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This is a 3-Part post intended to identify concrete reasons for sustainable optimism in IU Football.  Part I will focus on three components I think are key reasons for the rise of the program.  Part II will offer a comparative scenario of another program (name withheld) that made a sudden significant jump in national relevance.  Part III will be the reveal of the school profiled in Part II and briefly touch on potential implications of conference realignment for the current momentum of IU football.  I welcome both additional insights and alternate view points, along with corrections if I stated anything incorrectly.

Part 1 - Three components that give me optimism for the future of IU Football

For so long the future of IU Football has appeared a rather bleak landscape, and I'll be honest, I became indifferent years ago.  Don't write me off as a fair-weather fan though.  You see, I had rather modest expectations as I was fortunate enough to attend IU the last time they were even remotely relevant (87-92).  I expected the team to hover slightly above .500, make a decent bowl game every other year, and crack the Top 25 for a few weeks every now and again.  I expected more than the 73-159 record and just 1 minor bowl appearance IU generated over the 20 seasons from 1995-2014.  When the results the next four seasons were 6-7, 6-6, 5-7, and 5-7 I viewed it as a temporary shift from terrible to mediocre.  If you became an IU Football fan sometime after the early 90s it's completely understandable for you to have zero expectations.  I didn't move on to another team, IU was still "my team" but I just stopped caring.

What Coach Allen is building is pretty remarkable, for a vast number of reasons (which I'm not going to rehash).  There are three components that have caught my attention over the last several seasons. 

1) Recruiting:  IU was landing a few high level recruits at the offensive skill positions, a couple of difference makers for the LB and DB defensive units (along with a few "Oladipo's" and "Anunoby's"), but securing comparable talent on the OL and DL remained elusive.  Depth remained a major concern as well.  Prior to the 2022 class I thought it was enough to make things interesting but not enough to breakthrough and become a legitimate threat to the traditional powers.  Along with being the highest rated, the 2022 recruiting class has to be the most balanced in IU history and includes legitimate line talent.  As long as we remain competitive on the field and generate a reasonable amount of national exposure, I see no reason why this paradigm shift won't be the new normal.

2) Style of Play:  Nothing caught my attention more than the ball hawking nature of our secondary.  IU's 2.5 Takeaways per/Game in 2020 was good for 4th in the nation.  IU's nation leading 2.1 Interceptions per/Game left the rest of country in the dust (2nd best was 1.7 Int/Game).  The net Takeaway Margin of 1.0 was 8th in the nation.  It made me wonder if the ball was just bouncing our way a bit more than normal or if there was more to it.  There's a fascinating video from 2017 (shortly before Allen's 1st season as HC) that cleared this question up for me in a hurry (link below).  I'm focusing on just one aspect of coaching but I see parallels in other areas of his game planning and emphasis on specific facets of technique.  I think Allen is a master at negating the size/strength advantages of our competition and the style of play is very NFL friendly (attractive for recruits).

Jon Gruden & Tom Allen - Defensive Film Room

 

3) Culture:  I imagine I'm not the only one who felt a little "cringy" the first time I heard about LEO.  I no longer feel this way.  There are countless examples of LEO in action that indicate the players are 100% bought in.  LEO is the focal point of IU's team cohesion and it translates to great on-the-field communication and trust.  Another pair of highly admirable traits of this team are their calm collective nature and consistent level of effort.  They don't panic or make mistakes trying to win the game on one play.  There is absolutely no quit in our team and an obvious example is their response to a 35-7 deficit on the road against the 2nd best team in the nation.  I have to believe the concept of LEO plays a significant role in what we are seeing on the field.  Can't wait to see where CHASE leads us.

We are all in a euphoric period of genuine excitement as a result of IU's recent momentum.  We are in uncharted water... or are we?

Part II will focus on a scenario profiling a potential trajectory for IU football, which I'll try to post in the next few hours (I have the program identified for the scenario but it requires a bit more research and detail to put together).  Not all elements will be perfectly correlated but the results are intended to demonstrate it can be done.

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1 hour ago, olsontex said:

This is a 3-Part post intended to identify concrete reasons for sustainable optimism in IU Football.  Part I will focus on three components I think are key reasons for the rise of the program.  Part II will offer a comparative scenario of another program (name withheld) that made a sudden significant jump in national relevance.  Part III will be the reveal of the school profiled in Part II and briefly touch on potential implications of conference realignment for the current momentum of IU football.  I welcome both additional insights and alternate view points, along with corrections if I stated anything incorrectly.

Part 1 - Three components that give me optimism for the future of IU Football

For so long the future of IU Football has appeared a rather bleak landscape, and I'll be honest, I became indifferent years ago.  Don't write me off as a fair-weather fan though.  You see, I had rather modest expectations as I was fortunate enough to attend IU the last time they were even remotely relevant (87-92).  I expected the team to hover slightly above .500, make a decent bowl game every other year, and crack the Top 25 for a few weeks every now and again.  I expected more than the 73-159 record and just 1 minor bowl appearance IU generated over the 20 seasons from 1995-2014.  When the results the next four seasons were 6-7, 6-6, 5-7, and 5-7 I viewed it as a temporary shift from terrible to mediocre.  If you became an IU Football fan sometime after the early 90s it's completely understandable for you to have zero expectations.  I didn't move on to another team, IU was still "my team" but I just stopped caring.

What Coach Allen is building is pretty remarkable, for a vast number of reasons (which I'm not going to rehash).  There are three components that have caught my attention over the last several seasons. 

1) Recruiting:  IU was landing a few high level recruits at the offensive skill positions, a couple of difference makers for the LB and DB defensive units (along with a few "Oladipo's" and "Anunoby's"), but securing comparable talent on the OL and DL remained elusive.  Depth remained a major concern as well.  Prior to the 2022 class I thought it was enough to make things interesting but not enough to breakthrough and become a legitimate threat to the traditional powers.  Along with being the highest rated, the 2022 recruiting class has to be the most balanced in IU history and includes legitimate line talent.  As long as we remain competitive on the field and generate a reasonable amount of national exposure, I see no reason why this paradigm shift won't be the new normal.

2) Style of Play:  Nothing caught my attention more than the ball hawking nature of our secondary.  IU's 2.5 Takeaways per/Game in 2020 was good for 4th in the nation.  IU's nation leading 2.1 Interceptions per/Game left the rest of country in the dust (2nd best was 1.7 Int/Game).  The net Takeaway Margin of 1.0 was 8th in the nation.  It made me wonder if the ball was just bouncing our way a bit more than normal or if there was more to it.  There's a fascinating video from 2017 (shortly before Allen's 1st season as HC) that cleared this question up for me in a hurry (link below).  I'm focusing on just one aspect of coaching but I see parallels in other areas of his game planning and emphasis on specific facets of technique.  I think Allen is a master at negating the size/strength advantages of our competition and the style of play is very NFL friendly (attractive for recruits).

Jon Gruden & Tom Allen - Defensive Film Room

 

3) Culture:  I imagine I'm not the only one who felt a little "cringy" the first time I heard about LEO.  I no longer feel this way.  There are countless examples of LEO in action that indicate the players are 100% bought in.  LEO is the focal point of IU's team cohesion and it translates to great on-the-field communication and trust.  Another pair of highly admirable traits of this team are their calm collective nature and consistent level of effort.  They don't panic or make mistakes trying to win the game on one play.  There is absolutely no quit in our team and an obvious example is their response to a 35-7 deficit on the road against the 2nd best team in the nation.  I have to believe the concept of LEO plays a significant role in what we are seeing on the field.  Can't wait to see where CHASE leads us.

We are all in a euphoric period of genuine excitement as a result of IU's recent momentum.  We are in uncharted water... or are we?

Part II will focus on a scenario profiling a potential trajectory for IU football, which I'll try to post in the next few hours (I have the program identified for the scenario but it requires a bit more research and detail to put together).  Not all elements will be perfectly correlated but the results are intended to demonstrate it can be done.

Can you break down the current conference alignment situation?  Maybe break down into 5 parts?  

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Part II - What might the next 10 years look like?

The table below breaks out the seasonal results for another school that seemed to come out of nowhere and establish a sustained presence on the national scene.

image.png.b60147c78acfa6f8c63d4f2369b90ffc.png

In the 14 seasons prior to the breakout of School X, their record was 43-117 and they managed to win more than 1 conference game just 3 times.

In the 14 seasons prior to the breakout of School X, IU's record was 52-109 and they failed to win more than 1 conference game 8 times.

No point in splitting hairs between IU and School X, prior to 2010 they're both the very definition of bottom of the barrel programs, seemingly headed nowhere.  Both schools would love to be Iowa or even Michigan State.  The idea of competing with programs like Alabama, Florida, Oklahoma, Clemson, or Ohio State isn't a thought even in the most distant recesses of their minds.  I'm not going to mention what changed for School X until Part III, as that's not the point of this section.

So what is the point then?

There's a perception that the gap between the elite programs and the average-to-good programs is massive, some might think nearly insurmountable.  Programs like Iowa and Michigan State are historically "good" but they're not going to challenge Ohio State or Michigan for conference supremacy as anything more than a single season anomaly.  They're often bowl worthy but not legitimately in the national hunt for a Top 5 finish.  Never mind what this implies for programs like IU or School X.

Yet, School X shattered that perception.  Over the next 10 seasons they accomplished the following:

5 double digit win seasons

2 conference championships

6 major bowl game appearances (9 overall)

5 times with a final ranking inside the Top 13

3 consecutive seasons floating inside the Top 4 (i.e. actually competing at the same level as Alabama, Florida, Oklahoma, Clemson, or Ohio State)

Enough national recognition to begin one season with a #4 Pre-Season ranking

I don't know about you, but I consider this list of accomplishments as borderline elite and certainly the level I hope IU is able to reach.  Consider where School X came from (the previous 14 seasons) and the added fact School X did not profile as a strong football program in their distant past either.  I'll also add in that School X did not have as much going for it as IU does 2022 either.  I think this is evidence that it's actually possible for a program like IU to rise to heights that only a short while ago would have seemed preposterous.

In Part III I'll reveal who School X is (if you haven't already guessed) and mention a few aspects of their rise to prominence.  I'll also offer opinions on the landscape in 2022 as compared to 2010 and how that impacts IU's chances of a similar meteoric rise. 

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Part III - What might the next 10 years look like - the reveal and a few final comments.

The mystery team is Baylor.  I see you... stop coiling back in horror.  If it makes you feel better, replace their name with a team you admire.  It's not the name of the program that matters, it's their accomplishments and the time frame it took them to accomplish them.

image.png.53ce950d2214dbe08b9bca91a0443f35.pngimage.png.85a3acda87284d357d8485daa57d5ebf.png 

If it was difficult to clearly see the parallels in Part II, hopefully it's crystal clear now that I've aligned the years in the way that first caught my attention.  This realignment is what I alluded to in "What might the next 10 years look like".

2009 Baylor / 2018 IU - both teams mired in a 10 season or longer stretch of futility.  There are inklings of potential improvement but expectations remain low per usual.

2010 Baylor / 2019 IU - both teams get over the hump with a winning record and bowl appearance.

2011 Baylor / 2020 IU - both take a big step forward, rewarded with quality bowl games, and finish their seasons ranked #13 and #12 respectively.

2012 Baylor / 2021 IU - this is a perfect "watch out".  Baylor still had a more than respectable season but it was a step back from prior year. 

When I look at IU's Top 10 most difficult schedule, a never before seen target on their back, and the possibility that they might have overachieved last season, a slight step back from 2020 would not be a surprise.  I don't think it's something that on its' own is a reason for concern regarding IU's positive momentum.  It's also not a given that they will step back.  IU ends the season with a quality bowl win and a #23 ranking.

2013 Baylor / 2022 IU - Just like that Baylor rebounds to 2011 form and even reaches #3 in the polls during the season.  More importantly they win the Big 12. 

IU has a few high level upperclassmen in 2020 and projects to have a decent number of players drafted, but on paper the majority of the talent is in the youth of the program.  With a 4* mix getting closer to 50% in the starting lineup, IU will have personnel matching the upper tier coaching and culture of the program.  Sure looks like a team capable of being 1 of the 13 best in the nation. IU's 2023 recruiting class matches the Top 20 profile of the 2022 class.  IU loses their bowl game by double digits against Texas A&M and ends the season ranked #16.

2014 Baylor / 2023 IU - Baylor is officially out of the woods for being labeled a flash in the pan.  They demolish Oklahoma and Texas on their way to winning their second consecutive Big 12 Championship.  Baylor spends the final 10 weeks of the season ranked inside the Top 10.  They lose a 1 point thriller in the Cotton Bowl and have to settle for 7th in the final poll.  Their momentum is clear to high end recruits and they land 5 4* kids, but that's become normal. 

In 2023 the core of IU's talented youth are now emerging as confident and experienced Power 5 players.  As a result of the uncertainty and turmoil plaguing schools outside of the SEC, IU is able to secure a half dozen elite transfers.  They finish 2nd in the B10 East and earn a bowl bid against heavily favored Notre Dame.  In the 3rd quarter, IU is hit with the dreaded new 25 yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct by the fans.  The hatred of all schools for all schools as a result of realignment bitterness is palpable.  Indiana wins anyway as IU picks off 3 passes and returns a stripped ball for a touchdown.  Final season ranking #9.

2015 Baylor / 2024 IU - Baylor has earned enough respect to begin the season ranked #4.  The Big 12 was expected to be tough but not nearly as tough as it ultimately would become.  Eight weeks into the season Baylor is 8-0 and ranked #2 for the 3rd week in a row, a 3 game stretch against ranked opponents (2 on the road) awaits them. 

*** Let's pause for a second and take stock.  A team that just 6 seasons earlier was the doormat of the Big 12, transformed into an upper tier program with sustained success, and was now 8-0, ranked #2 in the nation, and a front runner for the National Championship.  ***

It would not turn out that way.  Baylor lost a close one to #12 Oklahoma but rebounded with an extremely impressive road win over #4 Oklahoma State.  They received the dagger the next with a double OT loss on the road to #15 TCU.  Baylor would go on to redeem themselves with a Citrus Bowl victory over #10 North Carolina and finish the season ranked 13th. 

IU begins the season ranked #10.  A heartbreaking home loss to Penn State drops IU to 5-1 and a trip to face undefeated Ohio State awaits them.  In what has become the trademark of IU football, they parlay 3 OSU turnovers into 24-10 lead mid way through the 3rd quarter.  Ohio State tightens the contest but never really threatens IU for the win.  The 9418 IU traveling fans tear down OSU's goal posts... in both end zones and begin looking for other trophies.  Indiana is one game away from a one loss regular season and a potential shot at a National Championship.  An over confident IU squad uncharacteristically loses focus and falls to Purdue 29-22 in the season finale.  Nevertheless they have reached the heights of double digit wins and are once again headed to a major bowl.

2016 Baylor / 2025 IU - Embroiled in a major sexual assault scandal involving Baylor players, the University dismissed multiple key players and terminated Art Briles just 3 months before the start of the season.  The now depleted Baylor squad led by an interim coach manages to win their first 6 games and is ranked 8th entering a road match-up against Texas.  A capacity crowd of 98,000 T-sippers revel in a one point win by Texas, and the wheels come off for Baylor.  They proceed to lose their next five games before ending the season on a positive note with a bowl win over Boise State. 

A new normal for IU Football is now firmly established.  I'm not going to speculate on where we go following our profile rising to a Top 4 Big 10 program, 8-10 wins per year, a perennial Top 20 ranking, the potential to crack the Top 10 and compete in the BCS, and upper echelon recruiting classes year-in-year-out.  It may not be Alabama, Clemson, and Florida every year, but there will be an "Alabama, Clemson, and Florida" every year awaiting IU if we are fortunate enough to be an occasional national title contender.  I don't know if IU will ever be able to climb the pile to the very top.  But I'm confident as long as we retain our "team first" winning culture and have Coach Allen beginning each season with a game film review of the soul crushing 2024 loss to Purdue and a message on retaining focus, then I don't think anyone is out of our league.

2017 Baylor / 2026 IU - Following a max exodus of transfers Baylor barely resembles a Div I football program heading into 2017.  They can't overcome their lack of talent or the dark cloud hanging over their program and finish the season 1-11, their worst mark in 19 years.  IU continues translating it's winning culture into winning football, business as usual.

2018 - 2019 Baylor - A remarkable thing can happen when you establish a consistent culture of winning and achieve sustained success on the field.  It's actually possible to overcome even the most gloomy of situations.  Baylor responded from their 1-11 complete meltdown in 2017 to finish 2018 with a winning record and a bowl victory.  They took that moment into the 2019 season and rattled off an 11-1 regular season record, a #7 ranking, and a date with #6 Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship game.  Oklahoma proved to be too much as did their Sugar Bowl opponent #5 Georgia.  Still, after the dismissal of their coach and a very large chunk of the players just two years earlier, an 11-3 record and #13 final ranking demonstrates their resiliency.  I believe IU is on the cusp right now of firmly establishing that same level of resiliency and culture.  If we can achieve a reasonable level of success in 2021 I believe it will be here to stay.

Well, I didn't plan to make this a 4-Part post but I also underestimated the depth of the parallel I would end up writing.  Part IV will be the conclusion and include a look at important variables emerging in the 2021 college football landscape.

 

Edited by olsontex
My graph wasn't showing up. Makes the write-up pretty hard to follow without it.
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By the way, in that Gruden/Allen video, what a reminder of what Marcelino was like as a freshman.  Total beast.   If he gets back to that, and I don’t see why he can’t, he can be a total menace.  Before he got hurt, he looked a little stiffer to me compared to freshman year.  And he lost his discipline.  I think he can get back to what he was.  

I would also like to see Robbins and Cam Williams step forward.  We are talking about four star recruits.  Murphy is another. I think he was a high three star.  Let’s go!

Edited by BobSaccamanno
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8 hours ago, Zlinedavid said:

Just curious where you’re drawing the line between mid and major bowls. Obviously any of the BCS bowls would be major, but what’s your definition for the rest.

To be honest, I struggled trying to find a clear cut way to draw the line.  There was a time when the hierarchy of bowl games was a lot more clear.  The #2 team from conference X would play the #2 team from conference Y.  This type of logic seems to be evaporating from the game as the number of teams selected for BCS bowls is not distributed evenly between conferences.

Therefore, I considered the opponent, my perception of the prestige level of Baylor/IU at that point in history, W/L records, and a few other "less concrete" considerations (like "was this a slight to the program").  A reasonable argument can be made both up and down a level for the way I classified the bowls.  The COVID factor played a major role in bowl pairings last year, most important being the elimination of expected attendance as a consideration.  There is no question in mind that bowl selection committees strongly consider how well a team's fan base travels.  Like all other bowls, The Outback Bowl attendance capacity was capped at 20% of the stadium capacity.  With this element of revenue generation eliminated from the equation, decision makers were freed to incorporate a lot more logic instead of being shackled by financial consideration or conference requirements.  For this reason, I think a lot of the match-ups were determined based on "story lines" and prioritizing the perceived talent of a team over their actual in season results.

Our bowl match-up last year with Miss St is a good one to use an illustration.  First off, the pairing really disappointed me.  Not because I though Miss St was "beneath" IU, quite the opposite.  A loss against a 4-5 team would be used as media fodder to knock IU back down "where we belong", and the response to a win over a 4-5 team would be indifference.  The truth is two of the scariest sub-500 teams in the nation last year were Miss St and LSU.  I don't view the match-up as a slight to IU, I view it as a nod of respect to Miss St.  IU on the other-hand produced results on the field worthy of placement in a major bowl.  Both teams are considered programs on the rise, playing in the toughest divisions of the two toughest conferences, which also contributes to the intrigue of the pairing.

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7 hours ago, BobSaccamanno said:

Great material, Tex.  I have no idea how I missed the Allen video with Gruden.  I don’t think I’ve seen it before.  Very interesting video.  Allen is the full package as a coach but his strategy and approach top the list of attributes.  Great football mind.  

That is my perception too, although prior to watching the Gruden video it was not as high as it is now.  Beforehand,  I viewed Tom Allen as a good football coach who had spent many years learning the intricacies of the game.  I did not view him as an elite X's and O's strategist, I viewed him as an elite motivator, and attributed his ability to get the most out of his players as the factor that makes him an outstanding coach.

That video definitely changed my thoughts on Allen as a complete coach.  The two biggest takeaways for me were:

1) he distills the game down to the handful factors that truly do determine the winner of most games, and makes sure IU is positioned to win these factors

2) he thinks and game plans like an NFL Coach, which I think has to be attractive to recruits (day-in-day-out preparation for the style of football played in the NFL)

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