Photo via Athlon Sports

Indiana Football: Tom Allen Not Backing Down From Big Ten East Powers

Ohio State.  Penn State.  Michigan State.  Oh, and Michigan.  We’ll get back to Michigan.

Every.  Single.  Year.

The Wolverines, Buckeyes and Nittany Lions are three of the ten winningest programs in the history of college football.  The Spartans are in the top 40 in that regard.

It’s the kind of schedule that can lead to interesting stats such as this — in the last six years the two teams that have played the most top five programs in the country are Alabama…and Indiana.

It’s not the kind of schedule you would want to face when trying to build a program.  But Indiana head football coach Tom Allen doesn’t get to choose his schedule for the most part.

It is what it is — and we call it the Big Ten East Wall.

If you are going to climb over a wall, you had better have the strength of character to succeed — or else you’ll find yourself laying on your backside.  And for the better part of its membership in the Big Ten, Indiana football has found itself in the supine position.

That Big Ten East Wall isn’t going anywhere.  You either embrace the challenge…or you quit.

Allen has distilled what he believes is needed to successfully scale The Wall down to one word.  It’s the theme for the 2019 Indiana football team.

Grit:  Perseverance and passion towards a long term goal.

Allen chose the theme after reading a book by Harvard and Oxford educated psychologist Angela Duckworth called Grit: The Power of Passion and PerseveranceAmong many things, the book examines what character traits are necessary for cadets to survive the rigors of The West Point Military Academy.

Allen knows that he has to train his guys to face the The Wall head on with near military precision — or else just let the broken record that is Indiana football play on ad infinitum.

“We have a tremendous challenge in the division we play in each and every year,” Allen said.  “That’s never going to change.”

So far, it’s the The Wall 8, Indiana 0 in Allen’s first two years at the helm in Bloomington.  But simple wins and losses don’t tell the full story.  Not yet anyway.

Image result for tom allen indiana
Credit – IU Athletics

Indiana was well within striking distance in the second half of seven of those eight games.  In the last six games they lost by an average of just 11 points, and in the last two games they lost by an average of eight points despite being more than 16 point underdogs.

Yes it is spin, but the gap is not that large — and progress is being made.

But alas, it is a Wall.  And just like climbing a wall, you either succeed, or you fail.  There is no middle ground.

Ultimately the wins and losses against the top dogs will tell the full story.  If in two years it is the The Wall 16, Indiana 0 — well then, Allen fought The Wall, and The Wall won.

But for now, there are clear signs of a program on the rise with back-to-back best ever recruiting classes.  The talent is coming in the door like never before — something that Allen has referred to as the key to scaling The Wall.

There is reason to believe, even when a lifetime of disappointment and frustration tells you, no, begs you, not to.


You might recall that Michigan took issue with how Indiana got in the way of the Wolverines’ annual drubbing at the hands of Ohio State last November.

In the week prior to their 23 point loss to the Buckeyes, Michigan’s seventh straight loss in the series, there were several plays by both IU and the Wolverines that seemed to cross the line.

Of course most Indiana fans know by now that Michigan’s Chase Winovich instigated things on that day after he intentionally stepped on the bare leg of Hoosier offensive lineman Simon Stepaniak with his cleat.

Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

That fact didn’t stop folks connected to the Wolverine program from blowing up Allen’s cell phone after the game.

“I got a whole bunch of nasty text messages and e-mails because of how physical our team played,” Allen said.  “They didn’t think that we were playing very nice.”

Of course the No. 4 ranked Wolverines prevailed 31-20 on that afternoon in Ann Arbor before traveling on to meet their fate in Columbus the next week.

Although Indiana’s style of play wasn’t popular in Michigan, Allen saw something that he liked that day from his young squad.

“We went to Michigan last year, and things didn’t finish the way that we wanted to, but I promise you this,” Allen said.  “They knew they played the Indiana Hoosiers, and they didn’t like it.”

Perhaps Allen saw some of the grit on that day that he knows will be necessary to ultimately scale The Wall.

Allen at least saw some of the early markers of the kind of team that he wants to build on that November afternoon.  And he wants Michigan to know that they should be expecting more of the same when they visit Bloomington this year.

“I’ve got news for those fellas up there,” Allen said.  “That’s how we’re going to play.  Physical, mean and nasty.  And that ain’t going to change.”

Indiana’s players need to look no further than their leader to see what grit looks like.

And The Wall is on notice.

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