BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — When Kevin Wilson watches tape of Indiana State, it doesn't look like another small-school program trying to prove it can play with college football's big boys.
The Indiana coach sees a team that plays hard, has a winning attitude, can run the ball and stops the run. He sees a team ready to post a third straight winning season and that is tough enough back up the talk about winning a conference title and vying for a national championship.
"That's the culture that wins on my son's little league team, it's what Jim Harbaugh has going on in San Fran, it's why the Patriots are so good," Wilson said. "You can coach it up, scheme it up, run the wishbone every play or whatever, and at the end of the day it's about effort."
Wilson expects nothing less from his Hoosiers after last season's debacle.
Indiana lost its final nine games, posted its first winless Big Ten season since 1995 and was the only BCS conference school that failed to defeat another Football Bowl Subdivision team.
Wilson, who was accustomed to playing in BCS bowl games when he was the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma, has called 2011 a humbling experience — one he obviously does not want to repeat.
So when the Hoosiers and Sycamores meet in Saturday night's season-opener, Indiana will finally have a clean slate.
"Everybody's starting new," Hoosiers quarterback Tre Roberson said. "We can't wait to go out and play and start getting some wins."
The Hoosiers have gone almost 50 weeks since celebrating their last victory — 38-21 over Championship Subdivision foe South Carolina State.
And ending that skid against the Sycamores will be a challenge.
Coach Trent Miles has completely changed the image of Indiana State's program.
When he arrived in 2008, the Sycamores were mired in a losing streak that eventually reached 33 games. Since ending the skid, Indiana State has won 13 times and has shed its lovable-loser image.
What would a win at Indiana mean?
It could give Shakir Bell, runner-up for last year's Walter Payton Award, a leg up on the top FCS honor. It could help defensive lineman Ben Obaseki make an even stronger case to NFL scouts who are already coming to Terre Haute for a peek. Plus, it would be the signature victory for the players who inspired this remarkable turnaround after being shunned by the bigger school.
"I don't think I have a player that was offered a scholarship by them (Hoosiers), so we have a lot to prove that, 'Hey, you know, we belong on the same field.' We want to go play and judge ourselves by what is considered an upper level program. As a competitor, what more could you ask for?" Miles said. "So we have a lot to prove to ourselves, and we want to put it on film that we can execute in big games."
There are plenty of reasons for Indiana's concern.
Bell finished as the nation's top rusher last season (1,670 yards) and was the first sophomore invited to the Payton Award ceremony in Dallas. He relishes the spotlight, too. Quarterback Mike Perish transferred to Indiana State from Western Michigan and is determined to win.
In five of the last seven games in 2011, Indiana's defense allowed 41 or more points. The Hoosiers think they've fixed the leaky defense with the addition of two junior college linebackers, Jacarri Alexander and David Cooper.
But Wilson knows new faces are only part of the answer.
"We've been so poor that whenever somebody does something, somebody pats them on the head and their head gets inflated. We get out there and play average as all get out," Wilson said. "We're just a vicious cycle of up and down and up and down because no one knows how to keep coming. No one knows how to handle success. No one knows how to push themselves. ... We're not a bad team because of bad players. We're a bad team because the good players don't play good enough."
It's a lesson the Sycamores learned the hard way.
Now it's Wilson turn to change things at Indiana, and he's trying to steal a page right out of Miles' playbook.
"I just know when I put on tape of their offense, their defense and their kicking game, I see every guy playing with really strong effort, and that tells me a lot about what he (Miles) has done down there in terms of organization and coaching," Wilson said. "He's done a very impressive job with that, and I have tremendous respect for that."