#29 Western Illinois FCS Football 2015 Preview

Western Illinois Fighting Leathernecks

Overall Rank: #29
#6 Missouri Valley

Western Illinois Team Page#29 Western Illinois FCS Football 2015 PreviewBuy Western Illinois Football Tickets

Despite going 5-7, Western Illinois had a very promising season in 2014. The schedule was brutal and the Leathernecks seven losses came against Wisconsin, Northwestern, Southern Illinois, North Dakota State, Illinois State, Northern Iowa and South Dakota State. In fact, the losses to North Dakota State and Illinois State, the two teams who played for the FCS title, came by a combined ten points. With 16 starters returning, that is something to build off of in 2015.

2014 Record: 5-7, 3-5
2014 Postseason: None
Coach: Bob Nielson (9-15 at Western Illinois, 9-15 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Ted Schlafke, A.J. Blazek
Defensive Coordinator: None

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Devon Moore, RB, 337 yards
Passing: Trenton Norvell, QB, 2,891 yards
Receiving: Lance Lenoir, Jr., WR, 1,030 yards
Tackles: Kris Harley, DL, 35
Sacks: Kris Harley, DL, 3.5; Eddy Holtschlag, DL, 3.5
Interceptions: David Griffith, DB, 1

Other Key Returnees: WR Joey Borsellino, OL Matt Zobrist, K/P Nathan Knuffman, DL Gavin Ricketts

Key Losses: RB C.J. Baker, WR Hi-C Scott, LB Kevin Kintzel, LB Luke Venegoni, DB Jonathon Rollins, LB J.J. Raffelson

The Western Illinois offense returns a bulk of those starters. Quarterback Trenton Norvell threw for 2,891 yards and 24 touchdowns. He has a nice arm and was relatively efficient for an underclassman, completing 58.7 percent of his passes and throwing 11 interceptions. Now a junior, Norvell should be even more efficient and the Leathernecks’ playoff hopes rest on his shoulders. But Norvell has plenty of help on offense. Receiver Lance Lenoir caught 75 passes for 1,030 yards and seven touchdowns in 2014 and will be in for another big year. Joey Borsellino will team up with Lenoir after catching 41 passes for 549 yards. The ground game will need to replace running back J.C. Baker. Devon Moore rushed for 337 yards and five touchdowns and Nikko Watson is back after missing the 2014 campaign. WIU boasts an extremely experienced offensive line, so even without Baker, the ground game should at least be enough of a threat to keep the passing game moving.

If WIU is going to make a serious run at the playoffs, the defense must improve. The unit ranked tenth in the conference in pass defense and ninth in total defense. It is in the secondary where most of the improvements need to happen and David Griffith and Dallas Nichols will have to lead the way. There are three starters back on the line, led by Kris Harley and Eddy Holtschlag, but the run defense could struggle without linebackers Kevin Kintzel and Luke Venegoni. Those two were the top tacklers on the team last year and Coach Bob Nielson needs to find some new leaders in the middle of his defense.

The Bottom Line:
Once again Western Illinois has a brutal schedule. Their three non-conference games are against Eastern Illinois, Illinois and Coastal Carolina. And, of course, the MVFC schedule is never easy. The Leathernecks must travel to Northern Iowa, Illinois State and North Dakota State. With that schedule, the playoffs are going to be a reach. A loss to Eastern Illinois in the opener could spell the end of their hopes before they really even get started. But even if the playoffs are out of reach, Western Illinois has the talent to make things interesting week in and week out.

Projected Postseason: None

2014 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 164.4 (60th in nation, 8th in conference)
Passing Offense: 240.9 (36, 3)
Total Offense: 405.3 (44, 5)
Scoring Offense: 24.9 (75, 8)
Rushing Defense: 139.1 (28, 4)
Pass Defense: 252.4 (101, 10)
Total Defense: 391.5 (69, 9)
Scoring Defense: 27.3 (63, 9)
Turnover Margin: -0.17 (66, 7)
Sacks: 2.08 (56, 7)
Sacks Allowed: 1.67 (42, 6)

Madness 2015 Recruit Rankings:
#18 Jack Beneventi


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