NORMAL — In 2011, seven wins was not sufficient for the Illinois State football team to gain an at-large berth in the FCS playoffs. In 2016, six wins got it done.
ISU coach Brock Spack believes seven victories would land his currently 6-4 Redbirds in the postseason this year. Securing that seventh win, however, will require besting No. 4-ranked North Dakota State in a noon regular season finale Saturday at Hancock Stadium.
“I do. But a lot of things happen around the country,” Spack said Tuesday. “I thought we did enough to get in in 2011 and didn’t get in. Last year I didn’t know but we beat Northwestern.”
An upset of Northwestern significantly enhanced ISU’s resume last season as the 6-5 Redbirds were among the last at-large teams to be chosen.
No. 21-ranked ISU does not have a win over an FBS program this season. Plus, the number of teams on the playoff bubble is larger than usual.
Complicating matters further for the Redbirds is the strength of the Missouri Valley Football Conference. Six Valley teams could finish with overall records of 7-4 or better.
North Dakota State (9-1), South Dakota State (8-2) and Western Illinois (7-3) are playoff locks with Northern Iowa (6-4) likely to join the club with a victory over woeful Indiana State on Saturday.
While the MVFC, the unquestioned top conference in FCS, could reasonably expect five playoff teams, six would be unprecedented. The Redbirds could possibly move ahead of South Dakota (7-3) in the Valley pecking order.
That would require an ISU win and a South Dakota loss in a home game against South Dakota State. The Redbirds have a 37-21 head-to-head triumph over the Coyotes that likely would work to their advantage if a berth came down to ISU or USD.
“This is a playoff game for us. Exactly right,” Spack said of Saturday. “Most of the games in November are that way. It’s just how you approach it. Everybody is trying to position themselves for the postseason.”
ISU has qualified for the FCS playoffs each of the past three seasons.
"We're focused on getting this win like we have been every week," said senior safety Alec Kocour. "Except we all know this one is very important. Everyone wants to do it for the seniors, too."
Kolbe and Broadnax: Spack said the Redbirds will use both Jake Kolbe and Malachi Broadnax at quarterback against NDSU.
Kolbe started the first nine games but did not play last Saturday against South Dakota State. Broadnax was under center for the entire 27-24 overtime loss.
“Absolutely, we will play both of them,” Spack said. “Both have very good attributes. Sometimes one is a little bit better at something than the other one is. So you go with that. That will be our decision in this game.”
Kolbe is predominantly a pocket passer who will run on occasion. Broadnax is a less polished thrower but has flashed dynamic rushing ability. Both saw time with the first team offense in practice Tuesday.
"I'm not a big fan of it, but that's got to be who we are right now," Spack said of using two signal-callers. "It may be more the score of the game, where we're at in the game, where the ball is placed.
"A lot goes into that. Sometimes you go with the hot hand. We'll see what kind of game it turns into."
As far as who will start Saturday, Spack said that will not be announced before kickoff.