#8 Southern Illinois FCS Football 2021 Preview

Southern Illinois Salukis
Overall Rank: #8
#3 Missouri Valley
 Southern Illinois Logo
Southern Illinois returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The Salukis nearly upset top-seeded South Dakota in the semifinals too. Coach Nick Hill’s team proved long before the playoffs that they could beat some great teams. SIU knocked off North Dakota State and Northern Iowa during the regular season and now they will look to continue that success.
2020-21 Record: 6-4, 3-3
2020-21 Postseason: FCS Playoffs
Coach: Nick Hill (23-32 at Southern Illinois, 23-32 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Blake Rolan
Defensive Coordinator: Jason Petrino
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Javon Williams Jr, RB, 532 yards
Passing: Stone Labanowitz, QB, 1,241 yards
Receiving: Avante Cox, WR, 838 yards
Tackles: Bryson Strong, LB, 72
Sacks: Jordan Berner, DE, 4.0
Interceptions: 4 tied with 1
Other Key Returnees: RB Romeir Elliott, RB Justin Strong, QB Nic Baker, WR Landon Lenoir, OL ZeVeyon Furcron, LB Bryce Notree, S Clayton Bush, CB James Ceasar, S Qua Brown, P Jack Colquhoun
Key Losses: DB Jonathan Thompson
The Salukis have a very balanced offense. You do not drop 38 points on North Dakota State without a good offense. Quarterback Stone Labanowitz started the final five games of the season, throwing for 1,241 yards and eight touchdowns. Nic Baker was the starter entering the season before suffering an injury. Labanowitz figures to keep the job, but Coach Nick Hill has depth if he needs it. He also has Avante Cox. He earned a variety of All-American awards after catching 66 passes for a conference high 838 yards and five touchdowns in ten games in the spring. Landon Lenoir will benefit from the opposition focusing in on Cox. Lenoir is an extremely experienced wideout and caught 45 passes for 590 yards in the spring. The passing game is in good shape, but SIU will run the ball with three backs. Javon Williams, Romeir Elliott and Justin Strong were all productive backs last season and should again split carries in 2021.
The defense will need to improve if the Salukis are going to challenge for a conference title. The unit ranked ninth in the conference in scoring defense and failed to create too many turnovers. The key to fixing both of those issues could fall on the pass rush. Jordan Berner led the team with 4.0 sacks and Anthony Knighton can get into the backfield, but they need to get some help. Bryson Strong is back to lead the linebackers after leading SIU with 72 tackles. He will again be joined by Bryce Notree, who was second on the team with 63 tackles. The pass defense was pretty good in the spring and the return of Qua Brown, James Ceasar and Clayton Bush should make them even better.
The Bottom Line:
If that secondary can make some big plays and help change the turnover margin fortunes of Southern Illinois, this team will continue to surprise some people. Of course, the MVFC is going to be extremely difficult. The good news is that North Dakota State is not on the schedule, but an October stretch of games against South Dakota State, North Dakota and Northern Iowa will decide just how good this Southern Illinois team can be.
Projected Postseason:  FCS Playoffs
2020-21 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 186.0 (16th in nation, 3rd in conference)
Passing Offense: 239.1 (28, 3)
Total Offense: 425.1 (18, 1)
Scoring Offense: 27.1 (27, 3)
Rushing Defense: 203.9 (80, 8)
Pass Defense: 184.9 (31, 5)
Total Defense: 388.8 (70, 8)
Scoring Defense: 29.7 (71, 9)
Turnover Margin: -1.10 (88, 9)
Sacks: 1.30 (81, 9)
Sacks Allowed: 1.50 (22, 4)