Yes, that is an asterisk. We will come back to the asterisk. We probably don’t even need to tell you about the asterisk.
But let’s start with the good stuff.
There have been times in the less than stellar history of this Indiana University football program where things seemed to be building towards something special.
Kevin Wilson had it going on. It certainly felt like Terry Hoeppner was headed in that direction. Bill Mallory had a level of sustained success that hasn’t been seen for more than 30 years before or after, and in 1967 John Pont pulled together a season for the ages.
Oh, and the 1940’s under Bo McMillin was the program at its best, on a nationally elite, undefeated season kind of level. But that was nearly 80 years ago. This is now.
And once again, things appear to be heading in the right direction.* There it is again. More than 100 years of futility will do that to you.
We are not here to say it is different this time. There aren’t enough asterisks for that take.
No, we are simply telling you that the conditions appear to be right for a good run.
But before anymore special characters are involuntarily typed into this article, let’s walk through it.
HISTORIC RECRUITING MOMENTUM
You probably saw the news this week. Indiana’s recruiting class of 2019 was the program’s best ever in the recruiting rankings era. Yes, even that claim comes with a modifier. Mallory and McMillin were almost certainly recruiting at this level, if not better, but we all somehow managed to get by back then without obsessively tracking it all.
But the trends are clear and undeniable. This year’s 38th ranked class builds on last year’s 48th ranked class which was previously the best in the rankings era and produced immediate results.
Does the incoming talent indicate an elite program is forthcoming? No it doesn’t. Does it suggest that the talent gap might be bridged enough to start pulling off some upsets? Yes it does.
HIGH LEVEL QUARTERBACK TALENT
Last year’s starter could open the season as the third string quarterback. Of course it’s a mistake for us to assume that. After all, that’s where a lot of people pegged Peyton Ramsey last year.
But it isn’t beyond the realm of possible either. Incoming transfer Jack Tuttle was a former 4-star and top 10 ranked recruit. Michael Penix appeared to be taking over the job before an ACL injury ended things no sooner than they were getting started.
You simply cannot win at this level without high level quarterback play. Indiana is going to have a fantastic spring and fall quarterback competition and should end up with a highly competent starter — and a uniquely strong complement of backups.
IMPRESSIVE NEW COORDINATORS
Indiana enters 2019 with the unique scenario of having the same head coach but two new coordinators. We’ll go out on a limb and say that probably doesn’t happen very often after back-to-back 5-7 seasons.
After the job he has done with the IU defense since arriving in 2016, we went on record saying that Tom Allen shouldn’t give up the reins. We simply did not consider that he already had his ace in the hole with Kane Wommack. Upon reflection, the move makes perfect sense. The continuity from the Allen defense will remain, while freeing up the Hoosier head coach for his other responsibilities.
New offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer has turned everything he has touched into gold. Okay, that’s overstating it, but DeBoer has engineered multiple major turnarounds as a playcaller, and had a truly incredible tenure as a head coach. Pairing him up with a veteran offense replete with skill players and those quarterbacks seems like a recipe for success.
Both coordinators will jump in with a plethora of returning talent. According to this report, IU returns the 12th most production in the country in 2019.
And despite complaints to the contrary, Indiana has now proven that they were willing to make the financial outlays to attempt to take the program to the next level. Multiple outlets have reported that DeBoer will receive $800,000 per year, the highest salary ever for an IU assistant coach in any sport.
As unproven commodities in the Big Ten, Wommack and DeBoer also come with their own set of asterisks. But on paper Allen appears to have made two very strong moves.
STATE OF THE ART FACILITIES
First it was the north end zone, and a nationally significant weight room. Then Memorial Stadium was fully enclosed, including a new video board and nutrition center. Then there was a new team room. New locker rooms are on the way.
The facilities are helping the cause with recruits, and may have won the day with DeBoer, who said this upon his arrival in Bloomington —
“But getting on campus and just seeing the facilities, I was really honestly blown away with them, and it’s exciting to see the investment that Coach talks about that’s been made here with the facilities.”
Yes, we understand that there is more work to be done here in an ever changing world of football only facilities in the Big Ten. But the evidence right now shows that any adverse impact in that regard is out on the margin.
NOW ABOUT THAT ASTERISK
This is Indiana football after all. There is more than enough track record here to suggest an abundance of caution is in order. Accordingly, this optimism is not unbridled and does come with a few warnings.
*Warning: See Big Ten, East Division.
*Warning: Past performance does in fact seem to indicate future results.
*Warning: Getting your hopes up for Indiana football may cause depression, mood swings, loss of appetite and anxiety.
If you are ready to believe in Indiana, call the IU ticket office and find out if Hoosier football is right for you.
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