At Indiana, the barometer for a successful football season is simple. Win six games and make a bowl game and you can chalk one up in the success column. Anything less, in most cases, will be considered a disappointment.
There’s an excitement around the Indiana football program this year as Tom Allen enters his third season at the helm. By Indiana’s standards, he’s been crushing it on the recruiting trail. A new offensive coordinator in Kalen DeBoer appears poised to revamp an offense that has struggled to innovate and move the ball effectively when necessary. Top to bottom, the current roster is one of the deepest that Indiana has had in quite some time, and it’s a roster that could potentially result in the Hoosiers making it back to the bowl game for the first time under Allen.
When Tom Allen announced that Michael Penix Jr. would be the starting quarterback in the season opener against Ball State, he signaled one thing: it’s go time. Although Peyton Ramsey came into the offseason as an incumbent with the inside track to the job, Penix undoubtedly raises the ceiling for this team.
That’s not to say that Ramsey is a bad quarterback by any means. He’s perfectly fine, and it would be shocking if he doesn’t play a role in some capacity this season. He’s a high floor, low ceiling option that can do enough to beat cupcake non-conference foes and other Big Ten bottomfeeders. However, if Indiana ever hopes to make a significant step forward like some think this roster is capable of, it needs more than Peyton Ramsey.
We saw flashes of his talent as a true freshman before an ACL injury sidelined him before he could really get going. With a rocket arm and the athleticism to make plays with his legs, Penix provides an element of explosiveness that this offense has so desperately needed.
Indiana is never going to be on the same talent level as Ohio State, Michigan or Penn State. To compete with them on a game by game basis, Indiana has to introduce a level of variance. Ramsey doesn’t provide the big play capability that Indiana needs to keep things close. Remember how much trouble Urban Meyer had with Zander Diamont? Diamont’s playmaking with his legs brought variance onto the field that damn near paid off.
Penix brings a similar element to the table. Sure, it’s entirely feasible that Penix struggles against the top talent of the Big Ten’s best defenses. But’s also just as possible that he can make enough plays with his arms or legs to help the Hoosiers compete deeper in the games in which the wheels traditionally fall off by halftime.
With a quarterback capable of making big plays, a deep crop of talent at the skill positions, and an offensive coordinator that has proven he can lead an explosive offense, Indiana has all of the pieces in place to make a real step forward. The #9WINDIANA movement is more than just a bit that was conceived over three beers on a summer night in Broad Ripple. It’s a belief that if things break right, Indiana has The Goods to do more than just grinding out six wins and a bowl game appearance.
Now this could certainly all result in the same story that Indiana football perpetually experiences. It’s still just as conceivable that the Hoosiers only bust out four or five wins. But Allen’s choice to make Penix the guy shows an urgency to take a risk and try to go for it. And really, isn’t that we all want? For Indiana to say, “you know what, we actually think we have a chance to do the damn thing and we’re gonna take that risk.”
It’s time for The Leap, whatever you may perceive that to be. Let’s go have us a season.