Welcome to The Champaign Room Freshman Guide to Big Ten Football! As we’re now a full 15 years from my fall semester on the fourth floor of Allen Hall (pre-air conditioning), it occurs to me that I have a wealth of familiarity with our Big Ten foes that our incoming freshmen simply haven’t accumulated yet. Over the next month, I’ll be hosting this crash course on each of our conference opponents: what’s their deal, how good are they, who do we need to watch out for, and why they suck. My work at SBNation’s Big Ten blog Off Tackle Empire has exposed me to a lot of opposing fandom and information on the rest of our conference brethren.
Although it’s not yet basketball season, it’s for whatever reason time to talk about the...
Thanks to Northwestern having winning seasons in the second half of the ‘10s, Indiana now has more all-time losses than any other Big Ten program with 696. I could honestly stop my overview of Indiana football history there.
But I won’t.
They’re one of only four Big Ten schools (along with Northwestern, Rutgers and (?!) Wisconsin) to claim no national championships in their history, and honestly, even going all the way back, the closest they ever got was 1945 under Bo McMillin, finishing 9-0-1 but only managing 4th in the AP poll (to be fair, are you going to argue against Army winning the national title the year World War II wrapped up?).
The other high point was John Pont’s 1967 team that didn’t even get a chance to blow a national title chance against Heisman winner OJ Simpson and USC because a 33-7 home loss to Minnesota knocked them from #5 all the way out of the rankings.
Other than that, it’s been pretty bleak. Bill Mallory sustained a modestly-over-.500 program from 1986 to 1994 and then Indiana fell back into oblivion and tragedy. Going into the 2007 season, Terry Hoeppner had assembled a group that looked poised to finally break through and put Indiana into that idyllic 7-or-so-wins-a-year territory.
Then he died.
Bill Lynch took Hoeppner’s team to a bowl but couldn’t maintain his program and back to the basement they fell. Kevin Wilson finally got them to a bowl in 2015, but was then fired for player mistreatment. However, Tom Allen took over and notched an 8-win season with a team that wouldn’t lose a ton of production the following year. Maybe they can really make 9Windiana happen!
That was the thought heading into the 2020 season.
Anyway, the long and short of it is this: more than any other fans in the conference, even Illinois fans, Indiana football fans just want to have fun until basketball season comes around. Look at the terrible things that have happened every time they’ve bought in to get hyped about winning!
History vs Illinois
For that reason, losing to Indiana tends to signify that things are really bleak in Champaign. We last played them in 2017, a year where we lost every Big Ten game. Prior to that, it was 2012 and 2013 under Tim Beckman, both multi-score losses during a two-year stretch with only one conference win. Back in 2009, losing 27-14 was yet another sign that the wheels had come all the way off of a team that had entered the season ranked. An Indiana loss punctuated Ron Turner’s final season in 2003, as well as his hopeless debut season in 1997 where Illinois went 0-11. The only time in the last 25 years that Illinois losing to Indiana wasn’t a reflection of the sad state of the Illini was a 34-31 loss in 1999.
I still have a shirt from Homecoming 2012 that says “WINNERS CAN’T BE HOOSIERS.” We lost by two touchdowns.
Overall, Illinois (5 national championships, 15 conference titles) is 45-24-2 against Indiana (0 national championships, 2 conference titles)
Indiana came into the season ranked #17 in the nation as star quarterback Michael Penix, Jr. looked to follow up a breakout 2020 season. The wheels fell all the way off almost immediately as Iowa picked off Penix four times in a 34-6 win. While Indiana’s offense was certainly a far cry from Kevin Wilson’s air-raid-inspired frenzies and was trying to be more deliberate and physical under Nick Sheridan, they had the ability to put up some points with Stevie Scott at RB and the receiving tandem of Whop Philyor and Ty Fryfogle. Peyton Hendershot provided an additional target at TE.
Of those four, only Fryfogle stuck around for 2021. Penix really struggled to develop rapport with a secondary target and this made the offense one-dimensional.
They defeated Idaho and put up a good fight in a loss to what would turn out to be the best Cincinnati team ever (no shame in that!) before surviving Western Kentucky’s passing onslaught for their second win of the year.
That was as good as it got. They lost Penix to injury in a 24-point shutout by Penn State, wasted a magnificent defensive effort in a 5-point loss to Michigan State, then got blasted by Ohio State. It took them until the 12th quarter of Big Ten play to score a touchdown, and they only managed to score two in their first 17 such quarters. The offense finally showed up against Maryland only to see Taulia Tagovailoa pick apart the defense for a 38-35 loss. As injuries piled up and everyone became demoralized, things got truly bleak and hit a low point with a 38-3 home loss to Rutgers.
Indiana finished 2-10 with no conference wins.
Coaching Staff & Identity
Suddenly, Tom Allen found himself at a crossroads. With plenty of talent still left on the roster, it’s now or never to win some games and get some momentum back.
Allen was Wilson’s defensive coordinator when he was the Hoosiers’ head coach, and he’s produced capable run-stuffing Big Ten defenses most of his years in Bloomington. To inject a spark, he hired veteran OC Walt Bell. I went into a bit of a rabbit hole on what Indiana’s best case offense looks like under Bell in this article.
To sum it up though, Bell likes to line up in the shotgun with 3 wideouts and sometimes 2 backs and run a lot of inside zone, taking enough deep shots to keep the defense honest. This gets best results with a running threat at quarterback.
First-year defensive coordinator Charlton Warren didn’t really work out all that well in 2021; his contribution to Allen’s 4-2-5 base was to add the “Bull” position, a hybrid edge rusher/OLB type. With the urgency of manning all battle stations to stop this 2-10 season from last year destroying his program, Allen jettisoned Warren and will return to calling the defense himself for the first time since 2018.
Dudes To Watch
Penix, who seemed on his way to being a program legend at this time last year, is now a Washington Husky. The beleaguered offensive line got him absolutely hammered all September. Allen had at one point assembled a pretty good stable of backs, but they’ve all transferred out. Former Mizzou Tiger Connor Bazelak is likely to win the quarterback battle over Jack Tuttle, who was ineffective last year.
Where Indiana may be able to win battles is at receiver, where they have talented athletes that have yet to produce in a big way. QB Donaven McCulley will move to wideout, joining former Florida State Seminole D.J. Matthews, former top-500 recruit Malachi Holt-Bennett and JuCo transfer Cam Camper in a receiver room that has some potential.
The biggest star left on the team is veteran corner Tiawan Mullen, who passed on the draft for one more year. A guy that might just make headlines, however, is true freshman edge rusher Dasan McCullough, a top-100 player from Bloomington who may challenge for starting time at the Bull position.
Season Prediction & Fan Expectations
The Hoosiers are going to have to rack up wins early, because the back end of their schedule is brutal, featuring Penn State and then consecutive trips to Ohio State and Michigan State. There’s a lot of hope resting on the retooled offense with yet-unproven contributors, so the Hoosier faithful that aren’t repeatedly reading basketball predictions naming Indiana as a favorite to win the conference are nervously hoping for a 6-win season to save Allen’s program.
They should go 2-1 in non-conference play, so they’ll need to find four wins. Crossover games are Illinois, Nebraska and Purdue. If I were a betting man, I’d lean towards a losing season for the Hoosiers.
Illinois Game Prediction
Ask me again on Sunday, August 28th.
In all seriousness, with Illinois breaking in a new quarterback and Indiana breaking in a completely new offense, this game could be a hideous defensive struggle. That benefits Illinois, which has the more reliable rushing attack. The Illini should be aggressive early on defense; they’ll already have a game under their belt and they’ll be attacking an offense getting its first game reps in a new system.
For that reason alone, I think Illinois can hold on and win this one by a field goal, but nothing would surprise me.
Indiana fans are taking off their clothes pic.twitter.com/NqXd9lD6kJ— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) November 13, 2021
Why Indiana Sucks
…Reread the intro about their entire history.
I feel a lot of kinship with their fans during football season, as repeated failures have trained both of our fanbases to look ahead to basketball season. However, the basketball season they’re looking ahead to is Indiana basketball, which is absolutely deplorable.
There are many more Hoosier basketball fans than there are Hoosier football fans.
Much of the Illinois student population comes from the St. Louis metro. In their vernacular, “hoosier” is something you call a trashy, low-class dumb hick that aspires to live in a trailer.
@WhityRemarks: I weirdly don’t hate Indiana football, which is odd because there’s no school I’d rather be purged from the face of the earth in basketball than Indiana. They can get bent because they are going to be the absolute worst people on the face of the earth in 3 months. They aren’t enjoyable to hate, they’re just the worst.
Decent Illinois teams beat Indiana, bad Illinois teams struggling to find some semblance of dignity lose to Indiana. Guess who we play Labor Day weekend?