Since the Big Ten went to its current scheduling format, there are three opponents on Indiana’s slate each season that seem to define success or failure.
We’re talking IU football’s version of success or failure here, which let’s be honest, hinges on delivering a .500 season or better.
And IU is now 0-8 over the last three seasons against those three teams — Rutgers, Maryland and Purdue.
Tom Allen’s team is not just losing those games they have to win, they’re losing bad.
After Saturday’s 31-14 loss, the Hoosiers have lost three straight to Rutgers by a margin of 93-34, with two of the three games played in Bloomington. They’ve also lost three straight to Maryland by a combined score of 120-85, and two straight to Purdue by a total of 74-23.
In the aggregate IU has lost those games 287-142, or 36-18 per game. They’ve been doubled-up by teams that should be their equal. Allen’s Hoosiers are not just losing the games they must win — they’re generally losing by a convincing margin.
Indiana’s struggles against Rutgers over the last three seasons are the starkest indicator that something is seriously wrong in Bloomington. Prior to the current three-game losing streak to the Scarlet Knights, IU had won five straight against a Rutgers program stuck at the bottom of the Big Ten East division. Indiana won those five games by a combined score of 170-65 (34-13 per game).
Now, the Rutgers/Indiana dynamic has flipped. And Allen’s program has been passed by not just the Scarlet Knights, but also Maryland, Purdue, Minnesota, Illinois, and ostensibly every other program in the league. The only situations worse than IU right now might be the ones where the head coaches were fired for hazing players or sexual assault.
Obviously, that’s a pretty low bar, and at least those are programs now on the mend.
It goes without saying, the Tom Allen era, still less than three years removed from a 14-7 stretch and back-to-back January bowl games, is in serious, serious peril.
Now 31 games removed from the pinnacle of Allen’s success following the 2020 season — when he was named the AFCA national coach of the year — there is simply nothing positive to highlight at this point.
The Hoosiers are just 8-23 in those 31 games, with six of the eight wins coming against non-Power Five or FCS level programs (Idaho twice, Western Kentucky twice, Indiana State, and Akron).
Indiana is just 2-20 in the Big Ten over the last three seasons, and they have no wins against nonconference Power Five teams.
The situation is an unmitigated disaster, with no signs of improvement. And Allen knows it.
The seventh-year head coach was asked after the loss to Rutgers whether he could feel the season slipping away.
“Yeah, there’s no question,” Allen said. “I don’t think I feel it, I think it’s a reality that you get to this stage of the year and you’ve got several losses now in a row. That’s a tough reality.”
Allen can easily recognize the tough reality of the season slipping away because this is the third straight year he’s faced it.
And that routine feeling of losing with a high degree of regularity has brought us to another tough reality: We’re at the point where no university serious about having a winning football program would maintain the status quo at head coach.
Yeah, we know. Allen has a $20 million lifejacket in the form of his contract buyout.
Indiana simply cannot afford to fire Allen until after the 2024 season when that figure gets cut in half, right?
It’s no longer that simple.
The $20 million is going to get sucked out of the IU coffers, one way or another.
The crowds at their final two home games will likely have a pandemic era feel. And no one will show up next year if Allen is still in charge. Donations for name, image and likeness? Cash for facilities improvements? Don’t count on it. And that means a further decline, as recruiting will suffer, and the transfer portal will become a net negative.
Look, Tom Allen is a good man, and a great representative of Indiana University. He’s about all the right things, and after the passage of time, he’ll be remembered fondly for delivering two of the program’s better seasons. As he should be, Bill Mallory is remembered as a good coach despite ending his career with a 13-game Big Ten losing streak and an overall losing record at IU.
But right now, everything surrounding the program is toxic.
And when you reach this point, it’s time to move on.
But IU can’t just pull the plug on Allen, and pray that it goes well with the next guy. If that’s the plan, there’s no sense in changing anything.
The university needs to show a real commitment to football in an era where a good football program props up the rest of the athletics department.
That means finding a highly qualified coach, and paying him market rates. And Indiana will only be able to pull that off if they also simultaneously commit significant funds to facilities, and specifically, a dedicated indoor football-only training and practice facility.
It’s going to be expensive, choppy, and expensive. Did we say expensive already? Indiana may need to spend today every new incremental dollar they’ve got coming from the Big Ten’s massive new media deal.
And that still might not be enough, and ultimately, it may not work.
But the current approach isn’t working either. And we’ve reached the point where repeating more of the same and expecting different results, is well, you know.
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