Indiana football head coach Tom Allen is familiar with the high expectations his team carries. When he first arrived as Indiana’s defensive coordinator in 2016, the team would break down practices and meetings with chants of “Big Ten Champs.”
Once Allen took over as head coach following the 2016 regular season, he put a stop to that chant. To him, they felt like empty words.
“I've always felt since I've been here that our guys really didn't even believe we could win the Big Ten,” Allen said in a press conference Monday.
But over the course of 2019 and 2020, both of which ended in bowl appearances, Allen felt as though Indiana was on the rise. The Hoosiers were ready for the next level, hence Allen’s one word for the 2021 season: “Chase.”
Laminated posters went up around Indiana’s team facilities asking one question of the players, coaches and staff members who passed as they walked the halls: “What have you done today to win the Big Ten?”
“We finished second in the Big Ten East last year,” Allen said. “As I've said before, and I'll say it again, you don't break it down on ‘runners up on two.’ We want to win the Big Ten. That's been a program goal since I've been here.”
Indiana entered this season ranked No. 17 in the Associated Press preseason poll on the heels of a 6-2 campaign in 2020, its first preseason ranking since 1969. Indiana beat Big Ten East powers, save for National Championship runner-up Ohio State, and even pulled off a win against Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin.
Things haven’t gone according to plan since.
Indiana hasn’t won a Power Five game since beating Wisconsin on Dec. 5, 2021. It sold out two home games this season, against the University of Cincinnati and Ohio State, and lost both.
Now Indiana sits at 2-8, the only team in the Big Ten without a single conference win. It’s been outscored 237-73 against Big Ten competition.
Aside from a mass of shirtless men yelling at the top of their lungs to inject energy into a despondent stadium, its crowds do little to hide the limestone bleachers of Memorial Stadium.
Allen said it was multiple factors that led the team astray, one of those being injuries.
Indiana has had 30 players miss time due to injury this season, Allen said. Of those 30, 18 have been lost for the season and 12 have missed multiple games. Allen said he’d work with Indiana’s strength and conditioning coach, Aaron Wellman, to address the issue.
A long period of reflection and evaluation will follow the season, Allen said. In his opinion, that reflection could involve coaching changes, and any decisions regarding personnel would come after the conclusion of the regular season.
Despite the team’s struggles, Allen is still set on Indiana winning the Big Ten. It’s a message he still uses in recruiting. Allen said he laid out his vision for Indiana to win the Big Ten Championship in his office with a recruit this week.
“I came here to eventually one day win the Big Ten Championship,” Allen said. “That's the goal.”