Tiawan Mullen was in his dorm room when he found out.
He saw IU cracked the Coaches Poll, and then sat to wait for the AP.
When he saw the AP Top 25 poll, Mullen wasn’t surprised. But he got up and screamed “Yes sir!” in his room, celebrating what he had helped his team accomplish as a freshman.
Mullen is used to changing team’s fortunes. Mullen’s high school, Coconut Creek High School near Ft. Lauderdale, hadn’t made the playoffs in decades before he got there. In Mullen’s senior year, his school got over the hump, and ended its playoff drought.
He was committed to doing the same at IU. He wrote down the numbers 50, 26 and 10 at his official visit, the same numbers head coach Tom Allen focused on in his introductory press conference. 50 years since a Big Ten title, 26 years since winning a bowl game, 10 years since having a winning season.
“I just went on Google and just typed Indiana,” Mullen said, “and the numbers he said and the bowl games they haven’t reached and the winning seasons they haven’t reached and the Big Ten championships they haven’t reached.”
In his freshman year at IU, he’s helped those droughts too.
Tiawan Mullen talked a lot about the immediate impact he’s had on this team as it has reached the top 25 rankings.
— Matt Cohen (@Matt_Cohen_) November 11, 2019
Donavan Hale was home when he found out. He got a text from Reakwon Jones. Both are fifth-year players. Both have been around this program for long enough to know how much it means. After so many years putting on the crimson IU helmet, staying on through a coaching change, they finally accomplished a goal.
“That’s what we came to Indiana to do, to try to turn the program around,” Hale said. “I’m an old head so I’ve been here a minute. It took me to the fifth year to become ranked, but we did it.”
Stevie Scott was at home too when he found out. He was waiting for the AP poll, waiting to see if he would see his team’s name. He was excited, but he, like his head coach, wasn’t satisfied.
They all saw No. 24 Indiana. For the first time since September 20, 1994, the Hoosiers are ranked. The longest top-25 drought among Power 5 teams is over.
Head coach Tom Allen found out off a text from the IU media staff. He expected it to come. He told his team he expected it.
And when it happened, he congratulated the team in Monday’s team meeting. He knows how much it means for a program that’s come such a long way this season. He has never shied away from talking about it.
But the ranking only means so much. Sure, it’s a validation of what the team has accomplished this season. It’s a selling point he can use in recruiting, emphasizing that his team has followed through on the promises Allen has made. He promised IU would get to a bowl game, he promised IU would have a winning season and he promised IU would get into the top 25.
He’s done all of those things.
But as Allen said after IU clinched bowl eligibility and as he said after IU clinched a winning season, he isn’t satisfied. He doesn’t want his team to be. At the end of the day for him, it’s just a little number next to Indiana on the scoreboard graphic.
“Just because you get ranked one week, doesn’t mean all of a sudden you’ve arrived,” Allen said. “At the same time it’s an acknowledgement of what you’re doing, the foundation you’re laying.”
Being ranked is a validation of what Indiana has done thus far, but not an indicator of what’s to come.
“We want to show everybody that we can keep it,” Mullen said. “We earned it we deserve it.”
And maybe the ranking lasts for just a week. IU heads to play Penn State this weekend, and enters as a double-digit underdog. Allen knows that ranking won’t mean anything on the field. He wants every single player and coach to believe they can beat Penn State. He doesn’t want them getting on the bus otherwise.
Tom Allen believes in his team, and he wants @IndianaFootball players to believe, as well.
“If you don’t believe that we can go to Penn State and win at Penn State for the first time in program history, don’t get on the bus.” pic.twitter.com/KuRm4T8wrh
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) November 11, 2019
But even having that belief is a sign at how much has changed this season. On the heels of two record recruiting classes, IU is taking the steps Allen promised he would make. The promises the players bought into.
“I knew the hard work was going to pay off sooner or later,” Mullen said. “I knew it wasn’t going to take us two to three years to change it around.”