As we count down to Indiana’s 2019 opening game against Ball State on August 31, The Daily Hoosier is looking back at the top ten football seasons in the program’s history.
The 1942 season, No. 8 on our list, referenced a highly anticipated season that never was.
With the United States fully embroiled in World War II, IU football’s best and brightest traded their football helmets for the military variety.
Indiana fans were left to wonder about the lost seasons of 1943 and 1944, and what could have been with a loaded roster and a program on the rise under highly respected head coach Bo McMillin.
What World War II took away from the program after the 1942 season, it gave back in 1945 — with exquisite timing.
As fate would have it, World War II ended in early September of 1945. IU legend Pete Pihos and other teammates including another great in Howard Brown were granted a 60-day leave from active duty and made it back to Bloomington in time for week two of what would become the greatest season of Indiana football.
As for week one, the gritty war veterans left that to a freshman.
Gary, Ind. native George Taliferro’s introduction to college football as an 18 year old was at the 100,000 plus seat Michigan Stadium in 1945. All he did was rush for 96 yards, complete three passes and handle IU’s punting duties in the Hoosiers’ 13-7 win, their second consecutive victory in Ann Arbor. It would be Michigan’s only conference loss on the season.
Week two produced the only blemish on IU’s 1945 record, but a late Pihos score helped the Hoosiers salvage a 7-7 tie at Northwestern. Pihos and his fellow war veterans had only re-entered school and reported back to the IU football team on Tuesday of the Northwestern game week.
With the war veterans regaining familiarity with the scheme, and the newly assembled team growing more accustomed to one another, McMillin’s Hoosiers began to build momentum.
A third straight road game to open the season saw the Hoosiers travel to Illinois. A Ben Raimondi to Ted Kluszewski fourth quarter touchdown pass was all that a stout Hoosier defense would need in a 6-0 IU victory.
The calendar said October 13 before IU finally played a home game, and the Hoosiers greeted 20,000 fans at the old Memorial Stadium in style. IU entered the national rankings at No. 8 and dismantled Nebraska 54-14, scoring eight touchdowns and more than doubling the Cornhuskers in yards.
The now 3-0-1 Hoosiers returned to the road to face Iowa, and once again IU dominated from the start. After three quarters Indiana led 52-0 as they scored through the air, on the ground, on defense and on special teams in a complete effort.
No. 14 ranked and undefeated Tulsa would provide a stern test the following week in Bloomington, but the Indiana defense was up to the challenge. According to a Chicago Tribune report, IU held Tulsa to just 85 yards, and a 60-yard run involving a mid-play Pihos to Bob Ravensburg lateral would be the only score that IU would need in the 7-2 victory.
Now standing at 5-0-1, the Hoosiers returned to their dominant ways with a 46-6 win over Cornell. In a sign of the times, McMillin actually skipped this game to do an advance scout of the following week’s opponent, Minnesota. The Gophers were 4-1 and ranked in the top 20. Clearly McMillin expected a major challenge standing in the way of IU’s Big Ten title pursuit.
McMillin’s concerns about the Gophers were well founded. Minnesota had claimed five national titles since 1934 under head coach Bernie Bierman.
The advance scouting of the Gophers paid off considerably, as IU stormed out to a 35-0 halftime lead in frigid Minneapolis.
The freshman Taliaferro was a big part of the story in the 49-0 route of the Gophers that day, scoring three touchdowns, including returning the opening kickoff 95 yards for a score and running back an interception 82 yards for another.
The Hoosiers would face one more non-conference test, hitting the road once again at Pittsburgh. Yet again the Hoosier defense was dominant as IU moved to 8-0-1 with a 19-0 shutout.
The IU defense was an underappreciated part of this team, allowing just 56 points (5.6 per game) on the season. Even more telling is the fact that 34 of those 56 points came very late in the games against Iowa and Nebraska after each contest had long been decided.
Indiana finally played their first Big Ten home game in their last game of the season.
And it would be a big one. An undefeated season and an outright Big Ten title would be on the line against arch-rival and No. 18 ranked Purdue. The Hoosiers had risen to their highest ranking they would achieve on the season — No. 4.
After a scoreless first half in the battle for the Old Oaken Bucket, IU erupted for four second half touchdowns — two runs by Pihos and two passes from Raimondi, to cruise to the victory and secure a 9-0-1 record. It was Indiana’s third straight shutout to close out the season as the Hoosiers won going away, 26-0.
Just how much excitement was there about the Hoosiers’ Big Ten title and undefeated season? According to a Chicago Tribune report, IU president Herman B. Wells declared the following Monday to be a holiday with no classes to be held.
Interestingly enough, that win over Purdue would be IU’s final game of the season.
The Big Ten didn’t have an automatic tie-in to the Rose Bowl for a couple more years. Under the league’s rules at the time, members were not allowed to participate in postseason games and thus the No. 4 the Hoosiers didn’t play in one of the eight bowl games held after the 1945 season.
Various reports through the years have indicated that there were efforts to have No. 1 Army and No. 4 Indiana play in a bowl game at Soldier Field in Chicago, but that never happened.
According to the final AP Poll, undefeated Army finished as the unanimous choice for the nation’s No. 1 team and national champion. Indiana finished fourth after Alabama and Navy.
McMillin was voted by his colleagues as the national coach of the year, and the 1945 IU football team remains as the only undefeated Big Ten champion in the program’s history.
You can follow us on Twitter: @daily_hoosier
Find us on Facebook: thedailyhoosier
The Daily Hoosier –“Where Indiana fans assemble when they’re not at Assembly”
Seven ways to support completely free IU coverage at no additional cost to you.