HERO Sports welcomes you to "Three-a-Days", where we will preview every single one of the 126 FCS programs, with three teams being released each day from June 17 to July 28. Then, we'll preview all 13 conferences from August 1-4. Today, we present … Illinois State.
We'll leave no stone left unturned when it comes to giving the FCS diehards all they could ask for this offseason. Learn about every program in the country, with HERO Sports.
[divider]MORE FCS FOOTBALL:
MVFC (Illinois State finished T6th in 2018)
COACH: Brock Spack – At School: 11th year (74-45) Overall: Same
LAST FCS POSTSEASON: 2016 (First Round)
2018 OFFENSE: 31.8 ppg. (29th in FCS)
2018 DEFENSE: 20.0 ppg. (10th in FCS)
KEY GAME: Oct. 5 vs. North Dakota State: The Redbirds kick off MVFC play by hosting the defending national champs. NDSU is loaded once again and is a top team in the conference and the country. What better way to make a statement to the FCS by knocking off the Bison?
SUM IT UP: It was a tale of two seasons for Illinois State last year. The Redbirds were our preseason No. 12 ranked team and began the season 5-1 with a 35-19 FBS win against Colorado State. But they then lost their next four games and ultimately finished 6-5. We're buying the preseason hype once again, though, ranking Illinois State No. 9 in our preseason poll.
Look, this is a program that made the national title game in the 2014 season. But since then, the seasons have been disappointing. The 2015 squad made the quarterfinals, but as the No. 2 seed, the Redbirds fell short of their goals. The 2016 season saw a first-round playoff exit and these last two years resulted in 6-5 records and no playoff appearances.
But we feel strongly this is the year things turn around. The level of talent and experience returning can't be questioned.
Eight starters are back on offense and eight more return on defense. James Robinson is a top running back in the FCS and a HERO Sports Preseason First Team All-American. He'll run behind an offensive line with four starters returning, led by Preseason Second Team All-American Drew Himmelman and Illinois transfer Adam Solomon. QB Brady Davis was terrific in his first year starting after transferring from Memphis and is expected to be even better. The Redbirds lose WR Spencer Schnell to the NFL, but HERO Sports Freshman All-American Andrew Edgar is ready to step up. Illinois State also added Virginia transfer Cole Blackman to the WR room.
The defense was a Top 10 unit in the FCS last year with 20 points allowed per game. Illinois State did have some key players transfer out, like DB Willie Edwards to Appalachian State and LB Jason Harris to UCLA. Plenty of talent remains, though.
The top tackler from last year, Zackary Mathews, is gone. But the next five are back: Luther Kirk, Ty DeForest, Devin Taylor, Tuvone Clark and Romeo McKnight. Kirk is a name to keep an eye on when NFL Draft talk starts to ramp up. And McKnight is set to be a star after earning HERO Sports Sophomore All-American honors.
The key specialists, kicker Sam Fenlason and punter JT Bohlken, are back.
OUR TAKE: The Redbirds appear to be pretty healthy heading into the 2019 season. Injuries and the schedule toughening up can be looked at as reasons for the late-season collapse. Illinois State now looks to put that in the past and eyes this year with high expectations. NDSU and South Dakota State have been at the top of the MVFC for a few years now. Both are expected to be there again, but there's definitely an opportunity for the Redbirds to climb up there with them. The nonconference schedule is ideal with a winnable FBS game against Northern Illinois before facing three FCS opponents that the Redbirds will be favored to defeat. Illinois State gets NDSU and Northern Iowa at home and have tough road trips to SDSU and Youngstown State. With the talent on this roster, there's no reason the Redbirds can't win 8-9 games in this 12-game schedule and make it back to the playoffs.
[divider]SUBSCRIBE: HERO Sports FCS Podcast
COUNTDOWN: The Best Player in FCS Who Wears Each Number, 1-99
TOP RETURNEE: Sr./RB James Robinson (HERO Sports Preseason First Team All-American, 1,290 rushing yards and 12 TDs)
THE FOUNDATION: Jr./OL Drew Himmelman (HERO Sports Preseason Second Team All-American); Sr./DB Luther Kirk (All-Conference First Team, 61 tackles and 5 INT); Jr./DB Devin Taylor (AC Second Team, 15 PD, 3 INT); So./WR Andrew Edgar (HERO Sports Freshman All-American, 44 rec. for 746 yards and 4 TDs); Jr./QB Brady Davis (MVFC All-Newcomer, 1,935 yards throwing with 19 TDS and 5 INT); Sr./OL Gabe Megginson (MVFC All-Newcomer); Jr./DE Romeo McKnight (HERO Sports Sophomore All-American, 9 TFLs and 3 sacks); So./DL John Ridgeway (MVFC All-Newcomer, 30 tackles); Jr./LS Paul Monaco (AC HM); Jr./P JT Bohlken (AC HM); Jr./RS Christian Uphof (AC HM)
TOP NEWCOMER: Jr./WR Cole Blackman (Virginia transfer, former 3-star recruit)
THE QUOTE: "We were looking for a dynamic receiver that could help us on the outside. Cole fits that mold for us, is very athletic and has great ball skills. One of his most important traits is his ability to run routes and get off coverage. Our offensive staff noticed that immediately on film and he will be great for our younger players to watch, because he can put on a clinic." — head coach Brock Spack said about transfer Cole Blackman
WERE WE RIGHT?: Last Year's Illinois State Preview
FCS 2020 NFL PROSPECTS: The List
BEST FCS TRADITIONS: The List
PREVIEWS: The Rest Of The MVFC
SUBSCRIBE: HERO Sports FCS Podcast