Exactly eight years ago, Billy and I launched Punt John Punt. As we said at the time, our mission was to fill a gap in IU Football coverage in the realm of advanced stats and in-depth analysis. Over the years, I think we have pretty well accomplished what we set out to do. We admittedly aren’t for everyone (Tom Allen, for example, isn’t a fan! He blocked us on Twitter during his first season as head coach presumably due to our Mike DeBord criticism), but we’ve developed something of a devoted following among likeminded IU football fans (read: those with an unhealthy obsession with a mediocre-at-best football program). First and foremost, we want to thank those of you who have read our stuff, played the O/U game, interacted with us on Twitter, and generally supported our efforts. It’s been incredibly rewarding to discover that there are other IU Football fans who see the game and this program the way we do and have a genuine interest in what we could add to the conversation.
When we started PJP, we were in our late 20s with no kids. Our real jobs were no joke, and I’m sure we thought we were really busy, but in actuality we had plenty of time to devote to the site. Now, Billy and his wife have nearly filled a minivan full of kids, and my wife and I are expecting our third daughter at the end of the year. Last fall, my oldest kid had soccer games on Saturday afternoons for the first time, meaning I was frantically updating GameCast when Tim Baldwin fumbled away the UC game. And, if anything, the demands of the real job have only increased. Those of you paying close attention likely noticed that our (my) volume of posts have decreased, particularly last season. While I was posting less, I was still doing my best to keep up on my play-by-play review and charting of each game. It would have been a challenge if the team was performing well. As a once-promising season hit the skids, it became a slog. I kept going because I knew my value-add to PJP is knowing every single play and player backwards and forwards.
During offseasons in the first few years of PJP, Billy and I slowed the pace of our posting, but we remained engaged in working on content and diving into analysis. Particularly this offseason, I found myself with next to no motivation to dive in. I’ve felt some lack of motivation in the offseason before, but by mid-summer, I’m generally itching to dig back in and get ready for the season. That drive just hasn’t come back this year. Part of this was driven by the demands of family and work described above. Part of it was a desire to engage in hobbies in my limited free time that didn’t involve sitting in front of a computer. But that wasn’t all of it. If I’m being completely honest, there were two other factors at play: (1) the state of college football overall and (2) the state of IU Football.
I’m about to sound like truly old man for the next couple paragraphs but bear with me. I’m all on board with providing players the freedom to transfer equal to the freedom enjoyed by their coaches. Likewise, I’m all for players having the opportunity to make some money via NIL (although I’m very unconvinced that “collectives” are the best way to do it). That said, the combination of those two developments have created something akin to NFL free agency, but even worse, in that every player is essentially on a one-year deal. This year, something like one-third of IU’s roster will be new, and IU is far from the only program facing that sort of turnover. We’ve all become something akin to Kentucky basketball fans, where a large portion of the team is new every season, but without the widespread success that UK generally enjoys. For me, watching players develop over the course of 3-4 years is a huge part of the fun of being a fan.
Micah McFadden is the perfect example. He went from an afterthought recruit to a minor contributor who flashed loads of upside as a true freshman, to a starter as a sophomore, before blossoming into an all-B1G player as an upperclassman. Following and charting that development was not only enjoyable as a fan, but it was a big part of what I liked about our PJP work. There will still be players like McFadden at IU going forward, but I fear it will be much more of an exception than the rule. On top of that, while NIL will help make IU basketball more competitive, I strongly suspect that it will make recruiting harder for the football program, as boosters/local businesses will (probably rightly) choose to allocate resources to basketball players over football players. With the possible exceptions of Illinois and Purdue (and now UCLA), that simply won’t be the case at all the other B1G programs, let alone other Power 5 programs with which IU must compete for recruits. And despite Tom Allen’s relative recruiting success while he had the program trending in a positive direction, we should not forget that recruiting at IU was never easy – and now it’s even harder.
And then the USC/UCLA news broke. If there was any doubt that college football was on an inevitable march towards a 20-30 team minor league for the NFL, that news should have eliminated it. Executives at ESPN and Fox are calling the shots, and B1G and SEC commissioners are more than happy to follow where they lead. In the short-term, you can make a case that IU will be better off with UCLA and USC in the conference (no more East Division!), but in the long-term, I don’t see how IU fits (or if it technically has a place, how it competes) in a football-focused super-conference. Moreover, in a college football world where bowls are deemphasized in favor of the Almighty Playoff, IU’s attainable goals of 6-8 wins and a bowl berth seems to have lost importance as well – and IU’s stretch goal of somehow making a Rose Bowl is pretty much gone.
All of this to say that the college football I grew up watching and loving is increasingly hard to recognize, and the fun, regional aspects of the sport that I loved appear well on their way towards extinction. **Old Man yells at cloud**
And then there’s the current state of IU Football. In the Tom Allen Era, I maintain that IU peaked from a quality-of-program perspective the moment Peyton Ramsey scored in OT to beat Purdue in November 2019. IU had two exceptional coordinators in Kalen DeBoer and Kane Wommack, a head coach maturing into the role of Program CEO, lots of young talent (including a stud QB), and all sorts of recruiting momentum. When Kalen DeBoer took the Fresno State head coaching gig a few weeks later and Tom Allen opted to promote Nick Sheridan to offensive coordinator, the downward slide was underway. The success of the 2020 season – and specifically IU’s massive, incredibly improbable OT win over Penn State to start the season – covered up some warts, particularly on offense. The schedule broke IU’s way, as did (1) the lack of fans at difficult road venues like Michigan State, Ohio State, and Wisconsin, and (2) other programs dealing with player opt-outs, while IU mostly dodged that issue. When Kane Wommack left at the end of the season to become South Alabama’s head coach, Allen was left with two inexperienced coordinators.
2021 happened, the offense was a complete mess, the defense back-slid, and wholesale changes were needed. While Allen made the obvious decision of firing Nick Sheridan, we were told that Allen had to kick in some of the funds to pay Sheridan’s buy-out, an indictment of a Athletics Department that lacks either the will or the resources (or both) to support a competitive football program in the B1G. We had some words to say about another move Allen needed to make, but Allen inexplicably opted to keep his friend as O-line coach. Allen’s hires to replace Sheridan and Charlton Warren (who opted to take what appears to be a demotion at UNC, a decision Allen appeared to be more than fine with) were underwhelming. Walt Bell, IU’s new OC, had a little success as Maryland’s OC a few years ago, but little in his resume suggests he will approach Kalen DeBoer’s ability to craft an effective offense around a below-average offensive line, particularly without an impact QB like Penix was for parts of 2019 and 2020, and Ramsey could be against average or worse opponents. Likewise, the new DC, Chad Wilt, seems fine, but he’s never been a DC before, and he really won’t be one at IU either, with Allen taking playcalling duties back. That might actually work out fine, but with some talent dips on defense from the 2019/2020 years and a downgraded offense, it’s hard to see how this group can come close to the Allen’s best teams.
Given all that, a 3-win season is more likely than a bowl trip. If this team indeed wins 3, 4, or 5 games, all remaining momentum from Allen’s earlier successes will be gone (if it isn’t already). I don’t see how he can get that back. At a place like IU, it just doesn’t work that way. So we may well find ourselves in a situation at the end of the 2022 season where the best move for the program will be a clean break from Tom Allen. I strongly suspect Scott Dolson won’t have the stomach for that, for financial and other reasons, which means IU will remain in purgatory for 2023 as well.
I say this as someone who doubted Tom Allen before and was proved very wrong in 2019. When he has good coordinators and players who buy into his culture, he can be an effective coach. I hope he shows that again in 2022 and pulls 6 wins out of his hat. If he does, its GAME ON [Garth voice], and IU Football will have some life again. And maybe I’ll go full Michael Corleone in Godfather III – EVERY TIME I THINK I’M OUT, THEY PULL ME BACK IN. But I wouldn’t bet on it.
I don’t lay this all out to be a downer. I just want to explain where my head is heading into the 2022 season. And with all of that in my head, I just can’t dedicate myself to the grind of keeping up with my PJP work for another season. As I said before, my value-add of in-depth knowledge requires quite a bit of time, and I don’t have it in me now. I speak mostly for myself on this front, but Billy is in a similar spot. I expect he will crank out Advanced Box Scores on a regular basis. When we have things to say, we’ll post, but if we don’t, we won’t. While we’ll probably still throw out some tweets here and there, it will likely be much less than in the past. I probably won’t watch games with my Twitter feed up. When IU falls behind by more than 14 points in a game, I’ll probably turn the game off (similar to my 15-point rule for IU hoops, which proved to be good for my mental health during the Archie Era).
In short, I’m ready to return to being a regular (or as close as I can get to a “regular”) IU football fan. Watch the games with actual people rather than with a computer open next to me. Love the wins. Hate the losses. Repeatedly demand Darren Hiller’s firing (that part will stay the same).
So this isn’t goodbye. This is more like a friend who moved out to the suburbs – he’s not gone, you’re just going to see less of him. Like that friend who moved to the burbs, we plan to pop into town occasionally on the weekend for fun (IU is winning), while avoiding all the headaches of living in the city (the 2021 season).
Again, we sincerely appreciate all the support we have received through the years. Go Hoosiers!