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IU Football Countdown: The Top 10 Seasons of All-Time — No. 4

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.


It had been 20 years since Indiana had defeated Michigan.  36 years since the Hoosiers last claimed a victory over Ohio State.

IU had never beat both the Wolverines and the Buckeyes in the same season.

All of those streaks came to an end in 1987.

Bill Mallory’s first season (1984) saw the Hoosiers go 0-11.  Just three years later, Mallory and his Hoosiers were taking down college football giants.

The non-conference portion of the schedule didn’t portend what was to come.

The Hoosiers handled Rice easily to open the season before going on the road and losing badly at Kentucky.

IU rebounded to pull out a three point home win over Missouri.  Indiana was 2-1 but not at all on the national radar.

Not yet.

Mallory’s Hoosiers opened the Big Ten schedule with a win over bottom feeder Northwestern to improve to 3-1, but that would be the end of the games that IU was expected to win for a while.

It was off to Columbus, Ohio.

By just about any measure, the domination was clear.  In a rain soaked Ohio Stadium, Indiana outgained Ohio State, 405-264.  Buckeye head coach Earl Bruce was completely demoralized after a 31-10 Hoosier victory.

“I’ve known about Ohio State football since I was a freshman here in 1949,” Bruce said. “This is the darkest day in Ohio State football since I have been associated with it.”

Image result for indiana ohio state 1987 darkest day

The stunning win earned the Hoosiers a spot in the national rankings, but there was no time for celebration.  No. 20 Indiana had to travel to Minnesota to face the undefeated Gophers.  A missed field goal with under two minutes to go allowed IU to escape with an 18-17 win, and chatter about the Rose Bowl began.

Any premature thoughts of Pasadena would have to wait.

The Michigan Wolverines were up next, and once again rain was falling against a college football powerhouse.  This time the game was played in Bloomington, and by the time the game was over, the goalposts were falling as well.  You can read more about that classic 14-10 Indiana win here.

At this point the Rose Bowl talk was at a fever pitch.  Could the Hoosiers return for the first time in 20 years?

Indiana moved to 4-0 in the Big Ten, and 6-1 overall as they traveled to Iowa to face the top 20 Hawkeyes.  The Hoosiers came up short (29-21) in Iowa City, and IU’s Big Ten title hopes suffered a setback.  But they were still in the hunt.

Indiana got back on track with a home win over Illinois the following week, but they suffered a loss on that day as well.  Starting quarterback Dave Schnell had an emergency appendectomy the morning of the game, and his absence would be noticeable the following week.

IU traveled to East Lansing for a game that would likely determine the Big Ten champion.  A Hoosier win over Michigan State would have set up Indiana for a win and you are in the Rose Bowl game against Purdue the following week.

It wasn’t to be.

With the Indiana offense sputtering, the Spartans controlled the game and won 27-3.  This memorable moment followed in the Michigan State locker room.

IU overcame the disappointing loss and took care of business against Purdue to finish the regular season with an 8-3 record overall, including a 6-2 mark in the league.  That was good for a second place tie with Iowa.

Indiana went on to play in the Peach Bowl against No. 17 Tennessee.  The Hoosiers lost a close game and finished the year with an 8-4 record.

Despite the high profile wins, the 1987 season could have been so much more.

But the country was on notice.  Bill Mallory and the Indiana Hoosiers were a handful to contend with.

“We had our jaws locked to have a good season,” Mallory said after the Michigan State game.

Mission accomplished.


See also:

No. 10 — 2007

No. 9 — 1991

No. 8 — 1942

No. 7 — 1979

No. 6 — 1905

No. 5 — 1988


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