#29 Illinois State FCS Football 2017 Preview


Illinois State Redbirds


Overall Rank: #29

#6 Missouri Valley

After a 2-4 start, Illinois State reeled off four wins in five games to end the regular season with a 6-5 mark. That was just enough, against a tough schedule that included a win against Northwestern, to sneak into the playoffs. The Redbirds lost at Central Arkansas in their playoff opener, but getting to the playoffs was an accomplishment considering how unlikely that seemed just a month earlier.
2016 Record: 6-6, 4-4
2016 Postseason: FCS Playoffs
Coach: Brock Spack (62-35 at Illinois State, 63-35 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Dan Clark, Billy Dicken
Defensive Coordinator: Spence Nowinsky
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: James Robinson, RB, 322 yards
Passing: Jake Kolbe, QB, 2,703 yards
Receiving: Christian Gibbs, WR, 547 yards
Tackles: Alec Kocour, S, 91
Sacks: Matt Swaine, DE, 6.0
Interceptions: DraShane Glass, DB, 3
Other Key Returnees: WR Spencer Schnell, WR Anthony Fowler, DL Dalton Keene, DB Davontae Harris, DE Adam Conley, S Mitchell Brees, K/P Sean Slattery
Key Losses: RB Jamal Towns, RB DeMarco Corbin, WR Anthony Warrum, OL Mark Spelman, LB Alejandro Rivera, LB B.J. Bello, LB Brent Spack
The offense was not up to Illinois State standards last year. They ranked eighth in the MVFC with 26.0 points per game. Quarterback Jake Kolbe was forced to throw more than the Redbirds are used to and he did a good job of it, completing 61.9 percent of his passes for 2,703 yards and 22 touchdowns. Kolbe will not have Anthony Warrum to pass to this year, but there is still plenty of talent at wide receiver. Christian Gibbs caught 49 passes for 547 yards, while Spencer Schnell added 59 receptions for 479 yards. Anthony Fowler should emerge as the team’s top deep threat after catching 28 passes for 400 yards and three touchdowns. However, if the offense is going to get better, it will depend largely on the running backs. James Robinson and his 322 yards is the team’s top returning rusher. He did rush for 103 yards in the loss to Youngstown State and certainly has the potential to emerge as the featured back. Redshirt freshman Artiss Henderson and Jordan Birch could make an impact as well. Regardless of which running back it is, Illinois State needs to rush for more than 156.8 yards per game this season if they are going to compete for a conference title. However, that will be extremely difficult behind an offensive line that returns just one player who has seen any significant playing time.
If Illinois State can fill some huge holes at linebacker, the defense could be one of the best in the conference. Replacing Alejandro Rivera, Brent Spack and B.J. Bello will be no easy task though. Those three accounted for 244 tackles and provided leadership in the middle of the defense. Bryce Holm will be the new middle linebacker after starting one game and recording 44 tackles last season. There is far less experience on the outside though. The defensive line returns all four starters, led by tackle Dalton Keene. He will be joined by Matt McCown in the middle. Jason Harris, Adam Conley and Matt Swaine will lead a deep group on the end and they should be able to improve Illinois State’s pass rush this season. The secondary also returns all four starters, led by safety Alec Kocour who recorded 91 tackles last season. He will be joined by Mitchell Brees. DraShane Glass and Davontae Harris will start at the cornerback spots. Harris is one of the best in the conference, but avoiding him and looking towards Glass’ side of the field is dangerous for any opposing quarterback. 
The Bottom Line:
Illinois State will not get another shot at upsetting an FBS team this year. Their non-conference slate includes Butler, Eastern Illinois and Northern Arizona, with the latter two coming on the road. Unlike last season, the Redbirds should get off to a good start in 2017. They will likely need to hang on at the end of the season. On October 28th the Redbirds head to Youngstown State. Following a home date with Western Illinois, there is another extremely difficult road game at South Dakota State. And if that were not enough, the regular season finale comes against North Dakota State.
Projected Postseason: None
2016 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 156.8 (56th in nation, 5th in conference)
Passing Offense: 228.6 (46, 5)
Total Offense: 385.4 (54, 6)
Scoring Offense: 26.0 (65, 8)
Rushing Defense: 126.8 (23, 3)
Pass Defense: 215.5 (60, 4)
Total Defense: 342.3 (25, 4)
Scoring Defense: 21.8 (22, 3)
Turnover Margin: -0.17 (68, 8)
Sacks: 2.25 (40, 6)
Sacks Allowed: 3.08 (109, 9)
HERO Sports 2017 Recruit Rankings:
#72 Trenton Hatfield
#163 Kentre Patterson
#249 Jalen Sutton