This season hasn't gone the way either the Illinois State Redbirds or the Youngstown State Penguins wanted. The two Missouri Valley Football Conference schools close out their regular seasons Saturday afternoon at Hancock Stadium in Normal.
Following a 5-1 start that included a road win at FBS member Colorado State, ISU was riding high with a Top 10 ranking. There was talk of a possible seed and first-round bye in the FCS playoffs, but none of that came to fruition. The Redbirds have gone into a four-game tailspin and are 5-5 on the season.
While Youngstown State managed to knock off Northern Iowa last weekend (and potentially keep the Panthers from the playoffs), the Penguins are 4-6 overall.
In recent years, Illinois State and Youngstown State reached the FCS national championship game: ISU dropping a last-minute 29-27 decision to North Dakota State in January 2015. Two years later Youngstown fell to James Madison 28-14 in the title game.
A glance at the current Missouri Valley standings shows Youngstown State at 3-4 while Illinois State is 2-5.
ISU will bid farewell to 14 seniors in a pregame ceremony Saturday, including starters Mitchell Brees and Zackary Mathews on defense and Donavin O'Day, Tylor Petkovich and Spencer Schnell on offense.
Brock Spack is in his 10th season as ISU head coach. The Rockford native has guided the Redbirds to four playoff appearances and had four players selected in the NFL Draft during his tenure in Normal.
Prior to his time in Normal, Spack was the defensive coordinator under Joe Tiller at both Wyoming and Purdue. Spack was a three-year starter at linebacker for the Boilermakers in his playing days.
Bo Pelini took over at Youngstown State for the 2015 season following his time as Nebraska's head coach.
According to his biography on Youngstown State website, "Of Pelini’s 24 years on the sidelines, 15 have been either as a head coach or collegiate coordinator while nine were as a defensive assistant in the NFL. He was an assistant coach for a Super Bowl Champion (San Francisco) and a BCS National Champion (LSU). Altogether, he has coached in 12 bowl games, 11 NFL playoff games and six conference-title contests."
Three key matchups
- ISU defense vs. YSU offense: The Redbird defense has been solid for most of the year. ISU ranks second only to North Dakota State in scoring defense (23.3 points per game) and total defense (331.1 yards per game). However, the Redbirds have just seven sacks in league play, which puts them in a last-place tie with South Dakota.
- Pass defenses vs. quarterbacks: Youngstown State and Illinois State rank 1-2 respectively in pass defense in the conference. The play of QBs Brady Davis (ISU) and Montgomery VanGorder (YSU) may determine the outcome.
- Turnover margin: Both teams have struggled with turnovers in Missouri Valley games. ISU is -3 while Youngstown State is -8 in the category.