Playoff prognosis: How much does SIU’s latest loss hurt? What’s in store for ISU?

Wide receiver Bryce Miller and his Southern Illinois teammates have a bye week and then their two remaining regular season games. (Photo by

By Dan Verdun

In the COVID 2020-21 season, Southern Illinois faced long odds on making the FCS playoff field.

The Salukis had played only one game the previous fall, pulling out a 20-17 win over Southeast Missouri. SIU then held a 3-3 record in the Missouri Valley Football Conference-only spring when its two remaining games — against rivals Illinois State and Western Illinois — were cancelled.

Desperate to impress the playoff selection committee, SIU cobbled together a game in Carbondale against No. 15 Southeastern Louisiana just a week before the playoffs were scheduled to begin.

The Salukis won that game, got selected for postseason play and then preceded to shock No. 3-ranked Weber State on the road in the first round. A week later, SIU gave No. 2 South Dakota State everything it could handle in a 31-26 loss.

That was then. This is now.

There will, however, be no added games to the Salukis’ regular season schedule this time around. To borrow a popular contemporary phrase, it is what it is.

After Saturday’s agonizing 37-36 loss to Northern Iowa at Saluki Stadium, SIU has stumbled in its bid for a third straight postseason appearance.

Southern Illinois has now lost two games in a row to unranked opponents. The Salukis stand at 5-4 overall and 4-2 in conference play.

SIU had two opportunities in the final minute to pull out Saturday’s game.

Neither panned out.

Southern, now standing on shaky ground, enters its bye week before hosting defending national champion North Dakota State Nov. 12. The Bison (6-2, 4-1) toppled Illinois State 24-7 this past weekend.

“Our season comes down to — we have to find a way to win the next time we step back out there at home,” SIU head coach Nick Hill said on

Southern ends the regular season Nov. 19 at Youngstown State. The Penguins, meanwhile, have won three straight and suddenly thrust themselves into possible playoff consideration.

Illinois State of affairs

To use a tennis analogy, ISU (sort of) held serve.

True, the Redbirds lost at North Dakota State Saturday.

“We couldn’t do anything in the second half on either side of the football,” ISU head coach Brock Spack said in The Pantagraph. “We didn’t match their intensity. They grinded it out.”

Yet, given the fact that the Bison were ranked No. 4 nationally and have won nine of the last 11 FCS titles, virtually no one in the FCS world — including the playoff committee — expected an ISU upset.

Therefore, Illinois State (5-3, 3-2) essentially stands where it did a week ago in terms of the playoff picture.

In fact, the linchpin game on the remaining schedule may very well be Saturday at Hancock Stadium in Normal.

  • Nov. 5, hosts Youngstown State (5-3, 3-2)
  • Nov. 12 at No. 1 South Dakota State (8-1, 6-0)
  • Nov. 19, hosts Western Illinois (0-8, 0-5)

The 2022 FCS playoff bracket will be announced Sunday, Nov. 20. The selection show will air at 11:30 a.m. on ESPNU.

Stay tuned.

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