It would be nice to realistically believe that Indiana was going to walk out of Ohio Stadium with a win. Maybe some day. Some losses take time to get over. Indiana shouldn’t waste one more minute thinking about Ohio State.
Head Coach Tom Allen likes to say that the next game is always the biggest game of the year. He couldn’t be more right this week. The game of the season truly does kick off at noon next Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington.
As you know by now, when Allen took over at IU he adopted the “break through” motto. As he should, he was thinking big, with visions of beating the Big Ten elite programs including Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Michigan State and Wisconsin.
It’s time to redefine the break through, and it starts next Saturday.
There will be down seasons for the conference big dogs when Indiana can pull the upset like they did against Michigan State in 2016 and Penn State in 2013.
Under Kevin Wilson and Tom Allen, the Hoosiers have picked themselves up off the conference floor, leapfrogging programs like Rutgers and Illinois.
But there is another tier between where IU is now, and where it ultimately wants to go. And the poster child for that tier is Iowa.
Not only are the Hawkeyes the type of team that Indiana needs to starting beating on a regular basis, they provided the template for how to establish just that kind of program .
From 1962 to 1979, Iowa never had a season above .500 and never finished better than fifth in what was a true Big 10 at the time. They were the Indiana of that time, or Rutgers and Illinois if your prefer.
Hayden Fry took over the program in 1979, and Iowa has been a consistent winner and postseason participant ever since. Since 1981, the Hawkeyes have played in a bowl game in 29 out of 37 seasons.
Iowa isn’t a recruiting juggernaut. They might pick up a four star or two in each recruiting class, but they don’t compete with the big boys. In fact, they don’t meaningfully out-recruit Indiana. For what is now their senior classes, IU had a higher ranked class of 2015 recruiting haul than Iowa according to the 247Sports composite.
After finding a program changing coach in Fry in 1979, Iowa followed him up with Kirk Ferentz in 1999. That’s it. Two coaches in nearly 40 years. The results speak for themselves.
Not only have the Hawkeyes put together a program that wins consistently, they have broken through at the highest levels of the conference on a fairly regular basis. Under Fry and Ferentz, Iowa has won the Big Ten five times and went to the Rose Bowl in four of those years.
More recently, in 2017 Iowa crushed Ohio State 55-24. In 2016 they beat Michigan and Nebraska.
They are not really thought of as a conference elite. They get the benefit of playing in the Big Ten West division. But Iowa stands between Indiana and the top dogs.
Iowa leads the all-time series over IU 44-28-4. But this isn’t about looking back. If you do that you’ll see that IU dominated the series in the 1970’s before Hayden Fry arrived in Iowa City. No, this is about looking forward.
Indiana competed against Ohio State for the second year in a row, but it clearly isn’t ready to finish at that level.
If Indiana has found a long term coach in Tom Allen, that durability is going to be built on the foundation of beating the Iowa’s of the world.
It starts on Saturday.
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