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Indiana football has not regressed in 2017

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At 3-6, panic is setting in amongst the fanbase. But Tom Allen and the Hoosiers really aren’t that far off schedule.

NCAA Football: Indiana at Penn State Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

There is no need to panic about Tom Allen and the state of Indiana football.

Yet.

Over the past few weeks as the Hoosiers have fallen to 0-6 in Big Ten play and put themselves on the brink of failing to reach a third consecutive bowl game, fans and former players have openly questioned the results produced 75% of the way through Allen’s first season at the helm and have proffered arguments that the program has regressed.

All of this still seems a bit early, though, and it certainly appears that Allen is being held to higher standards than any Indiana football coach since Bill Mallory. Of the Hoosiers’ six Big Ten losses, four have come to teams that were in the Top-25 entering play yesterday and one of the others came to Michigan, who likely will be in the Top-25 again when the new College Football Playoff rankings are released Tuesday night.

Of the programs who accounted for those five losses - Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State, and Wisconsin - Kevin Wilson notched just two wins over them in his entire tenure at Indiana: a 2013 win over a Penn State program left in shambles and an overtime win against last season’s 3-9 Michigan State club. Those two results were hardly comparable to the five losses against the crème de la crème of the league in 2017.

Sure, the Maryland loss was inexcusable, and appears even more so to be based on yesterday’s result in Piscataway. But, again, in comparing Allen to the past, one clunker in a season doesn’t seem all that bad, does it?

Ball State twice, North Texas, Illinois, Purdue twice, Navy twice, Bowling Green, Rutgers twice. Those are just the highlights (lowlights) of the Wilson clunker list.

This is not to say that there are not problems with which Indiana fans should be concerned. Allen’s first critical decision, the hiring of Mike DeBord as offensive coordinator, has been mostly bad and occasionally catastrophic. End of half decision-making and time management has been questionable at best in several games. And his vaunted defense from last season has been a shell of itself in a number of weeks.

But the question I keep coming back to is how much of this is Allen’s fault and how much of this is Allen and the Hoosiers being victims of circumstances?

At the beginning of this season, a reasonable, level-headed Indiana fan would have looked at the schedule and put Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Penn State in the loss column, put Georgia Southern, FIU (ultimately replaced by Charleston Southern), Illinois, Rutgers, and Purdue in the win column. Virginia, Michigan, Michigan State, and Maryland (until they were on their 3rd-string quarterback) could have reasonably been viewed as toss-ups. The results thus far are pretty much on par with what expectations should have been.

The circumstances I refer to - those which Allen might be falling victim to, at least in the realm of public opinion - is that order in which these games have been played. If, hypothetically, the Hoosiers had already beaten Illinois and Rutgers, were sitting at 5-4, and played Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Purdue in the last three weeks, would there be so much panic? Nope. If Indiana had gotten Nebraska or Minnesota on the schedule instead of Wisconsin and was 4-5 instead of 3-6, would so many fans be up in arms about Allen’s hiring and the team’s play? I highly doubt it.

I fully understand that Wilson raised the bar for Indiana football, even if just to the ever-so-low standard of making bowl games. And I understand that that a season of doom-and-gloom next year is staring Indiana right in the face, meaning the Hoosiers are one clunker in the last three weeks away from potentially missing out on a bowl game in back-to-back seasons - and if that happens, who knows what’s next for this doormat of a program. But I also understand that of the nine games Indiana has played, eight have gone according to Hoyle. If the last three do as well, the Hoosiers will once again be 6-6 and bowl eligible.

If Allen and the Hoosiers don’t get it done in Champaign next week, falter at home against Rutgers, or let the Bucket end up back in West Lafayette, the criticism and worries will be warranted. But if Indiana does what it should and wins its last three games, it will demonstrate that the football program is what we thought it was.

There is no conclusive evidence of regression.

Yet.