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Indiana football and the pursuit of... something, anything

And we’re back.

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: APR 15 Indiana Scrimmage Photo by Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Students are moved into campus, parents are driving entirely in the bike lane on 7th street, it’s still entirely too hot and there’s a bullhorn projecting a hoarse, worn voice to anyone remotely in earshot of Memorial Stadium.

Football season is back in Bloomington.

What does that mean? Lately, some mixed results. A top-10 appearance in just about every major poll back in 2020 followed by two (2) wins the very next year. After that? A team that probably could’ve been in a bowl game had a few more things broken its way.

A few plays that went wrong, decisions that were and weren’t made and the 2022 Hoosiers very well could’ve concluded their season with those coveted six wins. But four is better than two! Improvement!

That’s truly all this program ever will or can be. A few down years with six wins sprinkled in and maybe, when the planets align, eight or nine wins.

Indiana fans truly do not ask for much from their football program. Just a watchable product and remaining competitive in the games it should. You don’t have to go beat Ohio State and Michigan but you do have to stay around the same level as programs like Maryland, Purdue and Rutgers.

I’m of the opinion that the right person can win here. There’s multiple examples of programs left in the dust before making the hire that thrust them into some level of respectability. It happened with Kentucky and it’s seemingly happening right now at Kansas.

Nobody has quite been that guy long-term in Bloomington for a variety of reasons. Tom Allen looked to be The One for a while, but the reality is that the last two seasons have set his entire approach to building the program back to square one. Not great.

There was something brewing in 2019 and 2020. A lot of things led to six combined wins in the past two seasons, mistakes are among them. There’s a reason the best quarterback the program has produced in years is gone and among the sport’s elite up at Washington.

The response, massive usage of the transfer portal for players both entering and leaving the program, just isn’t sustainable. There aren’t a ton of case studies for building a roster like this and how it ultimately works out. Indiana is probably going to become one and it’ll likely do so as a cautionary tale.

Roster turnover isn’t necessarily a bad thing, you want better players to replace the ones who weren’t winning games (Hey Deion) but there’s a reason those players who weren’t winning games are here in the first place.

There just isn’t enough time to build chemistry and make sure pieces truly fit into a system in a single offseason the way it’s been done these past two, especially the most recent round. I’m not optimistic this approach will work out.

If you want a more detailed approach to this year’s roster and how it was built, subscribe to our friend Taylor’s newsletter, Bite-Sized Bison.

Can Allen still be the guy? Maybe. This could all somehow work out and stabilize things enough for him to restart the building process. I’m not sure I can see that happening, but it could! I’ve been wrong before.

But that’s enough on current events.

Indiana is where it is as a program for a reason. The Hoosiers have always been the type to hold out for those six win seasons here and there with the right group and staff before one or both of those components leaves without a reload in place.

Any past momentum has quickly been quashed, with the 2021 season being among the most extreme examples. If there’s an identity, like a tenacious turnover-hungry defense in 2020, it doesn’t hold up for long.

It really doesn’t have to be like this and if Indiana wants to ensure a healthy athletic department as a whole for years to come it’d do well to put extra emphasis into the football program. Which, to a degree, has been done with an upgraded weight room facility and gameday experience coming down the line.

For now, Indiana football will kick off its 2023 season once again in search of those six defining wins.