#11 Illinois State FCS Football 2019 Preview

Illinois State Redbirds
Overall Rank: #11
#3 Missouri Valley
 Illinois State Logo
Illinois State has missed out on the playoffs for two straight seasons. It looked like the Redbirds were in good shape last year though. They started 5-1, which included a 35-19 victory over Colorado State, before losing their next four games. That losing streak was a very difficult stretch of games, but this is a program that expects to win some of those games and compete for a conference title. With a very tough defense, Illinois State can turn some of those losses into wins and return to the playoffs.
2018 Record: 6-5, 3-5
2018 Postseason: None
Coach: Brock Spack (74-45 at Illinois State, 74-45 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Kurt Beathard
Defensive Coordinator: Travis Niekamp
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: James Robinson, RB, 1,290 yards
Passing: Brady Davis, QB, 1,935 yards
Receiving: Andrew Edgar, WR, 746 yards
Tackles: Luther Kirk, DB, 61
Sacks: Romeo McKnight, DE, 3.0
Interceptions: Luther Kirk, DB, 5
Other Key Returnees: WR Braxton Haley, OL Drew Himmelman, DB Devin Taylor, LB Ty DeForest, LB Tuvone Clark
Key Losses: RB Markel Smith, WR Spencer Schnell, LB Zackary Mathews, S Mitchell Brees, DB Willie Edwards
The offense was pretty good last year too. They ranked third in the conference with 31.8 points per game and now return eight starters. Running back James Robinson tallied 1,290 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground and will once again be the catalyst of the offense. Behind a strong offensive line, Robinson will be in for a big senior season. Brady Davis transferred in from Memphis and had a superb debut campaign with the Redbirds. The junior signal caller threw for 1,935 yards and 19 touchdowns and just five interceptions. Losing wide receiver Spencer Schnell is a big blow, but Andrew Edgar is ready to step into the starring role. As a freshman last season Edgar caught 44 passes for 746 yards and four touchdowns. With all of that talent returning, Illinois State should have a very good offense that can grind teams down with their ground game and, when necessary, do plenty of damage with Davis through the air.
Illinois State ranked second behind North Dakota State in just about every major defensive statistical category. With eight starters back, the unit should be just as impressive. The Redbirds did struggle to get to the quarterback though. Romeo McKnight led the team with just 3.0 sacks. He is back to man the defensive end spot, but will need some help from the rest of the line in that regard. The line will be very good against the run though and will get plenty of help from linebackers Ty DeForest and Tuvone Clark. Safety Luther Kirk has a future in the NFL after tallying 61 tackles and five interceptions as a junior. Cornerback Devin Taylor added three interceptions. If the front line can get more pressure on the quarterback, Illinois State has the playmakers in the secondary to create even more turnovers in 2019.
The Bottom Line:
This group has everything they need to make a deep playoff run and compete with the best the MVFC has to offer. And we will not have to wait long to see where Illinois State stacks up against the rest of the conference. The Redbirds kick off conference play at home against North Dakota State on October 5th. That contest could shape the conference title race for the rest of the season. Prior to that Illinois State faces off against Northern Illinois, Morehead State, Eastern Illinois and Northern Arizona in non-conference action. That is not an easy slate of games, but this should be an Illinois State team that can take care of business against most of their FCS opponents.
Projected Postseason: FCS Playoffs
2018 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 199.9 (32nd in nation, 5th in conference)
Passing Offense: 218.2 (56, 4)
Total Offense: 418.1 (37, 4)
Scoring Offense: 31.8 (29, 3)
Rushing Defense: 126.8 (22, 2)
Pass Defense: 183.0 (20, 2)
Total Defense: 309.8 (13, 2)
Scoring Defense: 20.0 (10, 2)
Turnover Margin: 0.45 (26, 5)
Sacks: 1.36 (96, 10)
Sacks Allowed: 1.64 (38, 4)
HERO Sports 2019 Recruit Rankings:
#27 Jabari Khepera
#28 Nigel White
#121 Cole Mueller
#251 Dallas Culpepper
#301 Pha'leak Brown