Nobody in the FCS could be more bummed out by the news on Sunday than Indiana State, a team that seemed destined to complete a big turnaround season with an FCS Playoff bid.
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The Sycamores turned an 0-11 season in 2017 into a 7-4 season in 2018, came into the weekend on a five-game winning streak, and had many pundits pinning them as an FCS Playoff at-large qualifier.
But it didn't happen on Sunday. The "snub" — which reminds some of the same snub Austin Peay endured last year after going 29 games without a win to an 8-game winner in 2017 — hurt badly.
"Obviously we're very disappointed, and after we knew I immediately stood up and talked to the team about how proud they should be of what happened this year," Indiana State head coach Curt Mallory told HERO Sports Sunday afternoon. "Obviously to be disappointed is understandable, but they have nothing to hang their head about. They accomplished an awful lot and it is appreciated. Now, we'll just get back to work the Monday after Thanksgiving."
Indiana State ended its 14-game losing streak (dating back to the end of 2016) by knocking off Quincy in its season opener, and the next week went into the fourth quarter with Power 5 Louisville down just seven points after being tied at halftime. The spark was beginning to show in the program that had been winless in 2017 — but Mallory said the real spark actually came late last year, when it became obvious that the team was going to have a lowly record, yet nobody stopped busting their rears in practice.
"It started to click when we would go out to practice as an 0-8 or 0-9 team, yet it didn't feel like it was an 0-9 team, it felt like a good core of players was developing," Mallory said. "I knew we had a nice group of seniors to build around coming into the year. So we built around those 12 seniors and won the first one and battled against Louisville. After UNI (a 33-0 loss) we really were either close or won the rest of our games."
One other sign that things are turning around?: The Sycamores' job of recruiting the class of 2019. When reached on Sunday, Mallory said the staff was already planning to hit the recruiting trail this week — as the early signing period does crank up in December. Our HERO Sports team ranking on Oct. 25 had Indiana State rated No. 15 in the nation.
"When a young man comes on campus and gets around our players and coaches and they have a chance to sell themselves, it works," Mallory said. "Indiana State has great people … and we're getting a lot of young men who want to get in the boat. The coaches have worked extremely hard and we've been able to have a strong start (with the class)."
We'll see if the Sycamores are in the playoff hunt this time next year.
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