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Expectations High As No. 17 Indiana Opens Football Season Saturday At Iowa

Indiana football coach Tom Allen

(Indiana University Athletics)

The Indiana football team opens the 2021 season Saturday in Iowa, and expectations are as high as ever.

The Hoosiers enter the new year ranked No. 17 in the nation, the first time since 1968 they’ve been ranked heading into the season.

But Indiana will be tested right away. Iowa is ranked No. 18.

“Great opportunity for this program to play on the road there in Kinnick Stadium, and it's going to be great atmosphere, great to have the fans back,” Indiana coach Tom Allen said. “It's going to be a tough and challenging environment to be in, without question.”

There’s no question Allen has the program going the direction he wants in his fifth season as the head coach.

“We came here with the vision to be able to change the expectations and create belief,” Allen said. “And that process is ongoing. And, so yeah, we’re embracing it.”

And while the 2020 season was upended in many ways by the pandemic — the Hoosiers played just seven regular season games and had the Old Oaken Bucket game against Purdue postponed, then canceled — it ended where Allen expected with a second straight bowl appearance.

It’s a far cry from the past, when the Hoosiers were almost an afterthought in the college football world. Before 2019, Indiana had not been ranked in the top 25 for 25 years.

High or low expectations, Allen says the Hoosiers aren’t paying attention.

“In the past, those distractions have been negative distractions., people telling you what you can’t do and judging you based on the past,” Allen said. “And now you have to be able to block out the positive distractions and people are expecting you to do more than in the past.”

Allen has a favorite saying for dealing with distractions: “Earmuffs and blinders.”

One of the possible distractions coming into the season was the health of quarterback Michael Penix.

The junior lefty started the first six games last season, throwing for 1,645 yards and 14 touchdowns to lead the Hoosiers to a 5-1 record. But he tore the ACL in his right knee in the second half of a game against Maryland and missed the regular season finale and the bowl game.

It was the third straight season Penix has had cut short by injury. But he says he’s good to go.

”I’m 100 percent confident that I’m going to have a great season this year,” Penix said. “As far as all the injuries and stuff, I’m not really worried about that. I just want to go out and play football.”

Penix will have his favorite target back from last year - All-American Ty Fryfogle. The Big Ten’s receiver of the year, Fryfogle flirted with the NFL draft after leading the Hoosiers with 721 yards receiving and seven touchdowns, but in the end chose to return for his senior season.

Allen says he’s been impressed with Fryfogle’s focus.

“I've seen guys come back and they're worried about getting hurt and they're worried about this, and they start pressing, because they want to make more plays,” Allen said. “They can have a little bit different approach to practice. I never sensed that from him, and it was just full speed ahead every practice.”

The Hoosier backfield will be led by USC grad transfer Stephen Carr, who rushed for more than 1300 yards in four years as a Trojan. He replaces Stevie Scott, who transferred after last season.

“From Day 1, he came here with zero entitlement at, knew he had to earn the spot, ready to work, total team guy,” Allen said.

Carr is one of several grad transfers that could make a big impact for the Hoosiers this season.

Wide receiver D.J. Matthews of Florida State and guard Dylan Powell of Stanford are penciled in to start on offense, and end Ryder Anderson from Ole Miss and tackle Weston Kramer of Northern Illinois are first and second string on defense.

Like the offense, the Hoosier defense returns nearly every starter from last year’s unit, which led the league in interceptions, was second in sacks and fourth in points allowed per game.

Forcing takeaways is something Allen emphasizes every day in practice.

“The DNA on defense is takeaways, tackling and effort,” he said. “And takeaways is the very first one. It’s been that way since I’ve been her and I believe in that.”

All-American cornerback Tiawan Mullen leads the way in that category — he had three of the team’s seven interceptions and forced a fumble last season.

Mullen is looking forward to another big season in Bloomington.

“We’re gonna attack the season like never before,” Mullen said. “You know, we’re really excited for what’s ahead. It’s going to be a special journey for the Indiana Hoosiers.”

And after a month of practices, that journey begins this weekend.

2021 INDIANA FOOTBALL SCHEDULE

Sept. 4: at Iowa, 3:30 p.m. (BTN)

Sept. 11: Idaho, 7:30 p.m. (BTN)

Sept. 18: Cincinnati, noon (ABC or ESPN)

Sept. 25: at Western Kentucky, 8 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)

Oct. 2: at Penn State, TBA

Oct. 16: Michigan State, noon, TBA

Oct. 23: Ohio State, TBA

Oct. 30: at Maryland, noon, TBA

Nov. 6: at Michigan, TBA

Nov. 13: Rutgers, TBA

Nov. 20: Minnesota, TBA

Nov. 27: at Purdue, TBA

 

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