Indiana looking to maintain urgency as it embarks on 2021 season
Coming off their best season in decades, Indiana coach Tom Allen’s challenge right now is to make sure the Hoosiers stay in the present.
It could be a tough task.
Celebrating the past is easy. Resting on those accomplishments might be even easier. But it doesn’t do anything to win games in 2021. And that was Allen’s biggest message on Friday at his Big Ten Media Days appearance in Indianapolis.
The Hoosiers, which saw their 6-2 season end in an Outback Bowl loss last year, are trying to replicate the urgency that they captured on a week-by-week basis in 2020.
It’s important to the direction of the program. Indiana has an opportunity right now, as it looks to maintain its status as a factor in the Big Ten East this season and beyond.
It would be easier to slip back than it will be to maintain or push forward. But the door is open for the Hoosiers, maybe wider than it has been at any point in the past 40 years. Outside of Ohio State, the clear No. 1 in the division and the conference, everyone else in the East has a significant question that remains unanswered:
• Can Jim Harbaugh get Michigan to where it is expected to be, as not only a Big Ten contender but a national one?
• Was Penn State’s blip last season on a one-year drop?
• Has Michigan State not only plateaued but taken a significant step back?
• Are Rutgers and Maryland forever mired at — or at least near — the bottom of the division standings?
For Indiana, the big question is how it deals with the success. Every week last season created a new highlight, from beating Penn State to doing the same to Michigan and Wisconsin, and its challenge of Ohio State — coming closer than anyone else in the league to knocking off the Buckeyes — might have been most impressive.
It snowballed, with last week’s accomplishment leading to the next. The urgency built.
But now? It’s created a situation where the Hoosiers very likely won’t be overlooked, not by Iowa in Game 1 nor by Cincinnati in Week 3. Nor by Penn State, whose upset loss in a thriller in Bloomington in the opener last season seemed to derail its entire year. Not Ohio State and Michigan, for very different reasons; they will be ready for rematches. Purdue will be eager to take on Indiana, after a year hiatus from the in-state rivalry.
Allen knows the work started months ago, after the Hoosiers were upset by Ole Miss in Tampa. There needed to be urgency right then, so that Indiana will be ready to go in 6 weeks.
“I do believe that individuals are made in the offseason. Teams are made in the season,” Allen said Friday. “So those teams that figure out how to play the best together and allow themselves to be the best football team on game day, that’s the team that’s going to win. So we’re excited about the 2021 Indiana Hoosiers.”
Allen should be. Indiana, which returns a vast majority of its offensive and defensive production from last season, has experienced the highs. Michael Penix Jr., Micah McFadden and Tiawan Mullen are among the best players at their positions in the Big Ten. And because of an influx of talented players from the transfer portal, and better recruiting classes the last several seasons, the Hoosiers have more depth than in recent history.
But all of that can be erased if the Hoosiers don’t maintain their urgency. The opportunity is still ahead.