So it's come to this now for the Indiana Hoosiers: Faint praise is the element in which they work best.
And they are thoroughly damned by it.
Another week, another Saturday in which they played a top-shelf team off its feet -- and another valiant effort ending in another loss. And now that the losses have mounted to six in a row, and have left the Hoosiers 0-6 in the Big Ten and 4-6 overall, what is the best we can say of them?
That they are the best 4-6 team in the nation. Faint praise that damns again.
They have an NFL quarterback and an NFL running back who shredded No. 14 Michigan for 238 yards yesterday -- the vaunted UM rushing D looked like the phoniest of mirages against Jordan Howard -- and it all came to naught. The Hoosiers had Michigan beaten, and then they didn't, just like they had No. 1 Ohio State beaten and then didn't. Just like they had Michigan State lined up until three touchdowns in the last eight minutes took it away, and just like they had No. 9 Iowa eyeball-to-eyeball before losing by a touchdown.
Conclusion: This is a football team that can play with almost anyone now. It just can't beat them. And given what Indiana football has mostly been before, that's progress.
Just not enough.
Just not enough, because the defense still isn't good enough to stop good teams for 60 minutes. It can do it in spurts. It can do it in stretches. But down at the end, when Michigan had to score, the Wolverines scored with unbecoming ease. The two touchdowns it scored in overtime came on passes to receivers who weren't even breathed upon, let alone covered.
And so, here the Hoosiers are: 4-6, a better football team than that, but still 4-6. They could still win out and get to some kind of half-assed bowl game, and if that happens they'll likely destroy whatever matching 6-6 team they go up against. But both their remaining games are road games, at Maryland and at Purdue. Of the two, Maryland seems the more likely team to hand Indiana its seventh loss and knock it out of the bowls.
In which case, it will be the eighth straight year Indiana has failed to play in a bowl. And, of course, the 24th straight year it failed to win one.
Now matter how good a 5-7 team it winds wind up being.