Indiana University football is off and rolling with a fresh Twitter hashtag, so special times must be right around the corner. Is that too big an assumption?
We've heard this type of optimism once or twice, or every time a new coach takes over.
From Cam Cameron to Gerry DiNardo to the late Terry Hoeppner to Bill Lynch to Kevin Wilson to Tom Allen, the promise of the new, improved, contending Hoosiers always flies high.
That promise so often crashes.
The promoted hashtag for 2017 is #BreakThrough, although social media savvy Allen also likes his longstanding #LEO (Love Each Other).
#BreakThrough, taken from Allen's "one word for 2017," hints at the possibility this is the year IU ends up a real contender, crashing the annual party featuring big boys Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State and, usually, Michigan State.
In a scheduling quirk (nightmare?), IU opens the season against preseason coaches poll No. 2 Ohio State on Thursday, Aug. 31 in Bloomington. ESPN is sending its College GameDay crew.
The sober IU reality is this: Despite Wilson leading the Hoosiers to back-to-back bowl games with 6-6 teams, IU has finished above .500 only once since 1994. That was Lynch's 7-6 team in 2007. The last consistently winning coach was Bill Mallory, whose six winning seasons in 13 years looks even brighter in retrospect.
Allen inherits a decent team this fall, with experience, perhaps some extra confidence forged through the competitive nature of the last two seasons.
The timing might be right, too, for the different, more positive tone of his leadership. I've seen time and again where a fresh coaching voice with a somewhat experienced team leads to raised performances.
Allen's emphasis on the collective, on the team-first approach, is hardly novel. Just about every coach on every team is saying the same thing. The difference comes in the coaches that can establish that buy-in with a group of players talented enough to follow through on the field.
“When you're playing for the people around you, that's when it's special,” Allen said earlier this week. “It's very shallow when it's just about you. That's the culture I want. We're going to just keep creating it, keep working at it. When you get it, you got to work hard to keep it. We're not where we want to be yet, but that's what we want to continue to work on.”
As in all levels of football, much rides on the quarterback and the defense.
Richard Lagow returns at quarterback after throwing for 3,362 yards, 19 touchdowns and 17 interceptions last season. Allen said he loves the way Lagow is embracing his senior opportunity. He challenged Lagow to be more of a leader, to have the mindset of putting the team on his back.
“I've seen him really assert himself in those areas,” Allen said. “That's what you want a senior to do.”
The defense, meanwhile, made huge strides under Allen as the coordinator last season. IU decreased points allowed per game (27.2) last season, which is the ultimate necessary statistic. Senior linebacker Tegray Scales is considered one of the Big Ten's best.
This fall, the defense must show better depth and conditioning over four quarters, Allen said.
Opening the season with Ohio State seems harsh, but eight of IU's 12 opponents had losing records last season, including five schools with three or fewer wins (Virginia, Michigan State, Illinois, Rutgers and Purdue).
If IU can come out of the first six games with a 3-3 record (assuming losses to Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan and wins over Virginia, Florida International and Georgia Southern), then the Hoosiers could put together a real stretch run. If they can go 4-2 in the first six, they'll be in line for something special.
“As I challenged our guys (Monday), the focus isn't on yesterday or tomorrow, it's all about today,” Allen said. “What are you doing today to help us break through?”
IU believes this can be the breakthrough season. It's a promise, and a dream, that long predates Twitter.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at email@example.com.
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