You know the routine by now.
Tell anyone that you are excited about Indiana’s 4-1 start, or tell them that things are different under second year head coach Tom Allen, and the response will be something along the lines of “yeah, but.” And frankly, it is hard to argue with that response.
In each of the last five seasons, Indiana has started the first five games with a record above .500. They haven’t won more than three of the last seven the rest of the way in any of those seasons — and they only reached three wins once.
Of course you and I both know that we could have taken that table back to the beginning of time and the results would not have changed much. Yes, there have been outliers. 1945 and 1967 come to mind. A few Bill Mallory teams did better than what we’ve seen over the last five years as well.
But the trend? The trend is pretty much etched in the limestone of the new south end zone gateway.
Like many teams around the country, Indiana has historically had a softer schedule up front and a bruising finish during conference play. That’s to be expected. And more than anything else, that scheduling reality has led to the trend, and the seemingly never ending “yeah buts.”
On paper, the trend is set to continue, beginning this Saturday in Columbus.
There are no “yeah buts” when it comes to No. 3 Ohio State, because nobody is cautiously optimistic about this one. Yes, Indiana is going to play hard. Yes, the game has been close in some years. But no, the break through is not happening this Saturday.
Looking out beyond Ohio State, it isn’t going to get much easier.
Indiana is about to embark on its toughest three game stretch on the schedule, with Iowa and Penn State looming. If there is good news with the next two games after the Buckeyes, it’s that they are both in Bloomington.
But Indiana doesn’t face a team with a S&P+ ranking higher than 56th the rest of the way. Indiana is currently ranked 49th. Early season opponents FIU, Ball State and Rutgers are ranked 88, 107 and 115, respectively.
Here is a complete look at IU’s last seven opponents according to the S&P+ rankings:
- at Ohio State (3)
- vs. Iowa (27)
- vs. Penn State (8)
- at Minnesota (55)
- vs. Maryland (56)
- at Michigan (7)
- vs. Purdue (50)
If there is ever such a thing as an easy win for IU football, those days are long gone. As much as we hate to say it, let’s go ahead and write off Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan. Anything is possible, especially at home, but we’re guessing that you aren’t putting any cash down on an even money IU victory in any of those games.
That leaves Iowa, Maryland, and Purdue at home, and Minnesota on the road. The immediate thing that jumps out at you is that three of those four will be at Memorial Stadium.
Could IU win them all and record their first eight win season since 1993? This 2018 edition of IU football just hasn’t shown us enough to merit that kind of unbridled optimism. They play incredibly hard, but they don’t seem to excel enough at anything to lead you to believe they can go on a run like that.
We’ll be surprised if they are not competitive in all four of those games. We’ll be surprised if they don’t win at least two of them and end up at worst with the 6-6 record we predicted before the season.
“Yeah, but” another ho-hum six win season and a trip to the TaxSlayer Bowl? Let’s be clear: there are no ho-hum six win seasons at Indiana playing in the Big Ten East — and they will be heavily tested just to get there.
If IU gets to 6-6 and plays in a bowl game, this season should be viewed as a success. It would be an improvement over Allen’s first season with what is a much younger squad playing against a more difficult schedule.
Accepting 6-6 isn’t accepting eternal doom. It is accepting the reality of this 2018 Indiana football team. It is possible to accept that reality while also being more optimistic about the future of the program — and we encourage that outlook.
Perhaps that leaves you feeling unsatisfied. We are 4-1! We should expect more!
You know what they say.
“Yeah but” — until proven otherwise, this is Indiana football. And the schedule is about to get real.
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