"We've got a lot of work we have to do, a lot of improvement we need to do," said Wilson, who is preparing his team for its regular season home finale against Wisconsin Saturday. "It's obvious what's at stake, and our kids have hung in there (and) gotten better. We're still a young team, immature in some areas physically."
That youthfulness was present early on in Wilson's second season in Bloomington. A year after playing 16 true freshmen, Indiana's fall camp roster was comprised of 76 underclassmen (72.4 percent) - 39 were freshmen (37.1) and 32 were true freshmen (30.5) – and it showed during a five-game losing streak from mid September to late October.
Indiana lost four games by one possession and a combined eight points. It blew a 17-point home lead vs. Michigan State, a 9-point fourth-quarter lead at Navy and lost a 52-49 shootout when it hosted then-No.8 Ohio State.
"We're a long way away from being a good football team," said Wilson, "but we're getting better."
That's been evident over the past two weeks. A year after the Hoosiers won just one game in Wilson's first season (and none over a FBS school), Indiana (4-5, 2-3 Big Ten) controls its fate in order to make just its second Rose Bowl ever (its only appearance was a 14-3 loss to USC in 1968).
After a 24-21 home victory over Iowa Saturday, Indiana has won consecutive conference games for the first time since 2007. A win over Wisconsin (6-3, 3-2) would give Indiana its first three-game Big Ten winning streak since 1993, impressive for a program that has averaged 1.7 Big Ten wins over the last 15 seasons.
But for a program that has made only nine bowls of any kind in 125 years or just one after 1993, Wilson doesn't buy into the hype of playing a ‘meaningful game' this weekend, especially since Indiana is sub-.500 and last week's home game barely drew 40,000 fans.
"We always play in bad TV spots," said Wilson, noting Saturday's ‘big-game' kickoff as 11 a.m. CT. "We don't get much coverage."
And while it's true the Hoosiers must win two of their final three games to get bowl eligible for the first time since 2007, the underdog card played by Wilson – the former Oklahoma offensive coordinator who won the Broyles Award, given to the top assistant in college football annually, in 2008 – is a calculated maneuver: he wants people to look at their record, instead of looking at their consistently-improving personnel.
The Hoosiers have scored the third-most points in the conference, scored more points (298) this season than they scored all of last season (257) and has scored 24-or-more points in each game this season and 10 straight overall, a school record.
Indiana uses an up-tempo style offense slightly similar to the way Oregon attacked Wisconsin last season. Having eight touchdown drives under 60 seconds and 17 touchdown drives under 90 seconds, Indiana is running a play every 21.1 seconds and 27 of its last 33 scoring drives have taken three minutes or less.
Last week against Iowa, quarterback Cameron Coffman – one of two IU uses - became the Hoosiers first 300-yard passer since 2010, and did it despite playing in only two first half drives. All three of his touchdown throws went to sophomore Cody Latimer, who caught seven passes for 113 yards and three touchdowns en route to being names the Big Ten's co-offensive player of the week.
"I think he was a pretty good sleeper-type recruit," said Wilson. "I don't think he's played his best yet."
The Hoosiers are rushing for 150 yards per game, but averaging 299.9 yards per game through the air; a number that is boosted by their ability to protect the quarterback and hang on to the football. Through nine games, Indiana has allowed just 12 sacks, one per every 31.8 pass attempts, and committed just seven turnovers (six interceptions and one fumble), which is tied for the third-lowest mark in the country.
But for as much as it's made about Indiana's up-tempo offense, the improvement of the Hoosiers' defense has put Indiana in position to make it to Indianapolis.
Allowing 42.3 points, 275 pass yards, 289 rush yards and 564 total yards per game in week's four through six, Indiana has allowed 18.3 points, 173.7 pass yards, 183 rush yards and 356.7 total yards per game.
Against Iowa, the Hawkeyes' offense had five possessions that were three plays and out while Indiana had seven tackles for loss.
"We're getting players in better places," said Wilson. "Physically we're getting a little bit better. We've only got two seniors on defense. We've embraced getting better every day."
When asked about Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema's decision to not name a starting quarterback, Wilson expecting downplayed the decision, saying he expects Wisconsin to run its offense like it has previous weeks.
Just like any coach building program, Wilson said the responsibility is on his team if it wants to be known more than just a basketball school.
"We're going to play as hard as we can," Wilson said. "We're just going to keep plugging along, getting better in doing what we're doing … and just control what we do.
"We have a really good group, we've got a good thing going, we got a great school, we're going to get a great fan base behind us and we're going to build a quality product."