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Indiana football: Hoosiers must capitalize on favorable scheduling going forward

Without the Big Ten East, Indiana football has more opportunity than ever.

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 26 Purdue at Indiana Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Big Ten conference, which will add UCLA and USC from Los Angeles beginning in 2024, is adopting a new scheduling format for football as a result. This change will eliminate the conference’s current East-West division for good, presenting opportunity for teams like Indiana.

The Hoosiers have been stuck in the Big Ten East, featuring historically vaunted opponents like Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and occasionally Michigan State, since 2014. The split actually came down to Indiana and Purdue with the schools’ rivalry and central location coming into play.

Ultimately, West Lafayette being located to the West of Bloomington left Purdue in the West and Indiana in the East. Indiana has defeated Michigan and Penn State once each since the split, with both wins coming in the historic 2020 season.

Indiana played plenty of competitive games against the two and was able to defeat Maryland and Rutgers (which has since changed to the Hoosiers’ detriment) to keep bowl eligibility a probably late in most seasons.

Having 3-4 penciled-in losses on the schedule hampered that every year, but no more.

For the first time in decades, Indiana will play neither Michigan nor Ohio State in 2024. Other programs like Minnesota and Northwestern will instead be on the schedule, with the Hoosiers being locked into playing the Boilermakers for the Old Oaken Bucket moving forward.

Simply put, Indiana absolutely has to capitalize on schedules like this to reach bowl games on a semi-regular basis.

This change likely does not come with ideal timing. Indiana has entered a slump under Tom Allen, who enters his seventh year leading the program in 2023.

Allen’s tenure has featured the Hoosiers’ best season in decades in 2020 following a slow rise along with the program’s least wins in a season since 2011 the following year. The transfer portal and NIL are now a staple of the collegiate landscape, and Indiana is mostly a basketball-first institution.

Not to say that interest in the football program or NIL opportunities for its athletes don’t exist. Indiana is the losingest program in the history of the Power Five and its stadium is right next to an arena with the third most men’s basketball championship banners in the nation.

Regardless of history, Indiana has won just two conference games in as many years. The upcoming season, the last to feature the East-West split, will prove decisive for Allen’s future in Bloomington.

He’ll likely still be leading the program no matter what in 2024 when Indiana’s schedule becomes more favorable. The athletic department would owe Allen over $20 million should it wish to terminate his contract following the 2023 season.

Success in 2023 can be leveraged into further success in 2024. Failure this season would deepen the trend, with three losing years following his historic 2020.

With recruiting at the high school level taking a dip and stars choosing to transfer elsewhere, Indiana simply needs to have some level of success, likely a bowl berth, in 2023 to avoid further collapse.

A schedule featuring the usual Big Ten East slate and a non-conference Power Five opponent coached by Jeff Brohm, previously of numerous wins over Indiana at Purdue, presents a daunting task.

No matter what, if Allen is leading the program or a new coach in the future, Indiana has to invest in its football program to find some level of success against a fluid, occasionally weaker conference schedule.

A solid example isn’t far away.

Purdue was widely mocked for handing Brohm a massive contract. Then he turned the Boilermakers into giant killers with upsets over highly-ranked Ohio State, Iowa and Michigan State teams while keeping Purdue in contention for bowl games.

The Boilermakers even won the West despite the presence of historic football powers like Nebraska, Wisconsin and Iowa. Did down years/eras from those programs help? Absolutely, but it helped that Purdue paid to use that to its advantage.

Brohm might have gone home to Louisville, but the investment has seemingly continued under new head coach Tony Walters. Using previously established connections, Walters has hit the ground running as a recruiter and had enough cash to hire Graham Harrell as offensive coordinator.

Even more so, Purdue is renovating Ross-Ade Stadium. There’s an abundance of fan interest because of previous success in West Lafayette and the athletic department has quickly capitalized on that momentum.

To make all of that more interesting? Indiana is paying more than Purdue on football and has for years. The Hoosiers, as an athletic department, have a larger brand than the Boilermakers and should be able to leverage that, but the wins just aren’t coming.

Indiana can’t accept seasons that just fall short of bowl eligibility moving forward. There’s simply too much to be gained as an athletic department and too much to lose with conference realignment and reputation in mind.