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B1G 2021, Indiana Potluck #1: Do we buy what Tom Allen is selling?

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Is...is Indiana actually becoming a football school?

2021 Big Ten Football Media Day
Just the yellingest press conference coach.
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

This isn’t a misprint; you’re not in the wrong place.

It’s the week after perennial West contender Iowa, and it’s time to talk about the Indiana Hoosiers.

Candystripes has gotten us started with his look back at the arrival, Cinderella run, and potential highway robbery of the 2020 Hoosiers. But as we look at the growth of Indiana football in the last decade, maybe this wasn’t just a flash in the pan, but the honest-to-goodness arrival of the Hoosiers under Tom Allen.

The Tradition: Can the zebra shed its stripes?

No, no, we’re not getting rid of the iconic Hoosier candy-striping.

But as we’ve seen Indiana embrace the weirdness over the last decade—nothing quite on the level of Christopher Polyblend’s dark, tortured genius (Indiana edition)—as Mike Miller of Crimson Quarry detailed, Hoosiers football saw their share of hits and misses.

Of course, many of those have come just on the helmet. Indiana has cycled through a range of helmets in its history (and the last decade!) alone, and our judgmental friends at Bucky’s 5th Quarter rated two Hoosier helmets a YAAAS QUEEN:

While the state flag helmet is quickly becoming an OTE favorite, the candy-striped chrome dome is the more quintessentially garish Indiana outfit. First adopted by the basketball team in the 1971-72 season, the stripes have made their way around IU sports programs, including the soccer teams (though the men more recently have opted for a sash):

So, writers:

  1. Tell me the best Hoosier football helmet—or other sartorial choice—of the last 10 years.
  2. Design a NEW use for the Indiana candystripes. Where would you like to see them show up next, particularly in football?
  3. What’s THE fashion statement your school is known for—a pattern, color, or style of apparel that instantly draws your attention?

MNW: It’s the state flag helmet, and it’s not particularly close. I get that the youths might like the garishness of the chrome striping, but the red helmet with the white flag logo is absolutely tops here.

I don’t mind the idea of trying to copy a little of what women’s soccer did, if I’m looking to repeat the stripes on an Indiana football uniform—obviously don’t go full Denver Broncos throwbacks, but there’s an old-timey football look to the stripes from the stomach panel down. Could be a cool one-off.

On the whole, though, I’d say the stripes should go in the end zones at Memorial Stadium.

WAIT.

God bless you, Lindenwood University-Belleville. Indiana, take notes.

Northwestern finally got around to standardizing its purple above a decade ago. It’s been fine. I don’t think the gothics are iconic enough yet that anyone looking at them just KNOWS it’s Northwestern, and the rugby stripe is Objectively Good but not something people are taking note of (even though we invented that striping).

Candystripes: I’m pretty partial to the Chromestripes helmet, but I think MNW’s probably right that the state flag helmet has way more appeal to the rest of the world. As for where I would like to see more candystripes, there’s a whole swath of seating areas in Memorial Stadium that could use a little sprucing up, so why not stripe out the seats (and make it way easier to have things like an entire stadium Stripe Out by just taking a picture and letting people identify their sections that way)?

As for the non-candystripe fashion statement, I’ve been told that the cool kids don’t wear marching band spats, so I guess that.

RockyMtnBlue:

  1. The classic IU in white on red. It’s pure. It’s traditional. It’s everything we old people love about college football and the damned kids nowadays don’t respect.
  2. No. I will not do this. You can’t make me.
  3. The helmet, of course. Except when Dave Brandon fucks with it. May the fleas of a thousand camels flock in his undershorts.

Jesse:

  1. I think my favorite is the Chromestripes because it’s shamelessly absurd and kind of wonderful. It also is the worst version of ‘modern’ that you could do and I am sorta here for all designs that try and be cool like Oregon without any built up credibility to do so.
  2. You know how each team has its own footballs to use during the game? Let’s get to the point where we candystripes that shit. Like, I want to see a perfect end over end punt with the stripes creating a sort of hypnotic, awful, wonderful pallet of confusion. I realize this isn’t remotely within the rules and also don’t care because it would be awesome.
  3. I mean, besides awful alt uniforms? Blandness. We like our plain-ass uniforms and helmet and you will like it.

BrianB2:

  1. As a adamant follower of all things Indiana Hoosiers football helmets, I would have to say the “iced out” look. Maryland went a similar route, at one point in time, having all-white everything uniforms too. White logos on a white background, what could go wrong? It is really nice because casual viewers can’t identify what stupid ass team dressed in all white is getting slaughtered on the football field.
  2. Vertical stripes, head to toe. Shoes, striped. Knee-high socks, striped. Pants, striped. Jersey, striped. Helmet, purple.
  3. As a Maryland fan I don’t think I am legally allowed to give a response to this. I hear a small, non-boisterous group of Marylanders out there somewhere have taken a keen liking to our state flag.

WSR:

1) Indiana has helmets? Indiana plays football? Eh, probably the chrome. That was awesome.

2) Try to sneak a candystripe football into a game.

3) No clue. We’re maroon and gold (BUT NOT VEGAS GOLD PER U OF M BRANDING RULES).

Beez: (3) Is there any dispute that the mid-90s Windows Clip Art-style “motion” W for Wisconsin is absolutely the best thing that hasn’t changed in the conference in the past 30 years?

BRT: I love the chrome candystripes. No one else is doing it, they’re doing the super shiny thing they keep telling us the kids are into, and yet they’re still distinctively Indiana. I’m a fan.

For the next iteration of candystriping, I think they should do a full head-to-toe candystriped uniform. This could have a couple of potentially interesting results:

(1) The swirling mass of stripes might actually confuse opponents. It would certainly confuse fans and announcers. Just think of 11 guys in head-to-toe stripes on the field and what that would look like. Imagine the sideline. Carnivalesque.

(2) This design would mean that Indiana players would look a lot like Bucky Badger, which would piss off Wisconsin fans, something I’m always in favor of doing. I think this would be especially satisfying to watch as they got proprietary over a rodent in an old-timey popcorn box, which is what Bucky essentially is.

Nebraska is known for two things aesthetically: never changing the basic look, and when they do change it, getting it horrifically wrong. I personally love the crisp white and red against a backdrop of green, and see no reason to mess with this. Also, the Huskers seem to play notably worse than usual when wearing alternate uniforms, although this may be because they tend to get trotted out against big-name opponents against whom we have no prayer. But... they are called surrender whites for a reason.

Poll

The candystripes?

This poll is closed

  • 33%
    Excellent and recognizably IU—should be on more stuff.
    (34 votes)
  • 30%
    Probably used enough as it is.
    (31 votes)
  • 14%
    More of a basketball thing—football should develop its own identity.
    (15 votes)
  • 21%
    He’s a good writer, but I wouldn’t say "THE".
    (22 votes)
102 votes total Vote Now

The Football: A football school?

Less out-there than the Hoosiers’ fashion sense, though, is Tom Allen.

2021 Big Ten Football Media Day Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

With his folksy, Christian rock-loving charm, Allen had his players interrupting interviews to give impassioned paeans to the former South Florida and Hoosier DC as Indiana head coach:

Allen, who attended Maranatha Baptist in Watertown, Wisconsin—now the Sabercats!—is really a true “humble beginnings” story as a football coach:

After college, Allen started as a defensive coordinator at a high school in Florida. He eventually became head coach, then left to become DC at another school. He returned to Indiana to become a DC at another school, rising to become coach at Ben Davis HS before taking a gig with Chris Creighton—yes, the Eastern Michigan guy—at D-III Wabash College, moving to work under Hugh Freeze—yes, the Liberty hospital bed guy—at now-defunct NAIA Lambuth College, and returning to work with Creighton, confusingly, at Drake (get it).

Got all that? We’re not done.

Allen returned to Freeze at Arkansas State as AHC and followed him to Ole Miss, becoming LB/ST coach there, then took a DC job under Willie Taggart at South Florida before joining Kevin Wilson at Indiana as DC and taking the full-time job when it turned out Wilson was being a huge asshole.

Whew.

But we’ve seen Allen’s efforts begin to pay off: Indiana earned a Top 25 ranking in 2019, its first in 25 years, then cracked the Top 10 in 2020 before playing the #DISRESPEKT card at the Outback Bowl—while assuring us he wasn’t playing the #DISRESPEKT card—as the Hoosiers took the field with their Big Ten logo covered up:

It was a disappointing fall for Indiana, as they had been snubbed for a New Year’s Six bowl in favor of Iowa State and slipped out of the Citrus Bowl in favor of Northwestern—but, of course, Indiana promptly distinguished itself by losing to unranked Ole Miss. Indiana’s also just 24-22, though that’s a pair of 5-7 seasons followed by 8-5 and 6-2.

Still, the progress is undeniable: the Hoosiers are en route to their best recruiting class ever—though who isn’t these days—with their recruiting rising to 8th-ranked in the Big Ten in 2019 and currently sitting at 5th in the Big Ten in 2022 with 4* and 4th-overall-ranked DE Dasan McCullogh committed to IU. Like we’ll talk about the rest of the week, with experience at starting QB and a stout defensive mindset, Allen might really have a stew cooking in Bloomington.

Let’s get to it, writers:

  1. Is Tom Allen making Indiana into a real football school? What’s impressed you most about Allen’s tenure, and how far can he take this thing?
  2. Give us your reaction to the 2020 Hoosiers season and their decision to take the Big Ten logo off their jerseys for the Outback Bowl. Did they have a real gripe?
  3. What’s your school’s gripe with the Big Ten?

MNW: Nah, and it’s kind of an unreasonable question—sorry, IU fans!—because Assembly Hall is still full and Hoosiers fans will always turn out for a basketball game first. But there’s enthusiasm behind the program, and I think Allen can carve out a separate sphere of football diehards in Indiana.

He’s done it by walking a really interesting line between shoulder-chipping and identity-having, since Indiana’s defense finally arrived in 2020 after some minor regression the first couple years of Allen in charge. The Outback Bowl gripe was dumb, and losing made it look even stupider, but that’s the kind of red meat to Indiana players and fans that, assuming it’s backed up with another strong campaign in 2021.

Allen isn’t necessarily my cup of tea—I mean come ON, MercyMe? are you a teen crying in the aisle at a Steubenville conference?—but, much with Fleck, he doesn’t have to be. He seems like a more genuine, less hooker-calling version of Freeze, and that seems culturally and programatically at home in Bloomington.

The Candystripes for Breakfast: Even if Tom Allen can’t turn IU into a football-first school (a task that I’m not sure any mortal being is capable of), being a school where football isn’t a major afterthought to tailgating is a damn sight different than where we were, and I for one am here for it.

Even before things were coming together, Allen was still bringing in more student attendance to football games than Indiana’s seen since the tragically-too-brief tenure of Terry Hoeppner. Now, coming off the heels of perhaps Indiana’s greatest football season this millennium, the Hoosiers are primed to possibly (checks notes) compete for 2nd in the East? Are we allowed to do that more than once? I’m being told there is not any rule against it, so yeah, almost anything’s possible at this point.

Now, was the Outback Bowl fiasco kind of silly? Yes. Is there also more than a little bit of truth to the gripe? I think you’d have to be a fan of a team that hasn’t had an extended period of being NOT GOOD AT THE WHOLE FOOTBALL THING in recent memory to say there wasn’t. It’s one thing to say “Well, Indiana probably isn’t going to have enough healthy players to play the game,” it’s quite another to say “Well, we agreed on this set of rules at the beginning of the season, but now that the team we’re most likely to get into the Playoff isn’t going to be eligible, we’re just going to throw those out, because who cares about Indiana, right?”

RockyMtnBlue: Indiana will never be a football school in exactly the way that Michigan will never be a basketball school. The two schools are eerily mirrored.

Regarding Tom Allen, I’m most impressed with the buy-in he is getting in his program. It’ll be another couple years before we really have a bead on how just well he’s doing. There’s little doubt Allen is good for Indiana, but there’s a lot of luck in football and his one really good season was a shortened one amidst all the drama and general stupidity that was Big10 football in the height of a pandemic. Personally, I’m buying Indiana stock and I think their ceiling is “arguably 2nd best team in the league.” Unfortunately, being in the East nearly insures they will never play for a conference title, even if they are #2 of 14.

Indiana had a legitimate complaint with the Big10 in 2020. Sports are supposed to be the one place in life where we agree to the rules and we play by them. Don’t get me wrong, the way they decided it in the end is how the rule should have been implemented in the first place. But once it’s there, it’s there. If OSU (or anyone else) didn’t like the original rule they should have brought that up when it was made, not later. That said, removing the Big10 logos was bush-league. Come on, Indiana. You’re not Nebraska.

Michigan’s gripe with the Big10 is scheduling. First we had the protected crossover against OSU in the Legends and Leaders days, making it almost impossible to win the division. Then we draw the harder division and 6 straight years of playing Wisconsin, the strongest program in the West while OSU draws neutered Nebraska every damned year.

Jesse:

  1. Yes-ish? I think ‘football school’ is probably a step too far considering the result of said season was definitely a loss to Ole Miss, but the point still stands that they have upward trajectory to say the least. I like what Allen is doing as far as getting his team motivated to win games, and putting them in relatively good positions to make it work. Do I think that this is sustainable? Eh, hard to say. I think the ceiling is something like Iowa-lite. Definitely rarely terrible, generally has an identity and is kind of good, and most likely falls off from winning the division more often than not. Only instead of dealing with Wisconsin and Northwestern, they’re dealing with Ohio State and Penn State... So yeah, I don’t even know where this is going but I am changing my mind and saying no they are not a football school.
  2. Hahahahaha, everyone hates the Big Ten leadership these days. I don’t understand why they wasted the energy doing that. The “Us vs. Them” thing rarely works - see also: Nebraska’s Big XII last season - but I guess fans were pumped about it and it made headlines and whatever. Gripe or no gripe - and look, bowls are glorified exhibition games that are made to make maximum money so like... don’t be surprised when rules are set on fire - the result sort of made the gesture a waste of time.
  3. lololololololol... Oh wait, that’s a serious question? I mean, the school has gripes, but they’re mostly all dumb so let’s just move on.

BrianB2:

  1. I am not sure that a 24-22 record over 5 or so years really qualifies one as a football school, but who the hell am I to judge. I mean, Indiana football could win consecutive National Championships while basketball hired Dan Dakich as head coach to lead them to consecutive CBT first round exits and I would have to imagine most Indiana fans would still identify Indiana as a “basketball school”...but, I suppose I am straying some from the true intent of this question. Just beat Penn State a few more times and I will get a Tom Coverdale tattoo on my forehead.
  2. Are you trying to tell me that a governing entity surrounding collegiate athletics has more important motives than that of the student-athlete/integrity of sport? Color me shooketh.
  3. That it’s football teams are better than the ACC’s football teams.

WSR: 1) I’m impressed with Allen so far. I thought he was just a fill-in following the termination of Kevin Wilson and Indiana would return to the depths of the B1G, but that’s clearly not been the case. He’s done just fine.

2) Yes, yes they did. If you’re going to change the rules, either do it more than a couple days in advance of fucking Indiana over or call it the “2020 Buckeyes Rule” to just steer into it.

3) The continued existence of the Big Ten Hockey conference and the fact that we’ve been a conference black sheep ever since Luke Witte got his ass beat for being a racist.

Beez: (1) I’ve thought Allen has done a good job turning Indiana from “they can almost beat anyone” into “they can even win some of those games!” They’re a legit worrying game on anyone’s schedule, now, which is always a good thing in the conference with wayyyyy too many “well that’s a sure win for us” teams on the schedule.
(2) Of course they had a legit gripe. It was blatantly obvious what the conference was doing, and it was embarrassing that the Big Brain Geniuses at the conference offices didn’t, for a second, fathom that the most obvious possible COVID-season outcome could actually happen. Was OSU better than Indiana last year? Of course! But OSU was also better than PSU that one year and still missed the CCG. Don’t make rules if you’re going to just change them.
(3) Wisconsin cannot possibly have a gripe with the Big Ten, right? I think the Micah Potter thing (Wisco bball player who had to sit out over a year and a half after transferring before he could play) was an NCAA decision, right?

BRT: (1) I don’t think he can entirely flip a school’s identity, but I also don’t know that that’s a reasonable (or maybe even desirable?) ask. They’re not in the same season, so they don’t need to compete for fans most of the time, and if he can make Indiana football a steady draw, I have to imagine that all involved will be happy, even if basketball remains the thing that sets Hoosier hearts alight.

Maybe I’ll become an IU football fan. I like the stripes, they’re red and white so the wardrobe transition would be easy, and our boy Candy is a good egg.

(2) Yes, it was a legit gripe... but boy did they undermine it by losing. The statement would have been much more emphatic if they’d followed it up with a big win.

(3) I’m not sure what Nebraska’s gripes are with the Big Ten. Ask an Iowa fan, I’m sure they’re keeping track. Personally, I’ve enjoyed it (no more Texas, awesome volleyball), but I know that for football diehards with Gatsby syndrome, it’s been a disappointing venture. That’s not the Big Ten’s fault though, like it or not.

Oh! I guess I do have one gripe. Nebraska plays OSU every single year even though we’re not in that division, and that’s just mean.