Tom Allen has Indiana football in Big Ten contention before Ohio State game

There have been a lot of “last times” for Allen and the ninth-ranked Hoosiers in this very strange season, one made even more peculiar b...

There have been a lot of “last times” for Allen and the ninth-ranked Hoosiers in this very strange season, one made even more peculiar by the college basketball blue blood’s presence in the Associated Press football top 10. There’s the last time Indiana was so highly ranked (1967, when it finished the season ranked No. 4 after a Rose Bowl loss to USC), which also was the last time it beat both Michigan and Michigan State in the same season. There’s also the last time it beat two ranked teams in one season (2004) and the last time it beat a top-10 team (1987). The Hoosiers have accomplished both this season.

The last time Indiana beat Ohio State was 1988, though it wasn’t much of an achievement; the Buckeyes won just four games that season. But should this year’s Hoosiers upset third-ranked Ohio State on Saturday at the Horseshoe, it might be time to start talking about the last time Indiana was one of the nation’s best teams, which will be difficult because that’s only rarely happened at a school where basketball is king and football usually is a mere diversion to be tolerated until tip-off.

“We’ve been very specific that we want to build a team that can win Big Ten championships, so we want to compete for Big Ten championships,” Allen said this month. “We’re trying to elevate this program.”

That’s bold talk from the coach of a program with exactly two conference championships in its history (1945 and 1967), neither of them in Allen’s lifetime. But Allen’s program-building enthusiasm has been relentless to the point where it has taken a physical toll: His celebratory tackle of Hoosiers defensive back Devon Matthews during Indiana’s win over Michigan on Nov. 7 led to a gash on his cheek.

This apparently was somehow only the second-worst injury Allen has suffered while celebrating during his coaching career. While linebackers and special teams coach at Mississippi between 2012 and 2014, Allen said he jumped up to rejoice with a Rebels player only for his helmet to hit him “right smack in the mouth,” knocking out two of his front teeth and leading to eight months of dental work.

And that was not a game. That incident happened in practice.

The enthusiasm is infectious, however. Consider the scene that followed Indiana’s season-opening win over Penn State on Oct. 24. As an emotional Allen addressed his team, a player bellowed, “We love you, Coach!” That pretty much ended Allen’s postgame speech, as his players needed no more encouragement to start celebrating. It did lead to Allen crowd-surfing over his players’ heads, however.

There were no injuries this time, as far as anyone knows.

Indiana’s players have been feeding off Allen’s enthusiasm since before the season even started and before they even began their careers in Bloomington, apparently.

“I feel like we’re going to shock the world. I know we are,” Indiana sophomore quarterback Michael Penix Jr. said in September, weeks before the Hoosiers’ first game.

Said junior linebacker Micah McFadden: “When I was a senior in high school and in the recruiting process, he was true from the start. He was telling me that Indiana was going to be a Big Ten contender for the Big Ten championship. He said we were going to win a lot of games if I came here. The guys that he was recruiting, he knew it was going to be a good class. He was so enthusiastic about the change that was going on in this program. You could see it in his eyes, and the way he talked was so convincing. That led me to believe, believe in him, believe in the program and the change that was going on. That led to me wanting to commit here.”

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Newsrust: Tom Allen has Indiana football in Big Ten contention before Ohio State game
Tom Allen has Indiana football in Big Ten contention before Ohio State game
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