Four months ago, Tom Allen attempted to create excitement and enthusiasm about Indiana’s upcoming football season. He trademarked the Hoosiers’ season opener against a ranked Ohio State team as the “biggest home opener” in the program’s history.
Indiana was suppose to have that “breakthrough” year. Comfortably clinching a bowl berth and defeating ranked opponents was going to define Allen’s inaugural season in Bloomington.
Instead, it’s been same ol’, same ol’.
The Hoosiers sit at 4-6 on the year, needing wins in their final two contests against Rutgers and Purdue to guarantee a bowl berth. Games against Michigan, Michigan State and Maryland all slipped through Indiana’s fingers. IU came up short on opportunities to notch that program-altering win.
So far, the Tom Allen era hasn’t separated itself from the negative stereotypes tied with the program. This team hasn’t capitalized on an opportunity to build on the sturdy foundation that Kevin Wilson left behind.
Certainly, there’s been some bad luck involved with Allen’s inability to get this program steered in the right direction. The injury bug has feasted on Indiana’s roster this season, stealing so many impact players from the field.
Receiver Nick Westbrook, return specialist J-Shun Harris, defensive linemen Nate Hoff and Juan Harris, defensive backs Marcelino Ball and A-Shon Riggins have all been affected. And that’s just the short list of the players who have missed time this season. Around 20 players have been sidelined at some point in the year.
But Allen and Indiana have one last chance to salvage a season that’s been somewhat of a disappointment — even by IU’s standards. With Rutgers and Purdue still ahead, punching a ticket to a third-straight bowl game is still a realistic goal. It’s the final push to try and sustain some of the momentum this program has built over the last two seasons.
It is possible that Indiana — which kicked off November with a 3-6 record after a loss to Wisconsin — could win its final three games and earn a postseason bid. The Hoosiers took the first step, beating Illinois in Champaign last weekend. The next two might be a bit more challenging.
As much as the Scarlet Knights and Boilermakers have floundered in the B1G cellar the last few years, both teams have improved drastically and have been competitive throughout the season. Those are far from guaranteed victories.
Getting to that six-win mark would also require Indiana to accomplish something it hasn’t since 1946: closing out the season with three-straight victories. That’s one of the same ol’ same ol’ trends that Allen and his staff can put to bed.
There are other streaks the Hoosiers can still end this season. Indiana hasn’t made three consecutive bowl appearances since 1986-1988 and it’s never defeated Purdue in five-straight meetings. Those goals may pale in comparison to the expectations the Cream and Crimson had coming into the year, but it would be a critical achievement for a program trying have that “breakthrough” moment.
Beating Rutgers on Saturday would put Indiana on the verge rescuing a season that appeared lost less than a month ago.
Indiana is a far cry from where it was expected to be this season, but there’s still plenty that can be accomplished. The season that started with the “biggest home opener” in program history can end one of two ways: by halting several unfavorable streaks, or by spiraling into the same ol’, same ol’ that has defined the Hoosiers’ football program.
Guess that makes Saturday’s game against Rutgers the biggest home finale in Indiana history.