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The “Bright Side” of Indiana Football

A deep dive into the psyche of Indiana football fandom. Warning: it ain’t pretty.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Indiana Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the first eleven games of the regular season are out of the way, it’s finally Bucket Week, and IU has managed to make it here with a 7-4 record. That’s pretty good for IU football, so now would be the perfect time for some positive article projecting good vibes and a celebration on Saturday.

Nah, let’s get real fucking sad instead. This is #IUFB, after all.

How the Big Ten fares against Michigan

Since 2008, every Big Ten team has beaten Michigan at least once, with one exception (other than the Wolverines themselves, obviously). Yup, it’s Indiana. That means Rutgers owns a more recent victory over Michigan (2014) than the Hoosiers (1987). That means Maryland (also 2014) owns a more recent victory than the Hoosiers. That means four schools have joined the conference (1990, 2011, 2014) more recently than the Hoosiers have last defeated the Wolverines.

How the rest of College Football fares against Michigan

Notre Dame[12], Miami (FL), USC Trojans[3], Florida State[2], Washington[2], Colorado, Texas A&M, Alabama[2], Syracuse, UCLA, Tennessee, Oregon[2], Texas, pre-Big Ten Nebraska, Appalachian State, Utah[3], Toledo, Mississippi State, USC Gamecocks[2], Kansas State, and Florida have all defeated the Wolverines since IU’s last victory over them. 21 teams accounting for 41 victories since 1987, also known as 18 fewer victories than Michigan has over Indiana ever.

Well, let’s move from a series tied for the NCAA’s longest active streak of wins against a single opponent to....the other series tied for that streak, also owned by Indiana. (Luckily, we’ve still got some time before we reach the longest streak ever. Small mercies, I suppose.)

How the Big Ten fares against Ohio State

Since the turn of the new millennium (we’re going from 2000, for anyone who wants to get nitpicky about it in the comments), three conference schools have not defeated the Buckeyes even once. Two of those schools joined the conference in 2014; the third is Indiana. The only reason I had to go back to 2000 was to collect Minnesota, so if those two teams should happen to meet in Indianapolis and the improbable should happen, we could move this bar up 4 entire years and still have the same 10 teams covered.

How the rest of College Football fares against Ohio State

Since 1988 (Indiana’s last win over the Buckeyes), USC Trojans[4], Auburn, Air Force, Syracuse, Georgia, Washington, Alabama, Tennessee, Florida State, Miami (FL)[2], USC Gamecocks[2], UCLA, Texas[2], Florida[2], LSU, Clemson[2], Virginia Tech, and Oklahoma have beaten the Buckeyes. If we go instead from the last time Indiana didn’t lose to Ohio State (1990, a 27-27 tie), we only drop Auburn and one Trojan victory from the list.

Wow, this looks really bad for the Hoosiers. At least there’s only two teams with this kind of mastery over us. Right?

Lopsided Series versus the Penn State Nittany Lions

Turns out, the answer is no. In 23 meetings with Penn State, Indiana has emerged victorious exactly once, a winning percentage of 4.35%. Noted “not-rival” Rutgers, by comparison, boasts a 6.90%, and Maryland checks in at 6.98%. Bucknell, a school Penn State has not played in football since 1948, comes in at 10 wins vs. PSU (26.32%). Among teams who have a non-loss to the Nittany Lions on their record, only Gettysburg College has failed more epically than IU, having only a 0-0 tie in 1906 to show from 28 meetings. Of course, 1937 was the last of those meetings, so football has changed a wee bit since then. (Gettysburg still plays collegiate football, but at the Division III level. A slight step down from playing Penn State, one would assume.)

‘OK, Candy,” you might say, “we get that IU is historically inept on a level otherwise unknown to mankind, but come on, you’ve got a bowl game to look forward to! That’s good, right?”

Oh, you sweet summer child.

Bowl Game “Glory”

In 2019 (or possibly early 2020, depending on scheduling), Indiana will make its 12th bowl appearance. That would tie them with the following list of football powerhouses: Bowling Green, Hawaii, Kansas, Ohio, Rice, Tulane, and Utah State. Except, of course, that Tulane, Utah State, and Hawaii are also already bowl eligible, and Ohio could still get there.

But still, only having 11 bowl appearances right now, there’s quite a few teams in that boat. And, funnily enough, every single one of those teams is also going to make their 12th bowl appearance this year. Those teams: Central Michigan, Louisiana Tech, Memphis, and Miami Hydroxide. Or, to put it another way: tied for their division lead, tied for their division lead, tied for their division lead, outright leading their division, and also Indiana.

Appearances, however, can be deceiving. In those 11 appearances, Indiana has 3 (count ‘em, 3) wins, a percentage of 27.3%. Among teams that have both made and won at least one bowl, the Hoosiers continue to be tied with Central Michigan (identical 3-8 records), and have a better percentage than Middle Tennessee, North Texas, and Western Michigan. Six other schools have made but never won a bowl, and an additional five have never been bowling (though Liberty and Charlotte will both jump out of that group this year).

A quick B1G comparison before we move on: the next lowest winning percentage is Northwestern (33.3% in 15 appearances), and only Rutgers (9 appearances, 6-3 record) has fewer bowl games played than the Hoosiers.

Now, while Indiana has made a couple of bowl games in recent memory, their last actual win in a bowl was the 1991 Copper Bowl, when the Hoosiers defeated Baylor 24-0. A lot has happened since 1991, including teams like (but not limited to) New Mexico, Akron, Georgia State, New Mexico State, Georgia Southern, Rice, and East Carolina all winning at least one bowl game. Hell, UAB shut down their football team for a couple of years (thanks for Jordan Howard, by the way!), and has won a bowl game more recently than Indiana.

#9Windiana: a lofty goal indeed

OK, pulling back from this brink, let’s focus on something exciting that could happen: #9Windiana! It requires beating Purdue and winning the bowl game, but Indiana could have its third 9-win football season ever. I already talked about the other two times in history this happened, and I may have been skeptical about it happening this year WITH GOOD REASON.

But, I mean, come on, 9 wins in a single season is hard, right? It can’t just be something that ANY team can do, you know? You’d have to be, like, Clemson walking through the ACC to do it, wouldn’t you?

Or, I suppose you could be takes breath Cincinnati, Memphis, SMU, Boise State, Air Force, Appalachian State, and Louisiana this year; Fresno State, UAB, Cincinnati, Boise State, Army, Utah State, Buffalo, Troy, Georgia Southern, FIU, Marshall, North Texas, and Ohio last year; UCF, Florida Atlantic, Toledo, Boise State, Troy, South Florida, Memphis, Army, Fresno State, San Diego State, North Texas, Ohio, and Appalachian State in 2017. And this doesn’t even include the Power 5 conferences or Notre Dame, this is all G5 level teams, and many of the above teams were not just 9 game winners, but 10 or more. A quick reminder: Indiana has NEVER won 10 games in a single season. NEVER.

It would seem that plenty of teams win 9 games every year; it’s just that almost all of them don’t have the words “Indiana” or “Hoosiers” on their jerseys. One school that hasn’t had a recent 9 win season is former Big Ten member UChicago, in part because they play Division III football now, and in part because their schedule is only 10 games. But back when they were a member of the Western Conference/Big Ten, they were one of many teams that frequently beat up on the Hoosiers. They dropped what would now be called Division I football back in 1939, but there’s a few notes in the record book that merit inclusion here.

Milestones UChicago achieved that IU still hasn’t

Pushing right past the 20-4-1 record the Maroons accumulated against the Hoosiers, UChicago lays claim to 7 Big Ten championships, 6 of them outright titles. Indiana? 2 and 1, respectively. Chicago got their 7 titles in a span of 25 years; Indiana’s two came nearly 25 years apart. On the national level, the Maroons are recognized as a two-time national champion in the sport of football. Unless you want to include men’s soccer titles (futbol championships, if you will), Indiana is sitting on a big fat 0 here. And finally, the first winner of what would become the Heisman Trophy was UChicago’s Jay Berwanger (the award would not be named for John Heisman until his death the year after Berwanger’s win). Indiana’s first winner may very well not have been born yet, given that no Hoosier other than Anthony Thompson in 1989 has even been a finalist for the award (Thompson finished runner-up to Andre Ware of Houston).

In Indiana’s defense, UChicago was coached for most of their Big Ten history by Amos Alonso Stagg, widely recognized as one of football’s greatest and most innovative coaches. Whereas Indiana through the years has had some bright spots amongst a sea of middling or worse coaches.

A Few Good Men

The most successful coach Indiana has ever had (by win percentage) is indisputably the immortal Madison G. Gonterman, who coached the 1896 and 1897 Hoosiers to a total record of 12-4-1. For reasons unknown, his record is listed as 12-3-1 on the Wikipedia page listing every IU head football coach and absolutely nowhere else than I can find. Indiana’s second most successful coach was Gonterman’s successor, James H. Horne, who in 7 seasons helming the Hoosiers compiled a record of 33-21-5. We have to go down to 5th place to find Bo McMillin (63-48-11), the coach of IU’s only outright Big Ten championship team, and also the longest tenured Hoosier head coach, lasting 14 years in the job. The second longest tenure belongs to Indiana’s winningest (by number of wins) head coach, Bill Mallory, completing 13 season with a 69-77-3 record. The only other Hoosier coach to last at least a decade on the job might be a more familiar face to many of you.

NCAA Football: Rose Bowl Game-Ohio State vs Washington
He definitely looked younger when he was the head coach.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In ten years in Bloomington, Lee Corso led IU to a 41-68-2 record. Along with being third in tenure, he is also third in wins by an IU head coach, behind McMillin and Mallory.

To recap: Indiana’s three longest lasting head coaches are also Indiana’s three winningest coaches by number of games won. Only one of them has a winning record.

To add on: I mentioned above that Bo McMillin is 5th by win percentage among Hoosier head coaches. What I did not mention is that only 6 Indiana head coaches have finished with a winning percentage over .500, and McMillin (last coached IU in 1947) is the most recent.

For comparison, Michigan has had 2 head coaches leave the job with a record under .500 (their first head coaching duo, and also Rich Rod). Ohio State has had 3 if you count Luke Fickell’s interim year (which some people don’t). Penn State has also had 3 if you count Tom Bradley’s 4 game stint in 2011 (again, some people don’t). Nebraska (who also might not count interims) has 9, but other than Barney Cotton’s 2014 Holiday Bowl loss, the most recent of those left in 1961.

When it really comes down to it, though, coaches don’t matter, individual accolades don’t matter; what matters is the wins and losses, because that is how we define almost everything in sports when attempting to compare some very unequal things. And you don’t get more unequal than Indiana’s football wins and losses.

A Thought Experiment, in which the impossible is possible

As of the publishing of this article, Indiana football has accumulated 490 wins. That puts the Hoosiers at #100 of the 130 FBS programs currently active. Let’s pretend, for a second, that Indiana has a prayer of catching up to the rest of the Big Ten any time in the near future. Let’s further imagine, for ease of gaining ground, that Indiana started finishing seasons 15-0 (12 regular season, Big Ten title game, two playoff bowls) and the teams they’re chasing started finishing 0-12. How many seasons would it take for Indiana to catch up to the rest of the conference? [Note: I am assuming a starting point of next season, so all numbers will be disregarding the rest of 2019 entirely.]

First up, Northwestern (547). A fairly doable margin of 57 games, this would only take a little under four seasons. The official tie up would come in the Old Oaken Bucket game of the fourth season.

Next on the list, Illinois (612). We’ve already upped the difficulty, with 122 games to make up here. That means 8 full seasons, plus two weeks of the season beyond that, just to draw even.

Six wins beyond the Illini, we find Purdue (618). We’re now past halfway into season 9, and we’ve caught only 3 Big Ten teams. Instead of a full write up from here on out, you’re now getting line-by-line action, because if you’ve actually read all the way to here, you deserve a break.

Maryland (652), Rutgers (654) - Season 11’s Bucket game and National Semifinal, respectively

Iowa (659) - 4 weeks into season 12

Minnesota (705), Michigan State (706), Wisconsin (714) - All three of these teams fall by the wayside in season 15, and we’ve officially passed more than half the conference.

Penn State (896), Nebraska (902) - To open season 28, let’s get tied with the Nittany Lions, and midway through the regular season we’ll catch Nebraska. Before the end of the year, we’ll also catch the Fighting Irish.

Ohio State (922) - Season 29’s Bucket game. We’re almost to the top, but not just yet.

Michigan (962) - Finally, part way through season 32 of this experiment, we finally catch up to Michigan, and become college football’s winningest program. It only took 32 seasons of blatantly cheating the system to get here, which feels right somehow.

The main takeaway of this section, one that I want you to remember extremely well, is this: If Indiana were to go 15-0 for the next decade, and Rutgers pulled a UChicago and dropped football entirely, the Hoosiers would still trail the Scarlet Knights by 14 wins. First-mover advantage is a real thing, people.

Finally, we circle back around to the reason you clicked on this article (probably; maybe?): Indiana plays their biggest rival on Saturday for the Old Oaken Bucket. That’s right, we’re closing this out with a discussion of how Indiana sucks in trophy games.

How Badly Does Indiana Suck With Trophies on the Line?

Let’s start with the outlier among IU’s trophy games, the Bourbon Barrel rivalry with Kentucky. This trophy game is an outlier for a couple of reasons, the most prominent one being that this game is (currently) no longer played. The last meeting was in 2005, with the actual trophy having been retired a few years prior due to circumstances. The other reason this rivalry is an outlier is that Indiana actually leads this series 18-17-1. However, in games where the Bourbon Barrel was actually on the line(1987-1999), Kentucky won the series 8-5.

We move next to the trophy game Indiana has already lost this season, that being the Old Brass Spittoon rivalry with Michigan State. The Spartans lead the all-time series 48-16-2, and if we ignore games played before the Spittoon was introduced, MSU leads 48-13-1. Yes, this means Indiana actually led the series 3-0-1 before a trophy was introduced. It’s been all downhill since then, considering the next 8 games were all Spartan victories, and 13 of the first 14 Old Brass Spittoon games went State’s way. A final note on Brassy: on the field, MSU actually leads by an additional game, since 1994’s meeting was vacated, but official records must be maintained.

And then, there is the Old Oaken Bucket rivalry. Every positive stat in this series is owned by the Boilermakers, and most of them aren’t close. Overall series lead? Purdue, 74-41-6. Bucket games only? Purdue, 60-31-3. Largest margin of victory? Purdue, winning 68-0 in 1892. Longest win streak? Purdue, winning 10 games in a row between 1948 and 1957. If not for a 15-15 tie in 1958, that streak would instead be 14 games. Indiana’s longest streak, for comparison, is 4 games in a row, and it’s happened twice. Purdue has 9 separate streaks of at least 4 wins in a row.

I’m beginning to think we may just not be good at football.


Were you prepared for this deep a dive into Indiana football history?

This poll is closed

  • 26%
    Absolutely not
    (56 votes)
  • 12%
    Are you kidding? I already knew all of this.
    (27 votes)
  • 32%
    #9Windiana fears no history!
    (69 votes)
  • 25%
    Stop it. Get some help.
    (54 votes)
  • 3%
    Some other answer that is not covered here, which I will be honor-bound to say in the comments.
    (7 votes)
213 votes total Vote Now