When named the head coach at Indiana, Tom Allen wrote down a list of three achievements that the Hoosiers hadn’t achieved in decades, nay, generations. The Hoosiers hadn’t been ranked in the AP Top 25 poll since 1994, they hadn’t won a bowl game since the 1991 season and they hadn’t won a conference title since 1967.
After a narrow 74-67 loss over previously 4-1 Northwestern on Wednesday night in which Northwestern quarterback Peyton Ramsey threw for five touchdowns and ran for three more (look, play along with the bit, I need this and so do you), Indiana nearly crossed off a second item from Allen’s three-goal list, as the Hoosiers fell just short of becoming Big Ten champions for the first time in two generations. A win likely would’ve vaulted them into the top 10 of the next College Football Playoff rankings, surely securing a New Year’s Six bowl berth – most likely the Fiesta Bowl – in the process.
The only blemish on Indiana’s resume before Wednesday was a seven-point road loss against No. 3 Ohio State, which is on a jet destined for the playoff. If Clemson is able to beat Notre Dame in the ACC Championship Game, Indiana could have had a case to earn the No. 4 seed in the playoff, given that Notre Dame pulled off a fraudulent win against Clemson earlier this season, when Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, the best quarterback in the country, and several members of the Tigers’s talented front seven were unavailable. Clemson will be a double-digit favorite against Notre Dame but a 24-point margin, say 34-10, feels like a likely outcome, but only after the ACC conference office calls Dabo Swinney’s burner phone at halftime and tells him to stop running up the score in order to preserve Notre Dame’s playoff case.
As the confetti was falling inside Lucas Oil Stadium Wednesday night, senior wide receiver Whop Philyor walked off the field with an arm around Tom Allen and Tiawan Mullen “sh-shhhhed” the Medill alums who were covering the game and who were visibly crying tears of joy on the postgame Zoom call.
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald was seen fleeing the scene on a Lime scooter through the side streets of Broad Ripple, destined for Lake Shore Drive, where he would later be named Chicago Bears head coach after beating out fellow finalists for the job, including:
- Lovie Smith
- A greasy slice of Lou Malnati’s that was dropped outside of Cubby Bear on Saturday and wasn’t cleaned up until the following Thursday
- Ronnie Woo Woo
- A 26-foot moving truck that’s stuck on a Lincoln Park road that’s big enough for 1.5 cars on June 1st
- Rahm Emanuel
- A $500 security deposit
- Your fraternity brother’s investment banking internship in which he earned roughly $15,000 in 10 weeks.
Fitzgerald’s tenure with the Bears will reach its pinnacle in Year Two with a 10-6 season that culminates in a Wild Card spot in the playoffs. The Bears’s kicker will go 5-for-5 on the day, including a 51-yard field goal before halftime, in a forgettable 43-15 loss to the New Orleans Saints. After four years in Chicago, Fitzgerald will return to Not Chicago (Evanston) as an athletic director who will pull a Barry Alvarez-style celebrity reunion tour power play once every four years to coach a prominent bowl game or to serve as interim head coach.
While the College Football Playoff committee has been a difficult group to pin down – in ideology or rationale – through the first seven years of the playoff era, this year’s committee has generally been critically acclaimed as the best committee so far.
Those observers who have made such a claim have noted that when ranking the first seven selection committees, college football fans are looking for the four best committees, not necessarily the four most deserving selection committees. A worthwhile distinction.
Anyways, heading into championship weekend, the committee had undefeated Cincinnati, which is fueled by unquestionably one of the best defenses in the country, at No. 4 in the CFP rankings. Undefeated Coastal Carolina, powered by a 5-9 center and a quarterback whose name sounds like a consulting firm that was your backup option for your junior-year internship in Boston, checked in at No. 6 in the latest rankings, one spot ahead of one-loss Indiana.
One-loss Louisiana, who dominated No. 17 Iowa State on the road, snuck inside the top 10, too, at No. 9, as the typically forgotten schools in the playoff era are standing up to the system and being handsomely and rightfully rewarded by the committee this season.
Now is when things get interesting for the Hoosiers, who were on the outside of the playoff picture, but not entirely eliminated, with the Big Ten Championship Game looming. In years past, some schools have been rewarded for having a “strong” loss to a playoff team (cough Georgia cough UGA Go Dawgs Go cough Tom come home and coach the offense, I’m begging you) and if this year’s committee would’ve considered that ranking philosophy with No. 7 Indiana, and if the Hoosiers had beaten Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship, then the Hoosiers could’ve found themselves as the No. 4 seed in the playoff.
It’ll be one last “What if?” in a memorable, accomplishment-filled season for Indiana football.