#5 Southern Illinois FCS Football 2022 Preview

Southern Illinois Salukis
Overall Rank: #5
#3 Missouri Valley
 Southern Illinois Logo
After a mediocre decade, Southern Illinois appears to be back. The Salukis have gone to the playoffs twice in a row. Last season they knocked off South Dakota in the first round before running into North Dakota State. With that success in 2021, Southern Illinois is ready to take another step forward in 2022 and seriously compete for a MVFC title.
2021 Record: 8-5, 5-3
2021 Postseason: FCS Playoffs
Coach: Nick Hill (31-37 at Southern Illinois, 31-37 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Blake Rolan
Defensive Coordinator: Jason Petrino
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Javon Williams, RB, 564 yards
Passing: Nic Baker, QB, 3,231 yards
Receiving: Avante Cox, WR, 739 yards
Tackles: PJ Jules, CB, 74
Sacks: Richie Hagarty, DE, 4.5
Interceptions: Clayton Bush, S, 3
Other Key Returnees: RB Justin Strong, WR Izaiah Hartrup, TE Tyce Daniel, LB Ma’kel Calhoun, CB David Miller, LB Jakari Patterson, LB Branson Combs, DT Keenan Agnew
Key Losses: RB Donnavan Spencer, WR Landon Lenoir, WR Jerron Rollins, OL Zeveyon Fucron, LB Bryce Notree, S Qua Brown, DT Kevin Glajchen, DE Jordan Berner, LB Zach Burrola, DE Anthony Knighton, LB Kholbe Coleman
It has been quarterback Nic Baker who has led the Salukis to the playoffs each of the last two seasons. In 2021 he threw for 3,231 yards and 27 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. Losing wide receiver Landon Lenoir hurts, but Avante Cox is a big play receiver who caught 43 passes for 739 yards and five touchdowns a season ago. Izaiah Hartrup also caught 43 passes and is a reliable target. While the passing game has been impressive, Southern Illinois is not going to ignore the ground game. Javon Williams returns after rushing for 564 yards and nine touchdowns. Justin Strong will again be a solid secondary back.
Last year the defense was superb against the pass. That was largely due to a consistent pass rush that gave the opposition very little time to throw the ball. Top pass rushers Kevin Glajchen and Jordan Berner are gone, but Richie Hagarty and Keenan Agnew anchor what should be a decent front four. The secondary is in great shape with the return of cornerback PJ Jules and safety Clayton Bush. Those two helped Southern Illinois finish 2021 with the second best turnover margin in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
The Bottom Line:
The 2022 season begins with a trip to Incarnate Word, a team that nearly beat Sam Houston in the second round of the playoffs last year. That could turn out to be an extremely important game for the Salukis. The conference slate, as always, will be tough, but Southern Illinois does avoid South Dakota State this year.
Projected Postseason:  FCS Playoffs
2021 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 160.3 (38th in nation, 6th in conference)
Passing Offense: 255.0 (25, 3)
Total Offense: 415.3 (25, 4)
Scoring Offense: 30.9 (31, 4)
Rushing Defense: 179.4 (98, 9)
Pass Defense: 186.2 (20, 2)
Total Defense: 365.5 (53, 7)
Scoring Defense: 25.8 (51, 7)
Turnover Margin: 0.69 (14, 2)
Sacks: 2.77 (20, 3)
Sacks Allowed: 2.54 (88, 6)