Tom Allen has a chance to pull off something no Indiana coach has ever done Saturday vs. Ohio State
So you’re saying there’s a chance?
Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. Next weekend against Ohio State, Tom Allen has a chance to do something that no Indiana coach has ever done.
I know what you’re thinking. Yeah, he’s got a chance to start 5-0. It’s Indiana. Surely no coach has ever pulled that off.
That, my friends, is lazy research.
No, Allen wouldn’t be the first Indiana coach to start a season 5-0. John Pont started off 8-0 en route to the program’s lone Rose Bowl trip in 1967, and everyone remembers, of course, when James M. Sheldon led a 5-0 start back in 1910. Obviously. Yeah, 5-0 is quite the club for an Indiana coach, but it is indeed a club that already has multiple members.
So what has Indiana never accomplished?
Since the Associated Press Top 25 originated in 1936, Indiana has never had multiple top-15 wins in the same season.
That’s right. This is the 85th season in which the AP Top 25 has been in existence, and IU has yet to win multiple games in a season against teams ranked inside the top 15. Even Maryland accomplished that feat, back in 1953 (still waiting on Rutgers).
That can change for IU on Saturday against Ohio State, which will indeed be ranked in the top 15. Indiana is actually searching for its second top-10 win of the season. Remember, Penn State was No. 8 when Indiana dispatched the Nittany Lions to open the season.
There are some numbers associated with this drought that’ll make your head spin. Since that 1936 season, the Hoosiers played 156 teams that were ranked inside the top 15. Including the Penn State this year, Indiana is 13-143 all-time vs. top-15 teams. That’s 8.3%. That’s once in roughly 12 attempts that Indiana breaks through and wins a game against a top-15 team.
The crazy thing is that Indiana actually won its first-ever game vs. a top-15 team. Surely you remember the 10-0 thriller that the Hoosiers pulled off against No. 8 Ohio State back in 1937? Who could forget?
It might not come as much of a surprise for a program that just had its first win against a top-10 team since 1987, which ended a 42-game losing streak in those matchups. That’s nothing compared to some of these top-15 droughts.
On 4 occasions, Indiana went at least 10 seasons without a win vs. a top-15 team. The Penn State win was the first time that the Hoosiers beat a top-15 team since they took down No. 15 Iowa in 2006. That’s not even the longest drought. That Iowa win ended a streak of 26 losses vs. top-15 teams dating to 1987.
That 1987 team, led by a young Anthony Thompson, should’ve been IU’s chance to earn multiple top-15 wins. IU went to the Peach Bowl, and it was part of the apex of the Mallory era. The Hoosiers blew out No. 9 Ohio State 31-10 in Columbus and they took down Bo Schembechler’s Michigan squad 2 weeks later. But Michigan was only ranked No. 20, and a blowout loss to No. 13 Michigan State later that year was IU’s only other chance to beat a top-15 team.
There have been other close calls. In 1950, Indiana beat No. 11 Notre Dame and No. 17 Iowa. It nearly happened in 1946 when the Hoosiers beat No. 12 Illinois and No. 17 Northwestern. A year earlier in 1945, they won the B1G and beat 3 ranked teams. Who were the ranked teams? No. 14 Tulsa, No. 20 Minnesota and No. 18 Purdue. For the sake of this argument, that doesn’t count.
Perhaps the biggest head scratcher is that it didn’t happen during the program’s aforementioned first and only Rose Bowl season in 1967. A year in which Indiana finished No. 4 in the AP Top 25 — that’s still the program’s best final AP ranking — yielded only 1 win vs. a top-15 team. That was against No. 3 Purdue for the Old Oaken Bucket, which was later voted “best game in program history” after IU had more takeaways than touchdowns in a 19-14 classic.
That brings us back to today. Or rather, 2020. Indiana is trying to avoid what it has always done. That is, fail to hang up another marquee victory in the same year.
Of the times that Indiana beat a top-15 team and had another such matchup that season, those games didn’t exactly go well:
- Nov. 8, 1941 — L 20-14 vs. No. 10 Northwestern
- Oct. 28, 1950 — L 20-0 at No. 12 Illinois
- Nov. 4, 1950 — L 35-0 at No. 13 Michigan State
- Jan. 1, 1968 — L 14-3 vs. No. 1 USC (Rose Bowl)
- Sept. 30, 1978 — L 69-17 vs. No. 12 Nebraska
- Nov. 14, 1987 — L 27-3 at No. 13 Michigan State
- Oct. 21, 2006 — L 44-3 at No. 1 Ohio State
- Nov. 11, 2006 — L 34-3 vs. No. 2 Michigan
Perhaps equally baffling in IU’s “never have I ever” is that only 8 such opportunities for a second top-15 win in a season presented themselves. In those 4 matchups in the last 50 years, IU went 0-4 and was outscored 174-26. It’s been since 1941 that IU even kept it within single digits in that attempt to get its second top-15 win in a season.
But Saturday won’t be considered an opportunity for a moral victory. It’ll be a potential perception-changing game. Never mind the fact that Indiana is trying to beat an Ohio State team that has a 25-game winning streak in the series. Oh, and that streak dates back to a tie in 1990. Indiana hasn’t beaten Ohio State in its last 27 contests.
Obviously, the odds don’t favor the Hoosiers. They rarely do. Still, the point remains.
Allen and the Hoosiers have a rare, but realistic chance to elevate the program. Potential history awaits.
And finally, it’s the good kind.