#21 Western Illinois FCS Football 2017 Preview


Western Illinois Leathernecks


Overall Rank: #21

#5 Missouri Valley

Western Illinois got off to a great start last season. They beat Eastern Illinois, Northern Arizona and Northern Illinois to start off 3-0. Of course the MVFC slate was going to be difficult, but the Leathernecks put themselves in a great position to reach the playoffs. And there were opportunities to do so, but WIU lost to Illinois State, Northern Iowa and Southern Illinois to end the season and that kept them out of the playoffs. In 2017 the schedule is not much easier, but Coach Charlie Fisher’s team should be able to get that elusive seventh regular season victory.
2016 Record: 6-5, 3-5
2016 Postseason: None
Coach: Charlie Fisher (6-5 at Western Illinois, 6-5 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Jared Elliott, Doug Malone
Defensive Coordinator: Tony Grantham
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Steve McShane, RB, 917 yards
Passing: Sean McGuire, QB, 2,914 yards
Receiving: Isaiah LeSure, WR, 425 yards
Tackles: Brett Taylor, LB, 134
Sacks: Brett Taylor, LB, 4.0
Interceptions: Xavier Rowe, DB, 3
Other Key Returnees: LB Quentin Moon, DB David Griffith, LB Riggs Baxter, DL Khalen Saunders, LB Pete Swenson, DB Mike Viti
Key Losses: WR Lance Lenoir, WR Joey Borsellino
During his first season as a full-time starter, Sean McGuire threw for 2,914 yards and 20 touchdowns. The interceptions were a little high at 12 and his 58.1 percent completion percentage could get a little better, but improvement in those areas should come with experience. However, losing Lance Lenoir, who caught 76 passes for 1,093 yards and seven touchdowns, is a concern. Isaiah LeSure is ready for a larger role after catching 30 passes for 425 yards, but he will need some help. Jarid Brown, a transfer from Ohio, is one of a handful of newcomers who will have to be ready to contribute. The ground game is led by Steve McShane, who rushed for 917 yards and eight scores last season. Behind an offensive line that returns four starters, there should be an opportunity for McShane to eclipse the 1,000 yard mark in 2017.
The defense had some problems last season, especially against the pass, but with ten starters returning, there are high hopes for massive improvement. Once again the entire unit will revolve around All-American linebacker Brett Taylor. He recorded 134 tackles last season and led the team with 4.0 sacks. It is that lack of pressure on the opposing quarterback though that hindered the defense last season. The front line needs to do a better job of getting to the quarterback and that will fall on Khalen Saunders and Mick Nelson. Pete Swensen, Riggs Baxter and Quentin Moon will join Taylor in the middle of the defense. Moon was second on the team with 88 tackles, while Swensen and Baxter could bolster the pass rush. With a better pass rush, the secondary will be much better. Even without more pressure on the opposing quarterback, David Griffith, Xavier Rowe, Eric Carrera, Mike Viti and Darron Wheeler should be better with experience.
The Bottom Line:
The non-conference slate is not quite as tough, but WIU plays Tennessee Tech, Northern Arizona and Coastal Carolina on the road. None of those will be easy games. They also play Northern Iowa, North Dakota State and Illinois State on the road. The Leathnecks played very well on the road last year, but even going 3-3 in those six games will be tough. As long as WIU can win the games they should win, a few road losses will not keep them out of the playoffs.
Projected Postseason: FCS Playoffs
2016 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 141.8 (74th in nation, 7th in conference)
Passing Offense: 269.1 (17, 3)
Total Offense: 410.9 (32, 4)
Scoring Offense: 29.0 (41, 6)
Rushing Defense: 149.7 (45, 5)
Pass Defense: 297.4 (120, 10)
Total Defense: 447.1 (106, 9)
Scoring Defense: 31.5 (91, 7)
Turnover Margin: 0.00 (54, 5)
Sacks: 1.18 (113, 10)
Sacks Allowed: 1.45 (31, 2)
HERO Sports 2017 Recruit Rankings:
#81 Eli Watson