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August 29, 2016

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) The Indiana Hoosiers spent seven years chasing a bowl bid.

With the drought finally over, the Hoosiers can turn their attention to a whole, new world of possibilities.

''A national championship, not just a bowl game,'' defensive lineman Ralph Green III said when asked about Indiana's next step. ''Everyone on this team believes we can play for a national championship - and win it.''

Green wasn't making a prediction, a guarantee or even a boast about this season. He just wants outsiders to know that these Hoosiers are confident enough to dream bigger than their most loyal fans.

The bold talk will take some getting used to In Bloomington, a town that usually reserves the term ''national championship'' for the men's basketball, men's soccer and the school's swimming and diving teams.

Nearly a half century since winning its last Big Ten title, the football team wants in on the action.

A year ago, the Hoosiers finished 6-7 - a record that could have been significantly better had they not blown leads in the final minute of two games and a 25-point third quarter lead in another game. At Michigan State and at Ohio State, they were within a field goal going into the fourth quarter, and Michigan needed to convert a fourth-and-goal play with 2 seconds left in regulation just to force overtime.

Despite losing all of those games, Indiana still made its first postseason trip since 2007 by winning its final last two games on the road for the first time since 1982.

The Hoosiers also have won three straight over archrival Purdue for the first time in nearly seven decades. Beating the Boilermakers at home Nov. 26 would give Indiana a record-tying fourth consecutive victory the series; the only other time that happened was 1943-47.

It has all given the Hoosiers momentum heading into Thursday night's season-opener at Florida International - and has coach Kevin Wilson encouraging them to raise the bar.

''I'm excited to see where these guys start. I'm really excited to see how they go through the year,'' Wilson said, assessing the defense. ''I think it's got a chance to be really, really good.''

If he's right, the Hoosiers could really have something because the offense is pretty talented, as usual.

The Hoosiers are looking for a third consecutive season with a 1,000-yard runner - something that hasn't happened since 1989 Heisman Trophy runner-up Anthony Thompson and Vaughn Dunbar did it from 1987-91. If Devine Redding runs for a second straight 1,000-yard season, it would be the first time in school history that the Hoosiers have produced three successive seasons with a different 1,000-yard runner.

Redding finished with 1,012 yards last season and is working behind an offensive line that returns three starters and a new left tackle, who was an honorable mention selection on the 2015 all-freshman team.

''It's a way different feeling around here, the whole aura has changed,'' Redding said. ''You can feel this team is really gelling and we're all on the same page.''

The question, of course, is whether the defense improves. Since 2005, Indiana has allowed an astounding 34.1 points per game.

Though the Hoosiers have landed some solid players over the years, such as NFL players Adewale Ogunleye and Tracy Porter, they are starting this season with their third defensive coordinator in four years and have mostly struggled on that side of the ball.

Green and others insist this season's new attitude could produce the missing pieces to a championship puzzle.

''I have confidence we can be competing for a playoff spot,'' linebacker Marcus Oliver said. ''The biggest thing has been learning that we have the talent and that teams aren't better than us. We just beat ourselves a lot of the time.''

Of course, the Hoosiers know the reality: They haven't won a conference title since 1967, haven't won a bowl game since 1991 and have never even been in contention for a playoff game.

But after all that, this Indiana team believes it can change course.

''We want to go back and win a bowl game or go even higher,'' All-American guard Dan Feeney said. ''We got a taste of the postseason and we want to get back this year and go even farther.''

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