BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Tom Allen doesn't have a gut feeling heading into Saturday's game against No. 8 Penn State.
He knows better than to expect a certain outcome from the first game of the season.
He's been in positions where he's felt optimistic, and things turned out poorly. He's felt bad about games that ended up turning out well.
Especially this season, featuring the strangest offseason in college football history and soon to feature the strangest environments the game has ever seen, Allen knows one thing — focus.
"I think the biggest thing is, you talked about the number of years that I have been doing this, that creates a little bit different perspective from the head coach's position. I have had this situation as both a coordinator and assistant, but I think the biggest thing that, as a head coach, you want to see is a locked in, focused group," Allen said. "We believe in the young men that we have here. We know that we are playing one of the best teams in the country, and we are going to have to play our best football to be able to get to the result that we want"
This is the opportunity Allen knows can change the narrative around the program. These big games have come and gone for Indiana over the past three seasons. The Hoosiers have been extremely competitive, but haven't been able to seal the deal.
The whole team knows Saturday is a chance to erase any doubts about this year's squad.
The amount of returning players Indiana has on both sides of the ball has Allen feeling comfortable with how they'll handle the first game.
"I do feel that we have a lot of players back and a lot of guys that have been in these positions," Allen said. "There will be a few out there that have not been out there as much, but when you have a large group coming back, you have high expectations for how they are going to handle the situation."
Each Big Ten team has faced the same challenges as Indiana. A choppy offseason, uncertainty about playing, no fans for any games, nine games looming ahead with no bye weeks and little room for error.
This weekend is the first time any Big Ten team will be taking the field since January.
"Nobody has played," Allen said. "Sometimes you have to be real and honest. We have no idea what is going to happen on game day."
It's why Allen has been so adamant on preparation.
When the season was originally postponed, Allen used the phrase "sharpen your axe" to keep his team motivated through the uncertainty.
It comes from an old Abraham Lincoln quote: "Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe."
In less than 24 hours Indiana will be playing No. 8 Penn State, and all Allen wants is his players focused on sharpening their axe, being prepared for no matter what happens come game time.
He was pleased with the focus of his team throughout this whole week. He liked the look in the players' eyes when they wrapped up a practice.
Allen knows what's at stake, and he wants the Hoosiers to go prove they belong.
"At the end of the day, it is going to be a very physical, tough, 60-minute, or beyond battle," Allen said. "We are prepared for it and we have to go prove to the country that Indiana is in position to change the trajectory of this program. That is our goal right now, we just have to go prove it on the field."
- CAN INDIANA BEAT PENN STATE: SI's Tom Brew offers his two cents on if the Hoosiers can actually top the No. 8-ranked Nittany Lions. CLICK HERE
- FIVE QUESTIONS ABOUT PENN STATE: SI's Tom Brew and Mark Wogenrich go over five questions before Penn State takes on Indiana Saturday. CLICK HERE
- MICHAEL PENIX OR SEAN CLIFFORD?: SI's Tom Brew and Mark Wogenrich preview the quarterback battle for Indiana-Penn State. CLICK HERE