#37 Western Illinois 2018 FCS Football Preview

Western Illinois Leathernecks
Overall Rank: #37
#7 Missouri Valley
 Western Illinois Logo
Western Illinois had a strong 2017 season, although it ended in their opening playoff game at Weber State. But still the Leathernecks won eight games and went 5-3 in the always tough MVFC. WIU will have to work through some changes in the coaching staff though after Charlie Fisher joined the staff at Arizona State. Jared Elliott took over as the head coach after serving as the team’s assistant head coach and co-offensive coordinator last season.
2017 Record: 8-4, 5-3
2017 Postseason: FCS Playoffs
Coach: Jared Elliott (0-0 at Western Illinois, 0-0 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Ty Howle, David Rocco
Defensive Coordinator: Tyler Stockton
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Max Norris, RB, 656 yards
Passing: Sean McGuire, QB, 2,852 yards
Receiving: Steve McShane, RB, 307 yards
Tackles: Quentin Moon, LB, 70
Sacks: Khalen Saunders, DL, 7.5
Interceptions: Justin Fitzpatrick, DB, 5
Other Key Returnees: WR Brandon Gaston, DB Xavier Rowe, LB Pete Swenson
Key Losses: WR Jaelon Acklin, OL Jacob Judd, LB Brett Taylor, DB David Griffith, DB Tyrin Holloway
The strong passing game will continue under quarterback Sean McGuire. The senior threw for 2,852 yards and 25 touchdowns, while completing 64.0 percent of his passes with seven interceptions. McGuire is an efficient quarterback who makes smart plays almost all of the time. The problem with the passing attack is the loss of Jaelon Acklin. He caught 84 passes for 1,369 yards and ten touchdowns. The passing game worked through Acklin so much that it will be difficult to replace him. The trio of Brandon Gaston, Isaiah LeSure and tight end Adam Conrady is a good place to start though. Running back Steve McShane is a solid pass catcher as well and he is also part of a running back group that also includes Max Norris. Those two combined to rush for 1,238 yards and a dozen touchdowns.
The defense is going to feel much different without linebacker Brett Taylor. He had an amazing collegiate career and finished with a total of 162 tackles during his senior season. The good news is linebackers Quentin Moon and Pete Swenson are back to help ease the loss. Swenson tallied 6.5 sacks last season and the pass rush should again be very strong with the return of lineman Khalen Saunders, who tallied a team high 7.5 sacks last season. Justin Fitzpatrick and Xavier Rowe are the playmakers in the secondary and a big reason why Western Illinois ranked in the top ten in turnover margin last year. 
The Bottom Line:
With a steady offense and a defense that can make big plays, Western Illinois is an interesting team. They will not make mistakes offensively and that puts the defense in a good position. However, the schedule is very tough. Western Illinois travels to Montana State and Illinois before hosting Montana in their non-conference slate. And, of course, the Missouri Valley Football Conference is always tough. WIU plays Youngstown State, Illinois State and North Dakota State in their first three conference games. If Western Illinois can go 3-3 in those games, they have a shot at the playoffs. If not, it will be a long season for the Leathernecks.
Projected Postseason: None
2017 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 156.6 (57th in nation, 8th in conference)
Passing Offense: 241.3 (29, 3)
Total Offense: 397.9 (40, 6)
Scoring Offense: 34.2 (16, 4)
Rushing Defense: 119.1 (22, 3)
Pass Defense: 220.2 (66, 6)
Total Defense: 339.3 (38, 4)
Scoring Defense: 22.2 (34, 4)
Turnover Margin: 1.08 (9, 2)
Sacks: 2.67 (23, 4)
Sacks Allowed: 1.83 (50, 4)
HERO Sports 2018 Recruit Rankings:
#112 Broc Thompson
#214 Jack Anderson