SIU hits home stretch, but will a playoff berth await the Salukis?

Southern Illinois has three games remaining along with a bye week. (Photo by

By Dan Verdun

Will a Southern Illinois stumble in the road veer the Salukis away from the FCS postseason?

Following last weekend’s disappointing 27-24 loss at South Dakota, Prairie State Pigskin asked some national analysts to assess just where the Salukis stand heading into the season’s home stretch.

Kevin Marshall of FCS Nation Radio said SIU’s odds of making the 24-team playoff bracket are “pretty decent when you look at who they’ve got left (to play).

“They’ve got a couple of tough games left, but they’re both at home,” Marshall said of the Salukis’ games with Northern Iowa (Saturday) and North Dakota State (Nov. 12).

Those two home games are split up with a bye week — the latest such for any FCS program. The Salukis close the regular season Nov. 19 at Youngstown State.

“It’s been a really interesting season for Youngstown because they may not be a playoff team, and they’re certainly not going to win the Missouri Valley Football Conference, but they may have some say as who is,” Marshall said of the Penguins (4-3).

Brian McLaughlin of GridIron Heroics FCS wrote Tuesday, “Southern Illinois’ loss at South Dakota by three was probably the biggest surprise and is teetering on knocking the Salukis out of the playoff picture, depending on what happens around the country.

“SIU’s big poker chip though, remember, is knocking off the Big 10’s Northwestern — the only P5 (Power 5) win for an FCS team this year.”

Marshall posed the question, “Are we still hanging our hat on Northwestern?”

After losses to Incarnate Word and Southeast Missouri to open the season, SIU shocked Northwestern 31-24 Sept. 17 in Evanston.

However, NU is a disappointing 1-6 this season.

Where the Salukis stand

Southern Illinois has a 5-3 overall record and is 4-1 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. The Salukis are ranked No. 20 in the Stats Perform FCS poll.

“SIU really needs two wins here out of three to guarantee a 7-4 record and a playoff spot,” McLaughlin wrote. “A 6-5 mark puts SIU dangerously close, though the P5 win could be what it takes to nab that rare berth at 6-5.”

Sam Herder, Senior FCS Analyst for HEROSports, doesn’t think a six-win team gets into the playoffs — even one from the Missouri Valley.

“The Valley would automatically get any 7-4 team, sometimes even 6-5, into the playoffs (in past years). That’s because it had marquee non-conference wins. That is not the case this year,” Herder said.

Marshall agrees.

“Seven-and-four from a Valley team? Normally you’d say yes, and not really even think twice about it,” Marshall said. “Maybe one of the two between Southern Illinois and Illinois State (5-2, 3-1) will get in, maybe both, it depends on how they finish.

“But I don’t believe we’ll see a 6-5 team in the playoffs this year.”

For the record, Southern Illinois defeated Illinois State, 19-14, Oct. 1 in Normal.

Three Valley teams for one spot?

According to the media members, the Missouri Valley Football Conference isn’t considered as strong as it has been in past seasons.

“It’s not,” Marshall said, “but saying that, I think the teams at the bottom are better than they have been.

“It’s really weird to say the conference isn’t as good, but maybe the top teams aren’t as good (as in the past). We’re used to seeing North Dakota State just run all over people.”

Herder said, “The MVFC probably ends up getting four teams in (the playoff field), but three wouldn’t be a surprise either.

“There looks to be a realistic scenario where Southern Illinois, North Dakota, and Illinois State all finish 7-4,” Herder said. “SIU would have the best shot out of this group with a Power 5 win (over Northwestern) and head-to-head wins over both (ISU and UND).”

Illinois State does not play North Dakota and Missouri State this season, given the MVFC’s 11-team structure.

If both ISU and UND finish at 7-4, Herder gives the edge to the Fighting Hawks.

“UND would probably be the next favorite. A 7-4 UND team wouldn’t have any wins over teams in playoff contention, just like a 7-4 Illinois State team, but UND would have a Top 5 strength of schedule to possibly warrant getting an at-large bid,” Herder said.

It’s not over until it’s over

Still, there is a month of football to be played.

“A lot of results elsewhere would have to go the MVFC’s way to get five teams in,” Herder said. “The national perception of the Valley this year isn’t strong enough for a five-bid league. Of course, UND or ISU could pull some upsets over South Dakota State and/or North Dakota State and make it a better possibility.”

Marshall said, “I thought the Salukis had those problems that they had early on figured out and so did Stone Labanowitz, our co-host (and former SIU quarterback). Even he thought they had those problems worked out, (but) we’ll see.”

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