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 Indiana Hoosiers were no doubt one of the better teams in the program’s history. But their inclusion here is as much about what could have been — and paying homage to what wasn’t.
Coming into the 1942 season, IU hadn’t won more than five games since 1910. Head coach Bo McMillin was .500 or better in his first four years in Bloomington from 1934 to 1937, but the program struggled for the next four years and didn’t finish better than sixth place in the Big Ten during those latter four seasons.
But things were changing as more talent started to arrive in Bloomington
Behind the play of Billy Hillenbrand, IU’s first ever All-American back, Indiana turned a corner in 1942. Hillenbrand was the first Hoosier to receive significant votes in the Heisman race, finishing fifth. He led the nation in punt returns.
Hillenbrand would go on to be drafted at No. 6 by the New York Giants in the first round of the 1944 NFL Draft.
A season opening 53-0 win over Butler at the old Memorial Stadium would be the first of six shutouts on the season.
After a loss at Ohio State, IU reeled off consecutive impressive road wins at Nebraska and Pitt. Nebraska had gone to the Rose Bowl the previous year.
IU lost consecutive games to Iowa and Iowa Pre-Flight and then they put together an incredible four game stretch to close out the season. The Hoosiers beat Minnesota, Kanasas State, Purdue and Fort Knox by a combined score of 132-0.
The team finished the year with a 7-3 mark, it’s best season in decades.
The 1942 team included IU Hall of Famers Howard Brown, Russ Deal, Pete Pihos, Lou Saban, and John Tavener. All of that talent started to gel late in the season — and it had people thinking of big things in 1943.
Scheduled to join the IU team in 1943 were several other IU greats including John Cannady, Bob Hoernschemeyer and Bob Ravensburg.
But that 1943 team was not to be. World War II sent most of IU’s team off to war.
It’s very likely that they would have voted for the 1943 team under different circumstances.
But we’ll never know.
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