Here's how huge win vs. Penn State can remain the most un-Indiana win ever
Anybody who has consumed a considerable amount Indiana football probably thought it was coming on Saturday against Penn State.
The letdown. The blunder. The “this is why we can’t have nice things” moment.
It always does. That’s how a program goes 33 years between wins against top-10 teams. Whether it’s watching Zander Diamont’s pass to Ricky Jones fall incomplete in the end zone against No. 1 Ohio State in 2015 or watching Denard Robinson scramble for a touchdown in the final seconds to lift No. 18 Michigan to a win in 2010, the Bloomington faithful has seen no shortage of late heartbreak against quality foes.
(I covered that Robinson game, and I was there for the dropped touchdown pass against No. 15 Iowa that year, too.)
That’s why when Michael Penix Jr.’s outstretched arm grazed the pylon — and I mean grazed — for an overtime win against No. 8 Penn State it was met with pure pandemonium. Well, about as much pandemonium as there can be with what was essentially an empty stadium.
Indiana isn’t the team that celebrates like that. Indiana is the team that walks off the field and wonders why the football gods put them an inch from a breakthrough.
I mean, we’re talking about the program that went a full decade between home wins against ranked teams. We’re talking about a program that went a quarter-century between AP Top 25 rankings. We’re talking about a program that has 9 wins vs. ranked foes since the start of the 1994 season (that was when IU last showed up in the AP Top 25 before 2019).
This isn’t the postgame locker room you’re supposed to see in Bloomington after a matchup with a top-10 team:
— Indiana Football (@IndianaFootball) October 25, 2020
What you’re about to read might sound like a buzzkill, but trust me when I say it’s not. At least I don’t think it is.
Saturday was a completely un-Indiana win. There’s a way it can remain the most un-Indiana win.
Let’s back up a second here. More historical context is needed.
Remember how I said that Indiana has 9 wins vs. AP Top 25 teams since the start of 1994? Tell me if you can spot a trend here:
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Not a single one of those AP Top 25 teams that Indiana beat since 1994 finished with a winning B1G record. The only team of that group who had a quality conference season and finished as a Top 25 team was Mizzou (insert joke about the SEC not being so mighty after all).
What does that mean? It means that basically every time Indiana beats a legitimate foe, the win ages horribly. That 2016 game against MSU was the best possible example of that. When the Hoosiers beat MSU that year, it was a program coming off of a Playoff berth, and it only had 1 loss to date. Had Indiana known that MSU was going to crawl to a 1-8 B1G record that year, there’s no chance that the Hoosiers would’ve celebrated like they won a B1G Championship.
— Indiana On BTN (@IndianaOnBTN) October 1, 2020
Of those 9 wins against ranked foes, 3 of a possible 8 (PSU has only played 1 game in 2020) came against teams who went on to win 2 or fewer conference games. More times than not, a ranked team losing to Indiana is a sign of a program who has fallen off the rails or is about to.
Indiana’s quality wins usually don’t hold up by season’s end. And even in 2014 when Tevin Coleman rushed for roughly 8,000 yards at Mizzou, that was sandwiched between a loss to Bowling Green and a blowout loss to B1G newbie Maryland.
On the flip side, from 1994-2019, Indiana’s win against Illinois in 1999 was the only instance in which the Hoosiers beat an unranked team who finished the season in the AP Top 25.
What does that mean? Since 1994, Indiana has 1 win against a B1G team who finished the season ranked. That’s stunning.
Is that a bad omen for Penn State? Perhaps, though I’d argue losing Noah Cain in the first quarter after an offseason in which it already needed replacements for Micah Parsons, K.J. Hamler and Journey Brown had something to do with that. It also has potential to be a one-off for a program playing in its first football game in 10 months after an offseason in which a global pandemic took over the sports world.
Hey, maybe that’s what it took for Indiana to finally pick up a win that doesn’t go bad quicker than an avocado.
If Penn State were to finish the year ranked, it would mark the first time that Indiana beat a ranked B1G opponent who ended the season in the AP Top 25 since it beat No. 20 Michigan in 1987. Two weeks earlier, Indiana took down No. 9 Ohio State. Of course, that was the last time before the Penn State game this past Saturday that the Hoosiers beat a top-10 team.
Would now be a good time to mention that the 1987 Ohio State squad finished unranked after a 6-4-1 season?
OK, that was too much of a buzzkill.
That’s not the point of this. Allen feels like Indiana’s best coach since Bill Mallory, and for once, it feels like Indiana is building on something bigger than a one-off bowl appearance.
Enjoy it, Hoosiers. You know as well as anyone that Saturday might’ve been your Super Bowl.
And even if it’s not, well, celebrate because the good times might finally be coming.