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College Football / Richard Hoffer : Indiana Is Planning a 20-Year Reunion in Pasadena

October 30, 1987|Richard Hoffer

Everybody knew the Indiana Hoosiers would be back, but who thought so soon? Just 20 years later and here they are, leading the Big Ten again at 4-0. Try to keep these guys out of the Rose Bowl, huh?

Actually, these last 20 years, it's been pretty easy. As recently as 1984, a season in the drink, Indiana was 0-11. Since their last Rose Bowl appearance in 1968, their entire Pasadena legacy as it happens, the Hoosiers have had three winning seasons. The team cheer was, "But you should see Northwestern."

Even before that fluke 9-2 season of 1967, Indiana was providing the Big Ten with a kind of pathetic consistency. Just as you knew Ohio State and Michigan would contend for the conference championship, so did you know Indiana would vie for last place. In the seven seasons before its Rose Bowl appearance, Indiana was either last or second-to-last in the conference. Every season.

But every 20 years--except for those first 66, of course--the Hoosiers go to the Rose Bowl. And here they come again.

Big Ten watchers are not real surprised. The conference has reached a Rozelle-like parity, now that all those high-profile quarterbacks are gone--Chuck Long, Jim Harbaugh, Dave Wilson, Jim Everett, etc. It's consequently a wide-open conference, and only a traditionalist would be surprised when Michigan and Ohio State--with nary a quarterback between them--lose games on the same day and take themselves out of the race.

Still, there is parity and then there is Indiana. How did this happen?

The short answer is Bill Mallory, who came to Indiana in time for its 0-11 season in 1984. Midwesterners knew that Mallory had better in him. He took a 7-3 Miami (Ohio) team in 1969 and had it up to 11-0 by 1973. He took a 5-6 Colorado team in 1974 and had 9-3 and 8-4 seasons before he left in '78. Downscaling at Northern Illinois, he went 7-4, 3-8, 5-5 and 10-2 before trying on Indiana.

His three years there? He went 0-11, 4-7 and 6-6, finishing last season in the All-American Bowl. And now he's got a 6-1 team, with the toughest part of its schedule already in the scrap books.

Parity helped his Indiana timetable, but recruiting helped more. For those of you without a VCR, "Hoosiers" means basketball. The best Indiana athletes traditionally play hoops. Those who get left behind on the football field, and are actually any good, play for Purdue or Michigan or Ohio State or Notre Dame. It's kind of a Midwest rule.

But Mallory, who is well plugged in around the Midwest, has been scoring some recruiting coups. Last season, his staff decided there were 13 Big Ten quality players coming out Indiana high schools. Mallory got 11 of them, very un-Indiana.

They are attracted by the improving program--Indiana in a bowl game?--and its apparent commitment to football. Where the football offices used to be in Assembly Hall, past some basketball trophies and Bobby Knight's chair, they are now in a football-dedicated facility inside the stadium. The school has put its money where its mouse used to be.

The momentum may be in place for years to come, but it began when Mallory signed Dave Schnell and Anthony Thompson a couple of years ago, right after that 0-11 season. The two Hoosiers were genuine blue chips--probably the only ones on the team--who Mallory believes went to Indiana only because their high school coaches, loyal to him, urged them to. Certainly, there was no other reason to choose Indiana.

Schnell played as a red-shirt freshman last season, one of three who rotated behind the center. Mallory, who believes he once destroyed a young quarterback's career by rushing him at Miami, was determined to hold Schnell out as long as he could.

Still, he tipped his hand in last year's Michigan game when, down, 35-0, he let Schnell in the game. Schnell marched them down for two scores and earned a starting gig.

Next game, he and Thompson helped beat Wisconsin. Game after that, Schnell was done for the year with a separated shoulder. Indiana lost its next two conference games by a total of seven points. The 6-6 team obviously could have done better.

So you can see why there might have been some enthusiasm for the beginning of this season, for something besides basketball. Besides Thompson, who gained 806 yards rushing as a freshman, and Schnell, the Hoosiers had 15 starters returning. Key losses were in the defensive backfield, but that didn't matter too much since there's nobody in the Big Ten who can throw the ball anyway.

Still, beating Ohio State and Michigan in the same season? Not done. Not in the last 103 years, anyway. Schnell, among the top three passers rated by the NCAA, and Thompson, with 744 yards rushing, have lived up to their billing. And now the Hoosiers have just two road games, Iowa and Michigan State, plus home games with Illinois and Purdue. Iowa and Michigan State can be tough, and there's that old rivalry thing with Purdue, but the Hoosiers could win out the season.

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