FARGO — It was unusual to see an Illinois State football team picked to finish seventh earlier this week in the Missouri Valley Football Conference preseason poll. The Redbirds have been perennial playoff contenders and participants in the last several years.
The Redbirds’ head coach, Brock Spack, didn’t take issue with it, either.
“I think it’s legitimate,” he said. “We didn’t play a full schedule in the spring and I get it. We lost some players to graduation. I understand it. Good or bad, I don’t put much stock into polls. It’s great for fans and It will motivate our team, I guess.”
His team lost a boatload from 2019 to either training for the NFL draft or graduation and moving on in life without football.
“That made it difficult,” Spack said.
The Redbirds pulled the plug on the spring season after just four games. Injuries, specifically in the defensive line, were the primary reason. It wasn’t from a lack of being competitive.
ISU went 1-3, but the first three losses to South Dakota, Northern Iowa and North Dakota State were by 10 points or less. The Redbirds canceled the rest of the spring after a 26-18 win against Western Illinois.
The team had mass departures after the fall season was postponed. Eight players either opted out of the season or began training for the NFL draft. Quarterback Brady Davis did not return after suffering a knee injury late in 2019, leaving the job to sophomore Bryce Jefferson.
Jefferson struggled in the passing game, completing 49.5% of his throws with six interceptions against just three touchdowns.
Spack hinted Jefferson is in line to be the starter this fall. The other four quarterbacks are either freshmen or redshirt freshmen. The offensive strength looks to be in running backs Nigel White and Pha’Leak Brown. Both split the carries last spring.
The seventh preseason ranking is the lowest since 2009 when the Redbirds were picked eighth in a league that had nine teams then.
ISU also didn’t get much love in the Missouri Valley preseason team with zero first or second team picks. The Redbirds got one honorable mention pick in senior fullback Tim McCloyn.
Here's a look at the schedule for the Kicking Through COVID series:
July 31: Indiana State
Aug. 1: Missouri State
Aug. 2: North Dakota
Aug. 3: North Dakota State
Aug. 4: Northern Iowa
Aug. 5: South Dakota
Aug. 6: South Dakota State
Aug. 7: Southern Illinois
Aug. 8: Western Illinois
Aug. 9: Youngstown State