#18 Western Illinois FCS Football 2016 Preview

Western Illinois Leathernecks
Overall Rank: #18
#5 Missouri Valley
Coach Charlie Fisher takes over a Western Illinois program that returns 17 starters to a team that went to the playoffs. The Leathernecks played a brutal schedule in 2015, but they got the benefit of the doubt. With losses to Illinois, Coastal Carolina, Illinois State, Youngstown State and North Dakota State, it is hard to argue that this team did not deserve a spot in the playoffs. Perhaps more impressive than the losses were the wins over Eastern Illinois, Northern Iowa and South Dakota State. All eight of those teams, with the exception of Illinois of course, were ranked at the time Western Illinois played them. In the playoffs, WIU managed to shut down Dayton before running into Illinois State again.
2015 Record: 7-6, 5-3
2015 Postseason: FCS Playoffs
Coach: Charlie Fisher (0-0 at Western Illinois, 0-0 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Doug Malone
Defensive Coordinator: David Elson
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Steve McShane, RB, 232 yards
Passing: Trenton Norvell, QB, 2,110 yards
Receiving: Lance Lenoir, WR, 1,184 yards
Tackles: Brett Taylor, LB, 144
Sacks: Pete Swenson, LB, 5.0
Interceptions: Timothy Smith, DB, 4
Other Key Returnees: RB Devon Moore, QB Sean McGuire, WR Joey Borsellino, WR Stacey Smith, OL Jacob Judd, LB Adam Brott, DB David Griffith, DB Xavier Rowe
Key Losses: RB Nikko Watson, DB Dallas Nichols, DL Kris Harley, DL Eddy Holtschlag
The WIU offense has a lot of potential with quarterback Trenton Norvell and receiver Lance Lenoir. Norvell missed part of last season and split time with Sean McGuire, who is also back, but Norvell is a proven quarterback who can get the ball down the field. Lenoir is often the beneficiary of Norvell’s strong arm. He caught 83 passes for 1,184 yards and seven touchdowns last season. Joey Borsellino, who caught 62 passes for 849 yards, and Stacey Smith, who added 37 receptions for 493 yards, are also back. That gives Western Illinois an extremely dangerous group of receivers and two quarterbacks who can get them the ball. This team will want to pass first, but they need somebody who can run the ball too. Last season that was Nikko Watson. He rushed for 1,196 yards and 14 touchdowns while the opposition was mostly worried about the passing attack. Steve McShane and Devon Moore split time as Watson’s backup last season and Temple transfer Jamie Gilmore figures to be in the mix as well.
Eight starters return to a defense that may not have put up good numbers, but played very well against some very tough competition. The Leathernecks did struggle to get to the quarterback though and now three of their starting linemen are gone. Pete Swenson will be asked to carry much of the pass rushing load and hopefully he can get some help from transfer Steve Mercado. The strength of the defense is at linebacker where Brett Taylor returns after earning a variety of honors. Not only did he record an impressive 144 tackles, but he also picked off two passes and recovered four fumbles. Taylor is in the right place at the right time and he has turned into a great leader in the middle of the WIU defense. Flanked by Riggs Baxtor and Adam Brott, WIU has one of the best group of linebackers in the MVFC. The secondary should see improvement with all four starters back, led by Xavier Rowe and Timothy Smith. The team as a whole intercepted 19 passes.
The Bottom Line:
The turnover margin was a big reason why Western Illinois reached the playoffs. If the defense keeps creating turnovers and the offense avoids making them, the Leathernecks will be right back in the mix for a playoff spot. Of course, the schedule is tough again though. After non-conference games against Eastern Illinois, Northern Arizona and Northern Illinois, WIU jumps right into the tough MVFC slate with a road trip to South Dakota State. A 0-4 start is not out of the question, but the Leathernecks cannot afford that with North Dakota State, Illinois State and Northern Iowa left on the slate. The good news is those three games are at home, but even a home game against NDSU may not be winnable for the Leathernecks.
Projected Postseason: FCS Playoffs
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 140.8 (74th in nation, 8th in conference)
Passing Offense: 252.9 (34, 3)
Total Offense: 393.8 (50, 5)
Scoring Offense: 25.2 (69, 8)
Rushing Defense: 195.3 (84, 7)
Pass Defense: 203.5 (47, 5)
Total Defense: 398.8 (73, 7)
Scoring Defense: 29.7 (79, 7)
Turnover Margin: 0.62 (18, 2)
Sacks: 1.31 (106, 9)
Sacks Allowed: 1.38 (31, 4)
Madness 2016 Recruit Rankings:
#63 Mike Viti
#181 Marchalo Judge II