For the first time since the Big Ten introduced a conference championship game to its football season, the league calendar is starting in the same place that it will end: Lucas Oil Stadium.
That put Indiana coach Tom Allen on the field at the Indianapolis facility on Friday morning where he stood on a dais and delivered remarks as part of the league’s annual media day event, which was moved from its normal home of Chicago due to the pandemic. And as he clutched the podium and looked across the 70,000-seat stadium, Allen tried to look into the future.
“I love being in this venue,” Allen said. “It’s our goal to end up our season playing here on December 4th.”
Here’s more from Allen’s opening remarks at media day:
All eyes on Iowa
Since taking over as head coach in 2017, Allen has had to prepare three of his teams for marquee season-openers against Big Ten opponnts. His first year, the Hoosiers drew a Week 1 showdown with Ohio State, which ... well ... we don’t talk about that game anymore.
Last season — even before the pandemic upended the conference schedule — IU was slotted for a road opener at Wisconsin. Of course, we all know what happened last fall, and even though the Hoosiers’ trip to Camp Randall was postponed until November, IU still drew a league opponent (Penn State) for the opener as part of the Big Ten’s move to a conference-only schedule. That game ... well ... we still talk a lot about that game. And for good reason.
This year, IU will once again kick off with a conference matchup, traveling to Iowa City for a date with the Hawkeyes on Sept. 4. For Allen, the Iowa game adds another measure of urgency to off-season preparation. The Hoosiers have been eager to prove last season’s rise into the national conversation was not a fluke, and they’ll have an opportunity to begin making their case in a few weeks.
“The start of the season always creates excitement,” Allen said. “There’s always that level no matter who you play. But when it’s a conference opponent and when it’s a team of their caliber — Coach (Kirk) Ferentz does a tremendous job there, the consistency, the toughness they have had for so many years, and to go and play in that venue to start the season is going to be very challenging. But I love the way that you always get better in the preparation process. When you’re preparing for such a high level opponent that early, it helps you, I think, have a better season.”
Chasing the Buckeyes
In the moments after a frustrating 42-35 loss at No. 3 Ohio State on Nov. 21 last season, Allen stood in the center of the visitors locker room inside Ohio Stadium. He was angry and frustrated, and yet also appreciative and hopeful.
And he wanted his players to know it.
His speech that afternoon, which went viral on social media, is below:
“I want you to listen to me carefully. Eyes on me. We aint feeling sorry for ourselves. We didn’t play our best football. You know it and I know it. But you didn’t quit. You didn’t quit. You fought ‘em. You got character. You got something to you! There’s a lot of football to be played. A lot of football to be played, you understand me? We aint come here to get close and I’m ticked off by the result. But I’m proud of you guys. You fought and you fought and you fought. Stay together. You understand me? Stay together! This team is special. You have special things ahead of you, you understand me? Special things ahead of you. That’s the truth. Stay together. I love this football team, man. You got no idea.”
On Friday, Allen was asked about that tough loss, the words he offered his team in the wake of that defeat, and how that afternoon in Columbus shaped his understanding of the team before him.
“I didn’t want to leave that locker room without those guys hearing from me,” Allen said. “I knew we had a long trip home. I wanted them to hear from me what I thought about them, and I wanted them to understand how we needed to use this opportunity to grow and allow us to continue to build this program. So it was definitely (important). That might have been as big a moment in the 2020 season as any in that moment in that locker room after that tough loss.”
But as Allen has said annually since taking over the head coaching role four and a half years ago, he is tired of coming close against Ohio State. And after the Buckeyes dealt IU its lone loss of the regular season a year ago, Allen says this season’s mantra — “Chase” — is, in part, about finally picking off Ohio State after more than three decades of trying.
“They are the gold standard and that is who we’re chasing,” Allen said. “And our one word for 2021 is chase and we’re trying to chase that greatness every single day.”
According to IndyStar’s Zach Osterman and Brian Haenchen, Allen told media members on site in Indianapolis that more than 90% of IU’s players have received their COVID-19 vaccines as fall camp approaches.
"The bottom line is, it's a decision they have to make. Life's about choices, and you have to understand the consequences of those choices."— Zach Osterman (@ZachOsterman) July 23, 2021
Says he is vaccinated. "I felt like I couldn't do my job without having (been vaccinated)." #iufb
Earlier this week, a federal judge upheld IU’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate that requires all students and staff to be fully vaccinated by the middle of August. So that figure may yet rise.