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NORMAL — Nowhere in the description of Illinois State's FCS national championship game against North Dakota State on Jan. 10 in Frisco, Texas, can be found the word "bowl."

Yet with three weeks off from its Dec. 20 semifinal win over New Hampshire and the title matchup, ISU's preparations are similar to that of a bowl game.

"I have a lot of experience in bowl games," ISU coach Brock Spack said of 11 bowl appearances as an assistant coach at Purdue and one as a Boilermakers' player. "You have such a long time. Your team can change a lot."

The Redbirds resumed practice at Hancock Stadium on Monday and will continue to work on campus until Wednesday. ISU will fly to Texas later Wednesday and practice in Frisco on Jan. 8 and 9 before the title matchup.

"This whole week we're going to get the rust off a little bit and do a lot with our technique," Spack said. "We'll have individual periods to get better as a football player and obviously as a team. But we are what we are this time of year."

The Redbirds will take Monday off and work out with shoulder pads for the final time on Wednesday. Practices in Texas will be in helmets and shorts.

"We'll try to do the heavy lifting here," said Spack. "What I've learned is the timing of the passing game is what suffers the most. That's something you have to really work hard on in practice. The most important part is getting your passing game up to speed. That's one thing we really struggled with at Purdue."

Spack will reduce the intensity of practices beginning Tuesday.

"You have to be careful you don't over train and be careful you do enough," he said. "What's the magic amount? I think every team is different."

The quarterback for one of Spack's bowl games at Purdue was ISU receivers coach Billy Dicken, who led the Boilermakers past Oklahoma State in the 1997 Alamo Bowl.

"This is very similar to playing in a bowl," Dicken said. "I remember the Alamo Bowl as being a lot of fun. We all still wanted to win the game badly, but I thought we had a lot of fun going into it. It was a little more light at practice.

"Yeah, our goal is to win a national championship, and you need to work hard to get to that. But also enjoy the ride, especially the seniors. The younger guys need to see what's it's like because this is what we want to do on a yearly basis."

Spack believes his team has room for improvement after the 21-18 triumph over New Hampshire.

"I don't think we played very well the last time out. We played really well in the fourth quarter," said the ISU coach. "It was probably the worst game we played on defense this whole season. We had 22 missed tackles. That's a team that's not real sharp. We have to play a lot better if we have a chance to win the national championship."

ISU considered possible venues for indoor workouts because of the winter weather. But unless temperatures and wind chill become more uncomfortable than predicted, the Redbirds will stay outside with some practices on their grass field.

Toyota Stadium in Frisco has a grass surface.



Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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