If I were a gambling man, I would have lost quite a bit on the Salukis this season.
Heading into Saturday’s bout with Northern Iowa University, SIU has had a rollercoaster of a season that few could have possibly expected.
The team sits at 3-3 on the year, a record that fans and players may think is a little low, but the real shocker is the way the Salukis have arrived at .500 this season.
The team opened the year with a trip to Eastern Illinois Univerisity, a team that had managed only two wins in 2011. EIU was learning a new offense under a rookie head coach and had been historically inept against SIU, including a four game losing streak by at least 15 points.
Easy pick, right?
Eastern pummeled the Salukis 49-28 with a no-huddle offense that left the defense seemingly always a step behind.
The Salukis traveled to Miami University the following week. While no one expected an upset, there was hope SIU would put up a competitive game.
The Salukis kept the Redhawks on their toes throughout the contest, and the 30-14 score did not justify how close the game really was. Though the Salukis didn’t win, the game went about as well as one can go for a Football Championship Subdivision playing a Football Bowl Subdivision team.
SIU opened its home season against Southeast Missouri State hungry for a win, and the Salukis got it in dominant fashion. In all honesty, it was completely expected. There wasn’t much to take away from the game other than the victory and a competitive spirit for the Missouri Valley Football Conference season.
The Salukis then opened conference play with a road trip to Missouri State University. While the Bears were winless, they had played a brutal schedule, including contests with Kansas State and Louisville, which were both ranked on the national level.
Predictions varied on who was favored. The Salukis were yet to have proven themselves, as well as the Bears. Despite very limited offense, SIU got the 14-6 win.
Fans were beginning to get a grasp of confidence in the team.
Next up on the schedule came the Indiana State University Sycamores. Indiana State would undoubtedly be a tough opponent, but nothing the SIU defense couldn’t handle.
Again, the Salukis took a downward turn just when things were looking up. Sycamore running back Shakir Bell ran all over the Saluki defense for 160 yards and Indiana State celebrated a 24-3 win on the Saluki Stadium turf.
To date, it was the low-point for the Salukis on the year.
SIU then traveled to Normal Saturday to take on the undefeated Illinois State Redbirds. To some, the game would be another nail in the SIU season coffin.
The Salukis thought differently.
A blocked punt was returned for a score. ISU quarterback Matt Brown was picked off four times, more than doubling his season total of three. When the final horn sounded, the Saluki’s column on the scoreboard said 17, while the home team’s remained unchanged from kickoff.
The Redbirds were no longer perfect, and SIU was still alive.
The Salukis have five games remaining on the year: two against ranked opponents (No. 1 North Dakota State and No. 9 Youngstown State), two more against teams receiving votes for the top 25 (South Dakota State and Northern Iowa on Saturday), and the team will conclude the year with a home matchup against Western Illinois University.
It is easy to look at the schedule and think the Salukis won’t make it through October with playoff hopes still intact.
Don’t bet on it.