Tom Allen isn’t the kind of guy who looks ahead much. At a place like Indiana, he can’t really afford to do so. He truly operates by the one-game season that has become a popular catchphrase among college football head coaches.

But if Allen drifted away from his regular approach and decided to pick apart the remaining opponents on IU’s schedule, he’s probably looking at these next three games as the most critical stretch of the season, maybe his career.

Sitting with a 4-2 record, Indiana has three manageable games remaining until its next off week — road trips to Maryland (3-3) and Nebraska (4-3) before returning home against Northwestern (1-4). The Hoosiers need just two wins to get to bowl eligibility. The last time IU earned a guaranteed postseason bid by October was in 1993. Nobody on the roster had even been born.

Win all three and the Hoosiers are 7-2 heading into the final three-game stretch of the season. And, if that happens, current Indiana freshman cornerback Taiwan Mullen might be known around campus as Nostradamus.

“I’m excited to get there and be part of a movement,” Mullen told USA Today last year as an IU commit. “We’ll be ranked in the top 25 next year, guaranteed.”

What once seemed like a confident kid making a simple, bold claim may actually become reality. But that’s a different story for a different day, if Indiana hits that 7-2 mark and potentially ends a rankings absence of over 25 years.

Back to Allen and the most important stretch of his career as a head coach.

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Indiana has been on the cusp of bowl eligibility for the last two seasons, heading into the Old Oaken Bucket game against Purdue with a 5-6 record and a chance to clinch a postseason bid. On both occasions on Allen’s watch, the Hoosiers have fallen short.

With a 3-0 record in non-conference play, a win over Rutgers last Saturday and stretch of games against middle-of-the-road B1G competition, Indiana has a chance to lock up its bowl berth well before that Nov. 30 meeting with the Boilermakers in West Lafayette. As much fun as those high-pressure situations can be, it would be beneficial for Allen and the Hoosiers to enter that game without that burden.

All three games present issues for Indiana. Maryland still has plenty of explosive playmakers, capable of carving up Indiana’s defense on any given play. Nebraska will be fresh off a bye week with home-field, having two weeks to get Adrian Martinez, JD Spielman and Wan’Dale Robinson healthy. Despite Northwestern’s 1-4 start, the Wildcats have been incredibly stingy on defense and Pat Fitzgerald’s teams usually play their best football at the end of the year.

Indiana won’t be able to hit the cruise control button and pick up three wins in the coming weeks. The Hoosiers are going to have to play their best football of the season to even get to 6-3 heading into November. And if IU does get to that mark — potentially even that coveted 7-2 — Allen’s message about turning a corner gets even easier to sell in the homes of those most prized recruits.

The other side of that coin, though, and what makes these next three games the most important of Allen’s head coaching tenure, is if the Hoosiers don’t get at least two wins. What if IU only secures one victory? What if it doesn’t get any?

For the sake of argument, let’s say Indiana only gets one win over the next three weeks — I can’t imagine it drops all three games, though it’s not unthinkable. That puts the Hoosiers at 5-4 with three games to play. From a numbers standpoint, bowl eligibility is still at the fingertips. Allen’s bunch would need just one win in those final three games.

The problem? Those final three games are:

  • at No. 7 Penn State
  • vs. No. 16 Michigan
  • at Purdue

If Indiana wins just one more game this month, it will head to West Lafayette with a 5-6 record in all likelihood, needing to win the Old Oaken Bucket to earn a bowl berth. Once again, Allen is 0-2 against Purdue in those situations.

And, just as another example, let’s say Indiana beats Maryland this weekend, but drops games to the NUs (Nebraska and Northwestern). The Hoosiers would’ve started 5-2 before dropping to 5-6 after four straight losses. Would you trust them to win that last one?

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This is why these next three games are so important to Allen. If the Hoosiers have secured their postseason berth before the calendar turns to November, he’ll be mentioned in the same sentence as legendary head coach Bill Mallory. If, somehow, IU can’t notch that sixth win this fall, you start to wonder if he can get the job done in Bloomington. That dreaded “if not now, then when?” question starts circulating.

Quite the 180, isn’t it?

Allen has brought great energy and enthusiasm to the program. He’s assembled some of the best recruiting classes in the school’s history. At some point, results have to come on the field. Indiana has been so close the last two years, but it’s time to produce.

Indiana has the talent and the schedule has created the opportunity. Allen has his best chance to reach his first bowl game as a head coach. The Hoosiers have to get it done this season.

Actually, they have to get it done these next three games.