Southern Illinois Football enters 2014 at number 18 in our rankings. Check out our Top 25 Season Preview for more on the top college teams to watch this fall. Can’t find your team in the Top 25? View our full rankings to see where every team stands.
Last Season: 7-5 (5-3) Missouri Valley Football Conference
So a 7-5 record doesn’t look great at first glance, but let’s break down those five losses before we make a determination about the success and failure of Southern Illinois football in 2013. The Salukis’ first L was their opening game of the season, at FBS Illinois 42-34. Pretty understandable. While FCS-over-FBS upsets happen, they’re certainly not the norm. Those schools just have more money and better resources – holding them to within one score is an accomplishment. With week two came loss two, this time to Eastern Illinois and Walter Payton Award-winning quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo 40-37. Again, no one likes to lose, but this Eastern Illinois team was a one many saw going all the way last season, and the Salukis took them to double overtime before a missed field goal sealed their fate.
Loss three came in week five, after Southern Illinois clawed back to .500 with wins over Charleston and Southeast Missouri State, this time at home to Youngstown State. Quarterback Kory Faulkner’s 341-yard, four-touchdown performance wasn’t enough as the defense surrendered a 13-point fourth quarter lead and Southern Illinois lost 28-27. Going into week six, the Salukis were 2-3, but their total margin of defeat in those three losses was a mere 12 points. Four points per loss – brutally close. They posted a 5-2 record over their final seven games, their only losses to North Dakota State[tooltip text=”*” gravity=”n”]Two-time, reigning, and eventual FCS National Champions[/tooltip] and Missouri State. Their 5-3 conference-record put them into a four-way tie for second in the Missouri Valley Football Conference but tiebreakers dropped them to fourth overall. Of course any team could say this, but if the Salukis got a couple more breaks last season, playoffs were well within reach. As it turned out they watched from home.
-Jarien Moreland LG
-Kory Faulkner QB – 165/272 (60.7%), 1,997 yards, 18 TDs, 4 INTs, 60 carries, 237 yards, 2 TDs
-John Lantz WR – Honorable mention All-MVFC, 51 receptions, 885 yards, 5 TDs
-Bryan Presume ILB – First team All-MVFC, 104 tackles, 12.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FR, 1 FF
-Terrell Wilson CB – 45 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 FRs
What to Watch For
New Head Saluki – Southern Illinois QB Kory Faulkner led the MVFC in total offense early in the season, then he broke his finger against North Dakota State week seven. Enter: redshirt freshman Ryan West. The North Dakota State game was already out of hand, but West led the Salukis to a 3-1 record the rest of the way with wins over Western Illinois, Illinois State, and Indiana State. He was the early-favorite to retain the job going into this season too, until Mark Iannotti got a chance to say his piece.
The 6-foot-2, 227 pound junior transfer from Eastern Michigan wowed coaches this offseason with his toughness and leadership and took the starting job for himself. With the praise the Saluki coaching-staff has been heaping on him this offseason, Southern Illinois fans should be nothing less than stoked to have him going into the season.
The Salukis are in good position as the 2014 season approaches. They have a majority of their starters back from last year, and a quarterback in Mark Iannotti who looks like a solid replacement for now-departed Kory Faulkner. Iannotti will have first team American Football Coaches Association All-American tight end MyCole Pruitt to throw to, back from the injury that ended his 2013 campaign two games early. Now that John Lantz is gone, Pruitt might be the best receiver on the team.
It will be tough for the Salukis to move up the Missouri Valley Football Conference table though, given the schools ranked above them and how many of their toughest opponents they have to face on the road this season. Southern Illinois’ away games in order are as follows: September 6, Eastern Illinois; September 20, Purdue; October 11, North Dakota State; October 18, Youngstown State; November 8, Missouri State; and November 22, Illinois State. Mentioned in that list were four of the five teams the Salukis lost to last season, plus FBS school Purdue. Yikes. If Southern Illinois wants to make a playoff run, they better hope their new QB is a road warrior, because if he’s not it’s gonna be tough for them to get it done against this slate.