Illinois St. will go on road; SIU left out of FCS playoffs
Illinois State ended the football season in disappointing fashion, but will get a chance at redemption.
Meanwhile, ESPN had cameras set up to capture the celebration in Carbondale, but Southern Illinois was left out of the FCS playoff field. The Salukis thought they had a good chance to land their first playoff berth since 2009.
Illinois State will play a first-round game at Southeast Missouri State next Saturday at 1 p.m. The Redbirds (8-4) were ranked No. 6 heading into the final week of the regular season, but lost 21-3 at Youngstown State on Saturday. Starting quarterback Brady Davis was lost with a knee injury the previous week, and Illinois State's backups struggled mightily.
But ISU still has one of the best running backs in FCS in senior James Robinson. Southeast Missouri has a local connection in quarterback Daniel Santacaterina from Geneva. After transferring from Northern Illinois, Santacaterina led SEMO to the playoffs last season and a first-round win over Stony Brook.
The winner of the Illinois State-Southeast Missouri State game will face No. 8 seed Central Arkansas in the second round.
"This morning when I started thinking about it I thought it would be us against (Austin) Peay or SEMO," Illinois State coach Brock Spack said, according to wjbk.com. "Maybe I thought we'd host but I get it. Austin Peay and SEMO were co-champs of the OVC (Ohio Valley Conference) and Austin Peay won the head-to-head matchup so I thought we wouldn't play them."
The top eight seeds in the 24-team field get a bye in the first round and a home game in the second, so this is a disappointing result for Illinois State. Just two weeks ago, the Redbirds won on the road at South Dakota State, which did get a top-eight seed.
In SIU's case, the selection committee appeared to care more about quality wins than bad losses. The Salukis (7-5) played four teams that made the playoff field and went 0-4 in those games, including the season opener against Southeast Missouri State and their Missouri Valley Conference opener against Illinois State. SIU did beat an FBS opponent, UMass, early in the season.
Two of the teams listed among the last four in, Kennesaw State and Furman, did not beat any teams in the playoff field. North Dakota, which got in as an independent, had some bad losses, but also a quality win over Montana State.
"I don't know why we didn't get in," SIU coach Nick Hill said. "If you're picking the top 24 teams in the country and you want it to be the best 24 teams, then we're one of those teams."
Hill, a former SIU quarterback, is in his fourth season and engineered a huge turnaround from last year's 2-9 record.
"We're going to respond this way like we teach our guys to respond in every situation and that's with class," Hill said. "We can be mad, we can be disappointed, which we all are. I think this (senior) class will look back and say they got this thing going again. They've got a lot to be proud of."
Illinois State is in the FCS playoffs for the eighth time. The Redbirds last made the field in 2016 and reached the championship game in 2014.
Missouri Valley champ North Dakota State got the No. 1 playoff seed, as expected. The Bison have won seven of the last eight FCS titles. James Madison, the only other school to win a championship during NDSU's dominant run, is No. 2.
Four Big Sky Conference teams got the next four seeds -- Weber State, Sacramento State, Montana State and Montana -- with South Dakota State at No. 7 and Central Arkansas No. 8.
The fourth Missouri Valley school in the field, Northern Iowa, will host San Diego in the first round, with the winner playing South Dakota State.