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Salukis have point to make in MVFC race
Dale Lennon has enough ammunition to motivation his Southern Illinois University Carbondale football team this season.
The Salukis are picked seventh in the 10-team Missouri Valley Conference.
Then again, that’s OK with Lennon, beginning his sixth season (35-23 record) as SIUC’s head coach. He figures the Salukis, who start their season on Aug. 31 at Illinois, will use that lowly projection as bulletin board material.
“This league is tough to win in,” Lennon said Monday during a media teleconference. “But that (No. 7 league ranking) will give us a little incentive. We’ll have something to prove.”
Favored North Dakota State has little to prove, or so it seems. The Bison are the unanimous choice to successfully defend their title. North Dakota State, the defending NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision winner, finished 14-1 last season and was also 14-1 in 2011.
South Dakota State is rated second, followed by Northern Iowa, Illinois State and Youngstown State. Then it’s Indiana State, SIUC, Missouri State, Western Illinois and South Dakota.
“The FCS is alive and well and we haven’t been distracted by anything,” MVC football commissioner Patty Viverito said. “The (playoff) bracket has been expanded to 24 teams, including 13 at-large ones. I think the Valley teams should be prominently mentioned in the top spots of the poll and the race should be full of surprises.
“It’ll be fun to watch.”
Lennon figures plenty of football fans from Little Egypt will follow the Salukis 6-5 last season. Their opener in Champaign is already generating hearty interest.
“It’s a big game for us on a big stage,” he said of Memorial Stadium. “It’s also exciting for the players. Because it’s a chance for them to prove they are good-caliber players.”
MyCole Pruitt, a 6-foot-3, 250pound junior tight end from Kirkwood, Mo., could serve as the Salukis’ anchor. He was selected to the all-preseason Valley team. Punter Austin Pucylowski is another valuable weapon.
Transfer running backs Malcolm Agnew (Oregon) and Ken Malcolme (Georgia) can supply punch and senior quarterback Kory Faulkner, a 6-foot-4, 227-pounder, from Bloomsdale, Mo., has plenty of experience.
“We’re looking for the offense to take a big step forward this season,” Lennon said. “We have a fifth-year quarterback and four returning starters on our offense line. So we should be at a higher level offensively than we were last season. But we need to establish our running game.”
SIUC sported a 6-3 record late last season, then lost to Miami, Ohio, 30-14 and Eastern Illinois, 49-28.
“We’ve been working hard since the end of last season and emphasizing what we need to do better,” Lennon said. “We need to be more competitive and finish games the right way.”
Illinois State, which debuts Aug. 29 at Ball State, is striving for another playoff appearance. The Redbirds graduated talented quarterback Matt Brown, but return a number of quality players.
“Our main objective is to establish an identity on offense,” he said. “We have three capable prospects at quarterback and we feel good about that.”
Running back Jordan Neukirch, defensive lineman Colton Underwood, plus offensive lineman Josh Aladenoye and Jermaine Barton are key returnees. Western Illinois’ hopes are bolstered by offensive lineman Jimmy Holtschlag of Quincy and linebackers J.J. Raffelson, defensive back Martinez Davis.
By STEVE PORTER, The Telegraph