Redbird football picked 3rd in Valley

2010-08-02T09:31:00Z 2010-08-03T18:55:38Z Redbird football picked 3rd in ValleyBy Randy Reinhardt | rreinhardt@pantagraph.com pantagraph.com

Jumping five places from last season in the Missouri Valley Football Conference preseason poll is a notable achievement, according to Illinois State coach Brock Spack.

Jumping for joy, however, would be premature, cautions the Redbird coach.

“I’m proud of our players. Preseason polls are fun for fans, but they don’t mean a lot,” Spack said Monday on a league teleconference. “The kids and the staff have worked hard to get the culture changed around here and turn Illinois State into a football school.”

Southern Illinois was tabbed as the overwhelming favorite to repeat as Valley champion. The Salukis, who have won a league-record 14 straight conference games, received 30 of a possible 36 first-place votes and 313 poll points in balloting of the league’s coaches, sports information directors and media representatives.

South Dakota State was second with 252 points and a pair of first-place votes. ISU was close behind at 249 points with three votes for first. Northern Iowa took fourth at 244 points and picked up one vote for the top spot.

“We’re picked third and not first. We’re all vying for the top spot, so we’ve got a ways to go,” said Spack. “We’re hungry to win. We’re not ready to say by any stretch we’ve arrived.”

ISU was picked eighth in 2009 and finished Spack’s first season as Redbird coach in a tie for third in Valley play.

Missouri State was forecast for fifth place with North Dakota State sixth, Youngstown State seventh, Western Illinois eighth and Indiana State ninth.

The Redbirds had four players picked for the preseason all-Valley team in quarterback Matt Brown, offensive lineman Nick Bledsoe, defensive lineman Eric Brunner and defensive back Kelvyn Hemphill. Running back Cliffton Gordon and wide receiver Tyrone Walker received honorable mention.

Spack indicated Brown enters fall camp later this week as the starting quarterback with Drew Kiel and Matt Lancaster also in the competition for the job.

“Matt is the incumbent. It’s his job to lose right now,” said Spack. “But all three are fine players and will get a shot at winning the job.”

Southern Illinois, which opens play at new Saluki Stadium this season, was 11-2 overall in 2009 and 8-0 in the conference play but must replace standout tailback Deji Karim.

“We know teams will have their best game ready for us,” Southern coach Dale Lennon said. “We’re not as experienced of a team as we had last year. But we still have some very good experience returning at key positions. We’re complementing that with some young players who have been waiting their turn and learning from the older players in front of them.”

South Dakota State boasts the top returning rusher in Kyle Minett.

“We’re going to get the most out of him,” said Jackrabbits’ coach John Stiegelmeier. “He can run and we’re going to throw him the football.”

In its third year in the Valley, South Dakota State has secured its highest preseason league ranking.

“I think we should be excited about it. It’s a reflection of what people think of your program,” Stiegelmeier said. “But any kind of daydreaming or patting ourselves on the back is wasting our time.”

Perennial Valley power Northern Iowa has experience issues on both fronts and must replace its entire offensive line.

“We will have to do a good job developing and bringing our offensive and defensive lines along,” said Panthers’ coach Mark Farley. “The (conference) parity is unbelievable right now. The strength of the league is very strong.”

The lone new coach in the league is Eric Wolford at Youngstown State.


Missouri Valley Football Conference poll

Here’s the preseason Missouri Valley Football Conference poll, with total  poll points (first-place votes in parentheses):

Team....................................Points

Southern Illinois (30)....................313

South Dakota State (2)................252

Illinois State (3)..........................249

Northern Iowa (1).........................244

Missouri State.............................164

North Dakota State......................151

Youngstown State.......................130

Western Illinois.............................70   

Indiana State.................................47

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