INDIANAPOLIS — Kevin Wilson is already getting back to work.
Two days after an emotional season-ending victory over Purdue, the Indiana coach was recruiting and evaluating what more must be done to finish this rebuilding project.
"In reality, we've got a program that's very, very close. It's coming," Wilson said. "I think we withstood a pretty good gut shot this year. We need one or two more (recruiting) classes to back it up."
Clearly, this was not the kind of season Wilson or the Hoosiers (4-8, 1-7 Big Ten) envisioned.
They started the year with a proven quarterback, Nate Sudfeld; one of the nation's most talented running backs, Tevin Coleman; a solid, experienced offensive line; and a young defense that embraced the switch from the traditional 4-3 front to the trendier 3-4.
But the inconsistent Hoosiers never really found a groove.
Indiana followed an inexplicable Week 2 loss at Bowling Green with a stunning 31-27 victory at Missouri, becoming the first Big Ten team to beat a ranked SEC team on the road since at least 1980, according to STATS. The Missouri win had fans thinking Wilson's team had turned the corner. Then came a surprisingly non-competitive 37-15 loss at home to Maryland. Two weeks later, at Iowa, the Hoosiers lost their top two quarterbacks -- Sudfeld and Chris Covington -- with season-ending injuries.
After that, the season was doomed.
While the Hoosiers were competitive for three quarters at Ohio State and Sudfeld's replacement, Zander Diamont, improved, Indiana still a needed a last-minute touchdown run from its true freshman quarterback to snap a six-game losing streak, avoid another winless conference season and retain the Old Oaken Bucket for the first time in two decades.
The emotional finale even made the usually tough-talking Wilson choke up as he contemplated a future without the departing seniors.
"With the guys coming back, the youthfulness of the freshman, sophomore talent, if we put the class we need to together, it's going to be pretty good," Wilson said.
Finding replacements won't be easy.
Coleman is considering an early jump to the NFL after rushing for a school-record 2,036 yards. At 6-foot-1, 210 pounds, the junior has the ideal combination of size and speed pro teams covet. Plus, he can catch and block. The combination could make him one of the hottest running back prospects in this year's draft. Coleman said Saturday he has not yet made a decision.
Indiana also loses speedy receiver Shane Wynn, who finished his career with 189 receptions, tied for second-most in school history.
But there is talent coming back.
Sudfeld, who had surgery on his non-throwing shoulder, and Diamont are both expected to return in 2015. They will have a more experienced receiving corps, four of the five offensive line starters back and Devine Redding, who showed flashes he could be the Hoosiers' running back of the future..
The young defense, which finally improved, has 17 players listed on its two-deep chart coming back, and they should be able to expand their playbook in Year 2 of Brian Knorr's system.
So even though Wilson has produced records of 1-11, 4-8, 5-7 and 4-8 and has won only six Big Ten games since taking over in 2011, athletic director Fred Glass doesn't appear to be in a hurry to make a coaching change.
"We've shown we can get kids to buy in and believe, and we are going to keep developing," he said. "We are going to keep building. Disappointed for the seniors, but proud of what they did for us."