LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- This is not a category you’ll find in the NCAA record book. Just mentioning it might get my credential revoked.
But, here goes.
Guess which team was the only college football team to cover the point spread in every game it played this season?
The Indiana team that Tom Allen will coach against Ole Miss on Saturday in the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Florida. IU went 7-0 against the spread.
A program with a history of underachievement did not underachieve once all season.
Three times the Hoosiers were favored. They not only won, they covered the number.
Four times Indiana was an underdog, twice by two touchdowns or more. They won three of those games.
Their only defeat was by seven at Ohio State on a November afternoon they were forecast to lose by 21.
The point isn’t that I believe Indiana will be a great bet Saturday while giving 7 1/2 points to Lane Kiffin’s team.
The point is Allen got his team to play better than the experts expected the Hoosiers to play week after week after week.
That’s unusual — and impressive.
Not letdowns. No shenanigans. No excuses. Maybe Indiana didn’t always play its best. It never played its worse.
“I learned a long time ago, Dick Dullaghan (Allen’s mentor as a successful high coach in Indianapolis) talked about creating consistent performance,” Allen said. “That was the goal. That was the key to creating a successful program and not just being a team that plays good at times.
“Consistency in your behavior. Consistency in you as a person. We talk about that a lot. I want to model that. I want to be consistent in the way I live my life. The way I lead. The way we do what we do. So we don’t have the ups and downs.
“That’s a struggle. There’s only so many emotional responses you have within you as an individual. That’s where it gets hard to do it, week after week after week, especially when you have a big win and then you have a letdown often times. For whatever reason, you don’t have that same energy.”
Energy was never an issue for this Indiana team. They got outplayed. They made mistakes. Ohio State was more talented. They did not get outworked.
Notre Dame made the college football playoff and covered only five times in 11 games. Ditto for Clemson. Ohio State was 3-3 against the number.
Alabama went 8-3, which was terrific. But not as good as Indiana.
If you go by the point spreads, Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue and Illinois underachieved five times.
Consider it proof of the remarkable work that Allen did keeping his guys motivated in a season when motivation was elusive for many teams.
Beating Penn State on a dazzling dive for the pylon by quarterback Michael Penix Jr. unleashed extra-strength adrenaline for Allen’s team.
But they responded by handling Rutgers the next week.
Michigan was mediocre this season, but beating the Wolverines was meaningful for the Hoosiers. They not only did not let down against Michigan State, they played better.
The loss to Ohio State could have been deflating. It wasn’t. Indiana followed that game by out-performing projections against Maryland and Wisconsin.
“I think to maybe explain it, that’s maybe a point of emphasis for us, without question,” Allen said.
“I believe in that. I strive for that. I try to lead that way. Bring that energy every single day. And when you sense a letdown you kind of know how to approach it a certain way.
“Get the right button pushed, whether it’s with coaches or players to motivate them when there is a tendency, a natural tendency to let up.
“They believe what we tell them. And we respond. We have certain words that we emphasize each week that are really picked for a specific purpose to emphasize, whatever it is we need to emphasize that week. Sometimes, it’s geared around that.
“And you are worried about a letdown or some kind of emotional lack of energy that you may naturally have per the course of the season
“I think those are things we’re trying to do and some teams respond better than others .This group has responded extremely well.”
This Outback Bowl will be a different kind of challenge. Indiana had two rivalry games against Purdue canceled by the novel coronavirus. Allen was optimistic that a practice Tuesday will be the first one by essentially the entire squad since the virus started causing major problems for the Hoosiers several weeks ago.
On Wednesday, IU will fly to Tampa to play an opponent with a losing (4-5) record instead of getting the sexier game Allen’s players believed they earned in the Fiesta Bowl
“We’ve got to do it again,” Allen said. “We’re back at it. We’ve been off. We talked about it today ... as we’re talking here, I was talking to our team this morning, trying to get them to give me their feedback.
“I said, ‘How do we play at a high level and be able to play our best football on Saturday? You guys tell me. I’m not going to tell you. You tell me what that looks like.’
“One of the answers was that we’ve got to keep preparing to consistently do things the right way. They used that word consistent.
“So I got a chance to talk about that.
“When you hear it from them, and they recognize that, I didn’t have to say it myself. They knew. They know if you want to be a great football player and you want to be great in this life, you’ve got to learn to be consistent in your habits and the things you do on a daily basis.
“These guys are buying into that. They realize that’s how you create a certain level of performance.”
Copyright 2020 WDRB Media. All Rights Reserved.