In this most coronavirus-marred college football season, Indiana’s breakthrough is offering a needed feel-good story.
The Hoosiers have been historically bad at football. When coach Tom Allen led them to their 8-5 finish last season, they posted just their second record season since 1994.
Except for a bunch of victories over Missouri over the decades, the Indiana football history is a sad, sad story.
But this season the Hoosiers stunned Penn State 36-35, won 37-21 at Rutgers, drubbed once-proud Michigan 38-21 and blanked Michigan State 24-0.
The Hoosiers are 21-point underdogs against Ohio State Saturday, but the Buckeyes can’t take them lightly.
“Our players and our staff are confident,” Indiana offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan told 247 Sports. “We earned that through our hard work. Ultimately anything that has happened in previous weeks, last year's game, those things have no impact on the game this Saturday. You start over each and every week. You have to prove it each and every week.”
Allen has built a competitive program step by step, posting 5-7 records in his first two seasons after stepping up from defensive coordinator to replace coach Kevin Wilson.
Last season’s breakthrough – which ended with a heartbreaking 23-22 loss to Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl -- set the stage for this season.
“I don't say this too much publicly, because I don’t want it taken the wrong way, but I almost felt like we weren't ready to win that bowl game against Tennessee,” Allen said. “We were the third-youngest team in the Big Ten a year ago. And I felt like we almost would have skipped some steps in the growth of a program to go to nine wins immediately. Even though I'm still sick about the fact that we didn't finish that game, it's almost like we needed that. That gave us so much fuel for this offseason, to be able to say, ‘Guys, you know, we were inches away from that ninth win, that bowl win we haven't had for 28 years.’”
This season the Hoosiers came ready to win big games, as Big Ten rivals are discovering.
“It didn’t just happen out of nowhere,” Allen said. “It’s been a slow build.
“When you have a slow, gradual build, you usually have more sustainability. When things happen fast, they often leave fast. When things take more time to develop, the health will last longer. That's just a principle of life. We're building a program here, we're not just trying to assemble a team that plays good for a few years, and then goes away. I want to build a successful long-term program that's going to be built to last.”
Tipsheet will believe that when it sees it, but in the meantime let’s enjoy this underdog story for as long as it lasts.
Here is what folks are writing about college football:
Pete Fiutak, College Football News: “If unbeaten Alabama loses to Florida in a decent battle, that’s it. We have our College Football Playoff, and nothing else matters – Florida, Alabama, Big Ten champ, ACC champ. However, if Florida loses, it’s almost certainly out. Texas A&M will be in a weird place – no, not College Station. It’ll have beaten Florida and its only loss was on the road at Alabama. If the Aggies can get back on the field and start playing again, and if they win out, they’ll have a great case for that fourth spot. However, they’ll likely have to be impressive on December 19th against whatever team they have to deal with. The ACC Championship will be an even bigger deal. Assuming Clemson has just the one loss to Notre Dame, it’s in with a win and another ACC title. Notre Dame is in if it’s unbeaten and beats the Tigers again, and there’s a real shot that it’s in even with a loss depending on how close it is. If it’s a Clemson blowout, that’s where A&M comes in, and that’s where an unbeaten Pac-12 team – if there is one – enters the discussion. And then there’s the massive elephant in the room – what happens if one of the teams in this mix can’t go because of COVID issues?”
Dennis Dodd, CBSSports.com: “Just when you were thinking there were would be a bunch of mulligans handed out to college football coaches this season amid COVID-19, South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner beat everyone to igniting the silly season. Never mind the season is shortened, athletic budgets have been set on fire and players themselves have gotten that mulligan (an extra year of eligibility). Tanner couldn't keep Will Muschamp, who was fired Monday. Muschamp had his shortcomings, sure, but is anyone safe now? It may be time to reevaluate what looked like it would be a slow offseason for coaching changes. South Carolina is a middling SEC program. It will take at least $30 million commitment to pay off Muschamp and hire a new staff. How's that for belt tightening? Judging by South Carolina's actions, a mere pandemic won't keep schools from throwing good money after bad to get a new face in front of recruits. (Surprise, the beginning of the early signing period is a month from today!) It's always about recruiting.”
Adam Rittenberg, ESPN.com: “This is a tough job, despite being in the more navigable SEC division. Other than a three-year stretch under Steve Spurrier from 2011 to 2013, when South Carolina went 33-6 with three AP Top 10 finishes, the program hasn't sustained high-level success. Since 1961, only three South Carolina coaches finished with winning records. The Gamecocks' only division title came in 2010 under Spurrier, and their only conference title came in 1969 as a member of the ACC. A $50 million football operations center, which opened in 2019, showed increased investment in a program that faces an uphill climb in the well-resourced SEC. Being first to market brings advantages, and South Carolina will have a strong candidate pool to replace Muschamp, especially at the top. A subplot is how much influence athletic director Ray Tanner has with the hire, given his own uncertain future. But university president Bob Caslen endorsed Tanner in Sunday's announcement of Muschamp's dismissal.”
Pete Thamel, Yahoo! Sports: “He may not be the sexiest candidate, but he’s the most realistic. [Billy] Napier has guided Louisiana to an upset of Iowa State this season and a national ranking. He played at Furman and coached at South Carolina State and Clemson (twice), so his ties to the state are strong. South Carolina officials are eating more than $13 million to fire Muschamp, not to mention the cost of his staff. (Mike Bobo, for example, has another year at $1.2 million remaining on his deal.) South Carolina officials may want a sexier name, but Napier may be the best fit. He’s been picky about jobs, turning down the shot to interview at multiple Power Five schools last year. This one may land different.”
David M. Hale, ESPN.com: “Jarrett Guarantano returned to practice this week after leaving the Volunteers' Nov. 7 loss to Arkansas with a head injury. Whether Guarantano starts or shares snaps with backup Harrison Bailey remains a big question. Guarantano has started every game this season, but his performance has been less than stellar, ranking 71st nationally in total QBR. Tennessee might be wise to start thinking about the future of the QB spot, but the Vols are also mired in a four-game losing streak and desperate to find something positive for a frustrated fan base. With three of Tennessee's remaining four games coming against ranked foes, starting with Auburn on Saturday, the 2020 campaign could either be salvaged with a big win or collapse entirely.”
Paul Myerberg, USA Today: “You think it can't get any worse for Michigan, and then Saturday comes along. The latest disaster, a 49-11 loss to Wisconsin, saw the Wolverines gain one yard of offense in the first quarter and fall behind 28-0 by halftime. In the end, Michigan allowed 341 yards on the ground and made a change at quarterback, with redshirt freshman Cade McNamara replacing an ineffective Joe Milton. From Wisconsin's perspective, the easy win reinforces the Badgers' reputation as a legitimate contender for the New Year's Six and potentially Ohio State's greatest threat in the Big Ten. For Michigan, it'll be another week spent questioning the program's direction under Jim Harbaugh.”
Pat Forde, Yahoo! Sports: “The Harbaugh Era is disintegrating, and there is little reason to believe either he or the school administration want to extend a contract that expires after the 2021 season. The Wolverines have lost three in a row by escalating margins, giving up an escalating number of points in each game, while showing a declining level of confidence and resolve. If this 1-3 start were a blip, instead of a continuation of an unfulfilling tenure, that would be one thing. It’s not. This is the next step in a program going from underachiever to flat-out dog.”
“We talk about not blinking in this program. Well, we don't blink when things go bad. We don't blink when things go good. They expected this to happen. I know most people did not, but our players did and I did.”
Allen, on his team’s success.