#24 Illinois State 2018 FCS Football Preview

Illinois State Redbirds
Overall Rank: #24
#5 Missouri Valley
 Illinois State Logo
Illinois State reached the playoffs three straight seasons until they finished 6-5 in 2017. The Redbirds started the year 4-0, but then lost a couple tough road games to Northern Arizona and Southern Illinois. After big wins against South Dakota and Youngstown State, this team only needed one more win in their last three games to reach the playoffs. However, those games were against Western Illinois, South Dakota State and North Dakota State and they lost all three. This could be a bounce back season for the Redbirds, but there is also a lot of talent gone. Coach Brock Spack usually does a great job of reloading his roster, but it remains to be seen if the pieces will fit.
2017 Record: 6-5, 4-4
2017 Postseason: None
Coach: Brock Spack (68-40 at Illinois State, 68-40 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Kurt Breathard
Defensive Coordinator: Travis Niekamp
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: James Robinson, RB, 933 yards
Passing: Jake Kolbe, QB, 2,138 yards
Receiving: Spencer Schnell, WR, 679 yards
Tackles: Mitchell Brees, S, 46
Sacks: Jason Harris, DL, 3.5
Interceptions: Mitchell Brees, S, 2
Other Key Returnees: RB Markel Smith
Key Losses: WR Christian Gibbs, LB Tyree Horton, LB Brannon Barry, DB Davonte Harris, LB Bryce Holm, DL Dalton Keene, DE James Graham, DB Alec Kocour, K Sean Slattery
The offense has a ton of potential with most of the skill position players returning. Quarterback Jake Kolbe needs to play more consistently after an up and down junior year. He threw for 2,138 yards and a dozen touchdowns, but was intercepted 11 times and completed just 55.6 percent of his passes. Spencer Schnell is the team’s top receiver after catching 51 passes for 679 yards and four scores in 2017. Somebody else will need to emerge as the big play threat with the departure of Christian Gibbs. If the passing game does struggle, Coach Spack can certainly depend on his running backs. James Robinson and Markel Smith are a great one-two punch. Robinson rushed for 933 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2017, while Smith added 581 yards and four scores.
The dismissal of leading tackler Tyree Horton has added even more questions to a unit that already was losing a lot of talent. However, at linebacker, the Redbirds could be in decent shape. Juniors Ty DeForest and Decxavier Kelly-Martin have some experience and should be ready to step into starting roles. Jason Harris and Matt Swaine are experienced ends, but the interior of the line could be extremely inexperienced. Strong safety Mitchell Brees is an experienced playmaker and Willie Edwards started nine games at cornerback last season. There is some talent to fill in around them, but like most of the defense, there is not a ton of experience. 
The Bottom Line:
This will be an interesting season for Illinois State. They are a talented team, but they were last year too and failed to play consistently all season long. This group can beat anybody on any given day, yet they also need to make sure they win the games they should win. One slip up and Illinois State could see a repeat of last year’s 6-5 record and again just miss out on the playoffs.
Projected Postseason: None
2017 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 182.5 (31st in nation, 4th in conference)
Passing Offense: 203.9 (63, 6)
Total Offense: 386.5 (51, 7)
Scoring Offense: 26.1 (53, 8)
Rushing Defense: 106.4 (14, 2)
Pass Defense: 200.4 (41, 3)
Total Defense: 306.7 (16, 2)
Scoring Defense: 19.4 (22, 3)
Turnover Margin: -0.45 (89, 8)
Sacks: 3.00 (13, 2)
Sacks Allowed: 2.18 (65, 6)
HERO Sports 2018 Recruit Rankings:
#35 Mike Gardner
#205 Bryce Jefferson