#17 Illinois State FCS Football 2012 Preview

Illinois State Redbirds

Overall Rank: #17
#4 Missouri Valley
Illinois State FCS College Football 2012 Team Preview
Illinois State Team Page


Illinois State was an overtime loss away from reaching the playoffs in 2011. A win against Northern Iowa on the final weekend of the regular season would have certainly been enough to get the Redbirds into the postseason. But instead Illinois State finished the year with a loss. After a very slow start, Illinois State reeled off five wins in a row before falling to UNI with the playoffs in reach. That was just Coach Brock Spack’s second year at the helm of Illinois State and he is moving this program in the right direction. There are some major holes to fill this year, but the overall team depth is improving.

2011 Record: (7-4, 5-3)
2011 Postseason: None
Coach: Brock Spack (19-14 at Illinois State, 19-14 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Luke Huard
Defensive Coordinator: Brock Spack

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Darrelynn Dunn, RB, 247 yards
Passing: Matt Brown, QB, 2,187 yards
Receiving: Tyrone Walker, WR, 787 yards
Tackles: Evan Frierson, LB, 66
Sacks: Nate Palmer, DE, 9.5
Interceptions: Mike Banks, CB, 1

Other Key Returnees: LB Austin Davis, S Ben Ericksen, S Matt Goldsmith, DT Shelby Harris, WR Lechein Neblett, DE Colton Underwood  

Key Losses: G Nick Bledsoe, DT Eric Brunner, LB Josh Howe, RB Ashton Leggett, C Cal McCarthy, CB Otis Merrill, OT Milton Owens, WR Marvon Sanders, OT Cody White, G Keenan Wimbley

In 2011 the Redbirds ranked in the top ten in the nation in total defense and sacks. It should be more of the same in 2012. Eric Brunner, who ranked third on the team in tackles from the interior of the line, is gone, but there is a lot of talent returning. Shelby Harris will be the main man in the middle of the line now after tallying 6.0 sacks and 12.5 tackles-for-loss while appearing in just nine games. Nate Palmer and Colton Underwood form one of the best end duos in the nation. Linebacker Evan Frierson will consistently get into the mix and cause havoc in the backfield. When a team has five extremely dangerous threats to get into the backfield on any given play, it can be a nightmare for the opposing offense. The loss of linebacker and leading tackler Josh Howe will hurt the stellar rush defense, but Austin Davis is back and Illinois State has plenty of other options to help fill the void, most notably experienced senior Mike Zimmer. It was the secondary that was the weak link of the defense in 2011. Despite all of that pressure, Illinois State picked off a measly three passes all year. It is one thing to keep the ball in front of you, but they did not do a very good job of that either, ranking seventh in the MVFC by allowing 209.09 passing yards per game. Cornerback Otis Merrill is gone, but the rest of the starting secondary returns…for better or worse. Mike Banks started all 11 games at corner as a freshman and is brimming with potential. Safeties Ben Ericksen and Matt Goldsmith seemed to be relatively uninvolved considering how much the opposition attempted to throw against Illinois State. However, Ericksen does have a knack for recovering fumbles. But with that extra year of experience and a few new faces to increase competition, the secondary should be better. They may give up as many yards, but they should at least make some more big plays.

The offense returns starting quarterback Matt Brown, but Illinois State relied heavily on the ground game and they must replace a whole slew of offensive linemen and their top two running backs from last season. Ashton Leggett finished up his collegiate career rushing for 1,031 yards and 11 scores in 2011 and Cliffton Gordon proved to be a capable short yardage back who punched the ball into the end zone four times. A very experienced offensive line helped pave the way for both backs and allowed just six sacks the entire season. Now the group of linemen is littered with underclassmen and transfers. Fortunately, some of those transfers are ready to start. Josh Aladenoye comes to Normal from Oklahoma, while Jermaine Barton enters from Miami (FL) and Sam Campbell spent a couple years at the junior college level. Returning running back Darrelynn Dunn can make some big plays, but another Oklahoma transfer, Jonathan Miller, should emerge as the workhorse of the backfield. Miller was briefly named a starter at OU last year, but just played sparingly in the opener. He may not have a ton of collegiate experience, but he is a very talented back. It will take a lot to repeat the success of the running game last year, but the Redbirds have the potential if a couple of the younger linemen are ready to step up. Staying healthy on the line will be very important too.

The Bottom Line:
That means Brown may spend a little time throwing the ball around and that should work out just fine. He completed 65.0 percent of his passes last year and threw for 2,187 yards, 18 touchdowns and seven interceptions. With Tyrone Walker back to catch a big chunk of those passes, Brown should see his numbers increase. Lechein Neblett, a 6-0 sophomore, is coming off of a strong opening season and is a solid possession receiver. When it comes to big plays, keep an eye out for 6-4 junior college transfer Brandon Newbern, who missed all of last season with an injury, and Ball State transfer Phil Dudley, who could line up in the backfield, the slot or even in the secondary. The defense can carry this team, but the margin for error is slim in the Missouri Valley Football Conference and the offense will not have much time to come around. As long as the offensive line can make some holes for the ground game and give Brown time to find his receivers, the Redbirds will be right in the mix again when it comes to making the FCS Playoffs.

Projected Postseason: None

2011 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 183.36 (28th in nation, 2nd in conference)
Passing Offense: 199.64 (62, 3)
Total Offense: 383.00 (43, 2)
Scoring Offense: 27.91 (48, 4)
Rushing Defense: 85.73 (5, 1)
Pass Defense: 209.09 (64, 7)
Total Defense: 294.82 (9, 1)
Scoring Defense: 19.18 (13, 3)
Turnover Margin: -.18 (65, 5)
Sacks: 3.27 (8, 1)
Sacks Allowed: .55 (3, 1)