have scraped open the scab on my heart and here I am, bleeding again. I heard once that hurt bleeds anger and that’s just how I feel. The fact that we are going to a bowl this year points directly to the empty spots in past two seasons.
In 2012, we won eight games and lost four. Bowl eligible. In 2013, we won seven and lost five. Bowl. Eligible. You know as well as I do that there was no reason not to send us to a bowl game then. The missed opportunities can weigh heavily.
I try to look at the bright side. I try to see the bigger picture. I’m sorry to say that right now I’m seeing red. I’m seeing NCAA emails proving the sanctions were a scam. I’m seeing a football team working extra hard because of malicious NCAA manipulation. I’m seeing a team of players missing out on bowl experiences because of Board of Trustees cowardice. And I’ve had enough. The wrongs are not being righted quickly enough.
Thankfully, I’ve learned by now to take my cue from our tireless players. It’s hard to imagine how they, punished for the crimes of another, find the fortitude to focus solely on the celebration of bowl eligibility. To make this season’s bowl game enough.
I loved Mike Hull’s post-game quote: “We’re excited that we can go to a bowl game now, but we want to keep winning games so that we can get to the best bowl game possible, just like every other year.”
There’s the spirit we need. We are behind you completely. Go State! Beat Illinois!