INDIANAPOLIS – Tom Allen has a vision for Indiana football. That vision involves Big Ten championships.
Allen, entering his fifth season as Indiana's head coach, made that much clear during this month's Big Ten Media Days at Lucas Oil Stadium, when he said his team had set a goal to return to the stadium for the Big Ten championship game in December.
Allen has slowly but surely filled the program with players and coaches who shared his vision, even when seemingly few outside of Bloomington did.
“I've never talked to a kid in recruiting and did not mention winning the Big Ten championship,” Allen said. “Matter of fact, I'm looking for guys that believe.”
After Indiana went 6-2 last season and achieved its first top-10 ranking in more than 50 years, a lot more top-level players were buying what Allen was selling. Indiana's 2022 recruiting class ranks 19th in the country, easily the best in the recruiting rankings era.
But those players won't help Indiana this season. Allen wanted to use the momentum from last season to give his team a boost in 2021, and he did that by selling the same message to players on the transfer market.
The pitch from Allen and his assistants helped bring in a wave of top-level talent. Running back Stephen Carr (transferred from USC), wide receiver D.J. Matthews (Florida State) and defensive end Jaren Handy (Auburn) are former top-100 recruits with significant playing time against top-level competition under their belt.
“The team is up and coming, and I just feel like we're one step away from winning, winning a Big Ten title, getting a championship and that was really exciting,” Handy said. “I watched every (Indiana) game (last season) and I felt like they should have won every game.”
Allen had help with recruiting from new running backs coach Deland McCullough, who previously held the same job with the Kansas City Chiefs and has a Super Bowl ring. He was Carr's running backs coach at USC and was instrumental in getting the former five-star recruit to IU.
“It was hard not to pick this school,” Carr said. “With the transfers that came in, I give credit to the recruiting staff, they did a swell job.”
“It's not like they were giving me the normal catchphrases that other recruiting staff use,” added Carr, who gained 5 yards per carry in four years at USC. “They were getting straight to the point about how they run their program, the simple type of codes they live by, and that's what stuck to me the most, because simple is effective.”
Mathews was one of the earliest recruiting wins that can likely be attributed to the Hoosiers' 2020 success. He committed in November and his comments in March underscore the shift in national perception under Allen's watch.
“I had been hearing so many great things about Coach Allen and for Coach Allen to reach out and ... give me another opportunity to come to a winning program, an uprising program,” Matthews said, “that's just something that I felt like I couldn't pass up that opportunity, playing for one of the greatest coaches in college football right now.”