BLOOMINGTON – If you presented the current Indiana football scenario to coach Tom Allen before the season started, there's a strong chance he would take it.
Entering their final bye week the Hoosiers (7-2, 4-2 Big Ten) already have their most wins since 2007 and have secured a winning record for only the second time since 1993.
Only a 51-10 home loss to Ohio State sticks out as a blemish against IU's record, and the Hoosiers have scored 31 or more points in each of their other seven games to help spur a current four-game conference winning streak. Allen has coached IU to success rarely seen in Bloomington, and with three regular season games left, the Hoosiers still harbor hopes of recording the program's first 10-win season.
“This is a very hungry football team that is not satisfied with where they are,” Allen said Saturday after defeating Northwestern 34-3. “I don't think they're shocked by what they're doing, they expected it.”
Finishing in the top half of the Big Ten East, let alone ahead of any of the division's “Big Four” teams (Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State) remains on the table for Indiana. IU's final three games are at No. 5 Penn State, home to No. 14 Michigan and at Purdue, with that season-ending trip to West Lafayette a chance for Indiana to claim the Old Oaken Bucket for the first time under Allen.
“It's uncharted territory for this team and our program,” Allen said. “But at the same time, I'm telling you, we've recruited a bunch of guys that came here to do the very thing we're doing right now.”
One of those players is redshirt freshman quarterback Michael Penix Jr., who has played just two complete games for Indiana this season (Ball State and Michigan State), due to injuries and being benched because of large IU leads.
Both factors played a part in Penix leaving Saturday's win in the second quarter. He was hurt during the win at Maryland, didn't play against Nebraska and now has the chance to rest over the bye week to recover from his latest undisclosed injury.
During his Monday media conference Allen said he would know more about the injury, and Penix's potential status for the Nov. 16 game at Penn State, by next week.
But whether it has been Penix or junior backup Peyton Ramsey behind center, the Hoosiers offense has thrived. Offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer's first season in Bloomington has brought a reinvented vertical passing attack and continued success on the ground for sophomore running back Stevie Scott.
Indiana's 2,772 passing yards are the most in the Big Ten, and the Hoosiers average nearly 450 total yards per game.
Junior wide receiver Whop Philyor is the conference leader in receptions (59), receiving yards (813) and average catches per game (6.6). His rise to stardom helped alleviate early pressure on Scott, who found it difficult to run the ball as opposing defenses stacked the box.
“Just his effectiveness and being able to make it and have (opposing defenses) have to account for him, it changes everything,” Allen said Monday.
Adjustments have also come defensively for the Hoosiers in Kane Wommack's first season as defensive coordinator. After displaying plenty of poor tackling to start the season, Wommack's unit has shown a recent increased ability to finish games and force takeaways.
It was Wommack's defense, led by freshman cornerback Tiawan Mullen, which got consecutive takeaways to confirm the Maryland win and forced six combined fumbles, recovering five of them, over the last two games.
Indiana just narrowly missed out on being ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 poll this week, receiving 27 votes and continuing a drought without an appearance in the poll dating back to September 1994.
The national recognition is nice, but Allen doesn't want it to affect any of his team's day-to-day work.
“We did talk about it because I told our team during fall camp that we were a top-25 football team,” Allen said. “You set those things out there and you don't back away from those things ... but at the same time we can't control those things.”
A final potential distraction arrives as Indiana concludes its regular season.
The Hoosiers know they will take part in college football's postseason for the first time in three years, but the destination remains a mystery.