Autumn leaves give way to barren postseason for Illinois FCS teams

There will be no postseason play in Illinois for the first time in four years. (Photo by EIU Twitter)

By Dan Verdun

The Illinois FCS season sparkled with the early promise of a win over a Power 5 opponent.

Yet, it ended with silent practice fields and stadiums throwing a cold shoulder on Thanksgiving weekend.

For the first time since 2018, and just the third time in the last 28 years, none of the four Illinois FCS schools made the playoff field.

Certainly injuries to key players and inexperienced depth bit all four teams hard. Nevertheless, as each coach and fan base knows, that’s been the case since the game evolved over a century and a half ago.

Here’s a quick recap of 2022:

Illinois State

After being shut out 38-0 at Wisconsin, the Redbirds won their next two non-conference games. … ISU’s second-half comeback fell short in a 19-14 home loss to rival SIU and was then followed up with three wins in a row (two of which came on the road). … Losses to national powers South Dakota State and North Dakota State weren’t surprises, but the devastating late-game loss to Youngstown State at Hancock Stadium certainly was a shocker.

Overall record (conference record): 6-5 (4-4)

Southern Illinois

After a sluggish 0-2 start, the Salukis shocked the Big Ten’s Northwestern Wildcats Sept. 17 in Evanston. … SIU reeled off five consecutive wins and seemed a lock for postseason play. … Two straight last-second losses to unranked opponents, however, sent head coach Nick Hill’s Salukis into a tailspin that turned into a season-ending four-game losing streak.

Overall record (conference record): 5-6 (4-4)

Eastern Illinois

After three one-win seasons in a row, the Panthers showed promise with a 2-3 start under first-year head coach and alum Chris Wilkerson. … However, the assurance of a third win disappeared with a six-game losing skid. … That string was kicked off by a 37-34 Homecoming double-overtime loss to FCS upstart Lindenwood and also included allowing a two-touchdown lead to slip away in a 20-17 loss to Tennessee Tech.

Overall record (conference record): 2-9 (1-4)

Western Illinois

Like EIU, the Leathernecks brought in an alum as their new head coach. Myers Hendrickson not only played at Western, he is also the son of former WIU head coach Mark Hendrickson. … Challenged with rebuilding an offense hit hard by graduation, Western struggled to score and its defense was plagued by giving up explosive plays at inopportune times. … The Leathernecks showed fight in the season finale, losing in overtime to rival ISU. . . . The end result was an 0-11 record and the longest losing streak (13 games) in FCS.

Overall record (conference record): 0-11 (0-8)

Beginning tomorrow, Prairie State Pigskin starts its series which recaps each school’s season followed by 5 burning questions facing each program in 2023.

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