Football has never really been much of a thing at Indiana.
Throughout the years, the Hoosiers have encountered spurts of success. Only a handful of coaches – Bo McMillan, Lee Corso and Bill Mallory – have been able to field consistent winners. But even after Mallory took the program to six bowl games in 13 seasons, sustaining a winning culture quickly fell by the wayside.
Kevin Wilson was getting there. The Hoosiers had become a competitive program in the B1G and secured back-to-back bowl berths for the first time in 25 years. They pushed Ohio State and Michigan to the wire in 2015 and 2016. It was only a matter of time before Indiana notched that program-changing victory.
But before the Hoosiers had that moment, Wilson resigned as head coach and Tom Allen was handed the position. When the former defensive coordinator agreed to take the job, he was inheriting more than just a program.
Football has become a thing in Bloomington. Sort of, anyway. The Hoosiers have reached back-to-back bowl games and have beaten Purdue four-straight years for only the second time in the program’s history. Indiana
And the pressure on Allen to win immediately is real.
It may not come from the fans or the media or even the administration. After all, Wilson was actually signed to a six year extension after reaching the Pinstripe Bowl in 2015, despite a 20-40 overall record in his first five years. But Indiana football has gained some real momentum over the past two seasons. Allen might be the only head coach in the program’s history to take over when the culture is trending in a positive direction.
Allen had a plenty to do with that.
Last season, he transformed Indiana’s defense into a formidable unit in the B1G. The Hoosiers gave up just 380.1 yards per game last fall after surrendering over 500 per contest in 2015. They also forced 23 turnovers, the fifth-highest mark in the conference.
And Allen is off to a pretty good start as the team’s head coach, too. He was able to bring in Mike DeBord from Tennessee to be the offensive coordinator in Bloomington, a pretty nice addition to the staff.
Most recently, he landed three-star athlete Juwan Burgess, who had previously been committed to USC. That sort of thing doesn’t happen for Indiana. At least until now.
That’s what makes 2017 so important for Allen and why the emphasis on winning on the gridiron is as high as it’s ever been in Bloomington.
It took six seasons for Wilson to build the program to this level. Still, there’s some doubt that this type of success can be sustained. At Indiana, it doesn’t take more than one bad year for the program to dip back down into a depression.
Fans are climbing aboard the bandwagon cautiously, but they’re prepared to abandon it at the first sign of trouble. Recruits are just starting to consider Bloomington as a desirable destination to spend their four years. For once, other B1G powers aren’t looking at Indiana as a guaranteed victory.
The Hoosiers don’t need to be world-beaters in 2017. In his press conference, Allen said that he was tired of getting those phone calls from people telling him how close Indiana was to knocking off a blue-blood. He wanted to finally get over the hump.
A win over an Ohio State, Michigan or Penn State would certainly make a statement.
Wins over the conference’s top teams would be a luxury, sure. But really, for the Hoosiers, another bowl appearance should be the goal. Anything short of that could alter the direction the program’s culture is heading.
And for Allen, that would be pretty difficult to recover from.
Nobody is going to be calling for Allen’s head if Indiana suffers through another losing season. There’s not going to be a demand for a personnel change. The reaction would be relatively calm compared to what other programs might endure.
Football isn’t as sacred in Bloomington as it is on most other campuses across the country. And that’s the problem.
It’s just now starting to get some attention. If Allen and the Hoosiers aren’t successful right away, it might be awhile before football is a thing at Indiana again.