Saturday provided plenty of ugly results across the Big Ten that have to be on any fan’s mind. Rutger lost by 41 points at Kansas. In football. Maryland was thrashed by Temple. The Big Ten West had the worst day in its short, tortured history, going 2-5 with the lone wins being Iowa over Northern Iowa and Minnesota over Miami (OH).
But while Rutger, Maryland, Purdue, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Northwestern, and Illinois all take walks of shame this morning, what stands out in Bloomington is that the Hoosiers may, finally, be set up for sustained success.
Now, success has to be defined carefully for Indiana football. What it realistically means is winning between six and eight games every year, and having an opportunity to jump up and shock a couple of the big boys and win nine or 10 once in a blue moon.
We may be seeing the first such year right now. As the team sits at 3-0 right now, you’d expect them to be favored at Rutger in two weeks, at Minnesota, at home against Maryland, and in the Old Oaken Bucket game. On top of that, the opening lines this week against Michigan State and for Homecoming against Iowa (barring disaster in the next couple weeks) will surely be within one score. Even leaving Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan off the table, eight wins are achievable if the Hoosiers can get Sparty or the Hawkeyes at home.
But even if this season ends disappointingly with a mere six wins, the youth on this Indiana roster is something to be excited about. Sophomore Peyton Ramsey is a little more than a game manager, with legs that allow him to extend plays and turn a dead 2nd and 10 play into a 3rd and 2. And through three weeks, he’s done everything necessary to win - and each game required something different from him. And if he slips up or is bitten by an injury bug, freshman Michael Penix, Jr. is waiting in the wings with legs of his own and a canon that will serve him and the Hoosiers well in the future — and with the NCAA’s new rule and Ramsey’s quality play, Penix may be a freshman again next year.
Good, experienced running backs like Mike Majete and Ricky Brookins have been supplanted by freshmen Stevie Scott and Ronnie Walker, who combined for 27 carries against Ball State compared to a total of one for Majete and Brookins. Sophomore Whop Philyor and freshman Reece Taylor have shown flashes in limited opportunities thus far in 2018, but both have the speed and shiftiness that they’ll provide dual weapons on the edge that perhaps no Indiana football team has ever had. And on either end of the line, freshman tight end Matt Bjorson and redshirt freshman tight end Peyton Hendershot are becoming big and consistent targets for the Hoosier quarterbacks.
When Tom Allen was hired, everyone who paid attention had to feel as if the defense would always be fine — serviceable in the very least, dominant when everything came together. But offense was a different story, and fairly so after last season.
But this youth movement on that side of the ball, coupled with a quality defense (that also has young talent; seven of Indiana’s top nine tacklers yesterday were freshmen or sophomores), suggests that we might be, for the first time since the Mallory era, seeing a plan for sustained success being implemented and executed.
And no matter where the kids come from — Indianapolis, south Florida, upstate New York, the region, south Florida (yeah, I said it twice, and for good reason) — if they have this kind of talent and Allen is able to develop them over three or four years, we might redefine what success means for Indiana football in the not-so-near future.