HERO Sports welcomes you to "Three-a-Days" where we will preview every single one of the 126 FCS programs from June 17 to August 6. Then, we'll preview all 13 conferences from August 13-16. Today, we present … Western Illinois.
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.
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Western Illinois (5-6 IN 2018)
MVFC (WIU finished 5th in 2018)
COACH: Jared Elliott – At School: 2nd Year (5-6) Overall: Same
LAST FCS POSTSEASON: 2017 (First Round)
2018 OFFENSE: 23.9 ppg (90th in FCS)
2018 DEFENSE: 26.0 ppg (43rd in FCS)
KEY GAME: Sept. 14 vs. Montana State: This game was a tight 26-23 loss to open the 2018 season. Now it's on WIU's home turf. This could be a statement game for the Leathernecks with MSU being preseason ranked No. 14 in our poll.
SUM IT UP: Western Illinois is one of the toughest programs in the FCS. Playing in the top conference in the subdivision, the Leathernecks are consistently a solid team. They went 4-4 in the MVFC standings last year, but a brutal nonconference slate resulted in a 5-6 overall record following an 8-4 campaign in 2017.
The Leathernecks lost a talented senior class with some big names that helped WIU make the playoffs in 2017 and 2015. Just five starters are back on offense and four return on defense along with punter Adam Fellner and kicker Nathan Erickson. Only one of their nine All-MVFC players from last year return and that's fullback Clint Ratkovich.
WIU is bringing in a ton of transfers to fill some starting roles and add depth. Sixteen transfers are coming in, five of which are coming from the FBS and three from within the FCS.
The key battle is at the quarterback position. There are a lot of new faces in the QB room, whether it be a freshman or a transfer. Connor Sampson is a junior and the most experienced guy in the WIU system who has served as the backup to Sean McGuire. The new quarterback has some nice pieces around him as Ratkovich and Max Norris form a solid backfield behind an offensive line that returns four starters: Michael Ross, Kyle Sanft, Jared Ross and Austin Hopp. Last year's top receiver John Brunner is back and Ratkovich is a serious weapon out of the backfield.
WIU loses some studs defensively. LB Zach Glisan, DE Kyle Williams, DT Shabar Wilson and DB Eric Carrera are the only returning starters. However, the Leathernecks have a culture of tough defense, so don't expect this team to start allowing 35 points per game even with a number of new players in the starting lineup.
OUR TAKE: WIU is a hard-nosed program that always seems to exceed expectations and make the most out of challenging situations. Former players like Khalen Saunders and Jaelon Acklin have told HERO Sports about how the work ethic and blue-collar attitude is just different in Macomb because of it being a small school and a "smaller" program by MVFC standards (budget, stadium, facilities, etc.). So when WIU was picked to finish eighth out of 10 teams in the MVFC preseason poll, something tells us this team is going to surprise some doubters again. Although last year's overall record was disappointing, WIU was one close loss turned into a win away from being on the playoff bubble.
This year's schedule is tough once again. The nonconference slate begins with a challenging game at rising FCS program North Alabama and also features games against FBS Colorado State and 2018 playoff participant Montana State. The Leathernecks have to travel to two of the tougher home environments in the Valley during November: North Dakota State and Northern Iowa. With all the turnover on the depth chart, it's too early to predict WIU making the playoffs. But we like this team's chances to finish higher than what the preseason poll predicts.
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COUNTDOWN: The Best Player in FCS Who Wears Each Number, 1-99
TOP RETURNEE: Jr./RB Clint Ratkovich (HERO Sports Sophomore All-American at FB, 54 rec. for 616 yards and 3 TDs)
THE FOUNDATION: So./WR John Brunner (MVFC All-Newcomer, 37 rec. for 625 yards and 3 TDs); So./DL LaCale London (MVFC All-Newcomer, 7.5 TFLs and 3.5 sacks); Sr./RB Max Norris (368 rushing yards and 2 TDs); Jr./WR Tony Tate (21 rec. for 382 yards and 2 TDs); Sr./LB Zach Glisan (Top returning tacker with 83); Sr./DB Eric Carrera (66 tackles)
TOP NEWCOMER: Fr./TE Blake Muntz (HERO Sports' 262nd ranked recruit in 2019, had 3 FBS offers)
THE QUOTE: "It's so exciting to be back out here with the guys. The first day you want to see detailed things, great effort, energy, and urgency moving around from drill to drill. Obviously, on the first day, we need to clean up execution and have a long ways to go to build there. The good thing is we have a lot of time before week one. I was really happy today with new guys in new roles. It's fun to see this 2019 team out here as a whole for the first time." — Head Coach Jared Elliott said
WERE WE RIGHT?: Last Year's WIU Preview
FCS 2020 NFL PROSPECTS: The List
BEST FCS TRADITIONS: The List
PREVIEWS: The Rest Of The MVFC
Illinois St | Indiana St | Mo St
NDSU | UNI | USD
SDSU | SIU | WIU | YSU
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