INDIANAPOLIS – Before Tom Allen became the Indiana head coach, the team had a habit of breaking down at the end of practice with the words “Big Ten champs.” Allen put a stop to that.
“I just felt like they were empty words,” Allen said at Big Ten Media Days at Lucas Oil Stadium on Friday. “I didn't feel like there was belief in those words.”
This offseason, Allen has permitted his players to use the phrase for the first time in his tenure. Because he believes that is now a realistic goal for his program.
“There's no question, we finished second in the Big Ten East last year,” the fifth-year coach said. “I feel like we are very – I don't know if the word is justified – but we're very confident that the goal is to win the Big Ten East and play here on Dec. 4 (in the Big Ten Championship Game at Lucas Oil).”
A year ago, Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. vowed his team would “shock the world” during the 2020 season. The Hoosiers made him look like a prophet with a 6-2 record and the program's first top-10 ranking in more than half a century.
But Indiana won't surprise anyone anymore. Following a successful campaign, they'll likely start in the top 20 in most polls. And now that Allen has thrown down the gauntlet – he mentioned returning to Indianapolis for the conference title game immediately upon getting to the podium at media days – there are clearly new levels of expectation within the program and from outside it.
“I don't think too many guys feel that much pressure about it,” All-American linebacker Micah McFadden said of the new expectations. “We knew if we put ourselves in this position that we were going to have the expectations and have the eyes on us. I think all the guys look forward to it.”
For those players who were in the program when it was still a perennial also-ran, they feel like their job isn't finished after only one nationally recognized campaign.
“We're trying to set the standard. Last year, that's the standard from here on out,” Big Ten Receiver of the Year Ty Fryfogle said. “It's being a top-10 football team every season.”
Penix ready after tearing ACL
Indiana's lefty gunslinger missed the Hoosiers' final two games last season after tearing his ACL in a win over Maryland. He said Friday that he plans to be at full strength by the season opener against Iowa on Sept. 4.
“I'll definitely be ready, 100%,” said Penix, who wore a gold chain with a goat on it to the event, a reference to the acronym for greatest of all time.
“I'm right where I need to be right now.”
In fall camp, he'll be taking all the repetitions except for live contact periods and he has been throwing with his receivers and moving laterally since early summer.
Penix is returning from his third consecutive season-ending injury and his second ACL tear.
“He's not going to get hit until Sept. 4,” Allen said, laughing. “That's not really that different from any other year at any level, college or pro.”
Taliaferro Fellowship set up
Conference commissioner Kevin Warren announced at Big Ten Media Days that the league has created a George and Viola Taliaferro Fellowship.
Named after the former IU football star who was the first Black player drafted into the NFL in 1949, the Fellowship will provide opportunities to work in the office of the commissioner to those who have not historically had access to collegiate conference leadership positions, the Big Ten said.