The last time Indiana completed a one loss regular season, the Hoosiers played in a prestigious January bowl game against USC.
A rematch of that 1968 Rose Bowl may be in the works.
There won’t be any roses this time, and no O.J. Simpson, but the stage would still be impressive.
More than a half dozen national bowl projections have Indiana taking on USC at the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz. on Jan. 2.
The college football playoff pairings and New Year’s Six bowl game invites, including the Fiesta Bowl, will be released on Sunday.
Indiana is currently No. 11 in the CFP rankings, and seems locked out of the playoff.
But with no games remaining, a New Year’s Six bowl game seems like a near certainty at this point for IU.
Does head coach Tom Allen believe his team deserves it?
“I believe so,” Allen said on Tuesday. “To be able to play the schedule that we played, playing consecutive Big Ten games, were tough football games and physical football games. I think our guys did a tremendous job of being refocused each week and playing to a level each week, so I think we deserve it.”
Each of the New Year’s Six games not affiliated with the playoff (Cotton, Peach, Fiesta and Orange) are a possibility for IU. All but the Cotton are January games.
Indiana has never played in consecutive January games, and Allen believes that the rigors of an all-Big Ten schedule have not only prepared his team for that big stage, it has validated that his squad is worthy of the distinction.
“When you play in this league and play at that level of physicality week after week it makes a difference,” Allen said. “I have coached in other leagues that are not at the Power Five level and from week to week it is not the same from a physicality perspective. I understand that, I have lived that, and I do feel like our guys have done a tremendous job putting themselves in the position at this point.”
Of course being worthy and ready are two different matters altogether.
The IU football program had paused all team activities until this week due to a COVID-19 outbreak that started on the day of the Wisconsin game.
Allen revealed the magnitude on Tuesday, and in so doing, shined a light on why neither attempt at playing Purdue had a chance.
“I’ll be you know, as upfront as I can be, we have 28 positive cases and among the players and coaches in Tier One level, a significant number,” Allen said.
With that many cases within the program, the obvious question becomes — can Indiana even be ready to play in a bowl game in two weeks?
Allen described the path forward.
“The guys that have tested positive will have a full week of practice with us preparing for the bowl game, which will allow them to be physically ready to play in the bowl game,” Allen said. “We expect to have all our guys there with us ready. The time is very important to have because without it we wouldn’t be able to do it, but because we have this amount of time between now and the bowl game, we expect to have all of the guys who finished the season healthy will be able to play in the bowl game.”
The preparation started on Tuesday, as IU lifted the week-long pause on all team activities.
“Today we were able to move forward with trying to do some cohort work to try and get the guys physically prepared in the weight room, and some running,” Allen said. “The goal is to be able to systematically build off of that, and put us in a position to be able to have a regular practice on Monday. This will give us two full weeks of full prep.”
So there you have it.
Certainly not the conventional way to transition from the end of the regular season to bowl game preparation.
But Allen and his players will be ready to get going full bore when their game is announced on Sunday.
And they will be ready come early January.
“So whoever picks us for their bowl game is going to get a highly motivated, highly prepared team that is going to play our best football on that day,” Allen said.
Until then, they wait.
“We have done what we have done and there is nothing we can do to change that,” said Allen. “We just need to sit and wait to see what happens.”
And then it will be time to go somewhere warm — perhaps for a Fiesta.
They’ve certainly earned it.
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