IU football saw no action this past weekend, but a number of upsets around the country thrusted it into its first AP Top 25 Poll since 1994.
The Hoosiers, 7-2, had the longest streak of power-5 programs to not have a ranking by more than a decade until Sunday.
No. 24 IU will play its 10th game of the season Saturday at No. 9 Penn State. The Nittany Lions were on the cusp of an undefeated season before enduring their first loss of 2019 last week.
IU head coach Tom Allen, his coordinators and select players met with the media Monday afternoon to answer questions about the bye week and preparing for Penn State.
Here are three takeaways.
The Hoosiers are proud of the ranking but knows there’s more work to be done.
If there’s anyone that knows how little a national ranking means to a football team, it’s Allen.
“Just because you get ranked one week, doesn't mean all of a sudden you've arrived,” Allen said. “At the same time it's an acknowledgement of what you're doing, the foundation you're laying. Doesn't really mean anything in regards to on the field. You have to keep proving it.”
Allen said he and his team take pride in being recognized for their hard work, but in the end this was all an expectation he sought after when he joined the program. Allen openly told his guys he thought they’d crack the rankings after the bye week, but he also aspired for it before the season.
“I told our team in fall camp I thought they were a top-25 football team,” Allen said. “Said in the privacy of our meetings. I told them that. I believed it. I'm sure nobody else would even have said that.”
The Hoosiers are ranked in the top 25 and bowl-eligible, but the team still has more goals for this season they’re after, including a bowl win.
IU embraces the challenge lying ahead at No. 9 Penn State.
It would be an understatement to say the Hoosiers have consistently struggled against the Nittany Lions.
IU has only played Penn State 22 times, but the overall series history is on par with its historical shortcomings against blue bloods like Michigan and Ohio State. The Hoosiers have just one win against the Nittany Lions, 2013, and they’ve never done it in Pennsylvania.
“Fully aware of the series, where we're at with them, how challenging it has been to play Penn State over the years, especially at their place,” Allen said. “We'll have a very big challenge, opportunity for our football team.”
Penn State opened as a 14-point favorite over IU for Saturday’s contest. The Hoosiers last played the Nittany Lions close at Beaver Stadium in 2009, a 31-20 loss.
Clifford, Hamler could create problems for IU’s defense.
Penn State head coach James Franklin’s team has been tough to stop all season, especially its offense.
“It’s a tough system to defend,” Allen said. “Coach Franklin has done a tremendous job there building the roster, building the level of play that they are at right now.”
Allen sees similarities between Penn State sophomore quarterback Sean Clifford and former Nittany Lion signal-caller Trace McSorely, citing their toughness and mobility.
As a native of Cincinnati, Ohio, sophomore quarterback Peyton Ramsey can recognize Clifford’s game having played him in high schools on a few occasions.
“Really, really good football player,” Ramsey said. “Great leader from what I know, and I do know him on a personal level. He’s tough, so he’ll be a handful.”
Clifford’s favorite target, sophomore receiver KJ Hamler, has totaled 739 receiving yards and eight touchdowns this season. With opportunities to run and return the ball as well, Hamler’s 1,169 all-purpose yards ranks fourth in the Big Ten.
“Hamler is as quick as you're going to see,” Allen said. “He makes a lot of people look silly in space. You better have more guys there than just one or else it's going to be a long day.”
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