CHICAGO — In search of a proper metaphor for TV revenue’s control over college football, consider the fact that Ohio State will begin its season with a Big Ten night game on the road in August.
Those ingredients brew cynicism for anyone wedded to tradition, but the Indiana Hoosiers have no problem with the idea of beginning their season with a prime-time ESPN game Aug. 31 against OSU.
New Indiana coach Tom Allen went so far as to call that game in Bloomington the “biggest home opener in the history of Indiana football,” at the Big Ten media days, and one of his players upped the ante.
“It’s the biggest game in IU history,” Hoosiers cornerback Rashard Fant said.
Fant grew up in Atlanta, so pardon him for overlooking Indiana’s lone Rose Bowl appearance, at the end of the 1967 season.
“When I signed (with the Hoosiers) people were like, ‘Indiana? You mean that school that plays basketball?’ ” Fant said.
Hoops fever aside, Indiana has a bit of football buzz after making two straight bowl games — losing both to finish 6-7 each season — for the first time since 1990 and ’91.
“I get stopped by people (on campus),” Fant said. “ ‘We’re hoping for a breakthrough,’ is the line they use. Around town people are excited. It’s great to see. I can’t wait to see the crowd the first game. We just want to go out there and make them proud.”
The chance for a bust-out win over the Buckeyes — Indiana is 0-22-1 against OSU since 1988 — adds to a story line that has new OSU offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson going against the school that fired him in December after six seasons.
“The good Lord has a sense of humor,” said Allen, who was hired by Wilson to serve as Indiana’s defensive coordinator in 2016.
Allen took over as Indiana coach on Dec. 1 after Wilson agreed to resign for what athletic director Fred Glass termed “philosophical differences” stemming from investigations into how the program handled injured players. Wilson (26-47 with the Hoosiers) became the 13th consecutive Indiana coach since 1947 to end his tenure with a losing record.
Although the Hoosiers lost the Foster Farms Bowl 26-24 to Utah under Allen, the players said they quickly bought into their new coach.
“You look at the things he does with defenses,” Fant said, “and you say, ‘Hold on now, he breeds results.’ We have all the trust in Coach Allen as our head coach. I’m excited to see what he does.”
Allen, who will continue his role as defensive coordinator, improved the Hoosiers to a No. 45 finish in the national rankings of total defense. Their average yards allowed per game improved by 129.4 yards from 2015 to 2016, more than any other college team.
Indiana’s offense gave OSU fits when the Buckeyes squeaked out wins in their last two visits to Bloomington: 34-27 in 2015 and 52-49 in 2012. Will the Hoosiers remain high-powered under new offensive coordinator Mike DeBord and Allen?
We’ll soon find out — starting on a Thursday night in August against Ohio State.
“It adds urgency to the offseason,” Indiana senior quarterback Richard Lagow said.