Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

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Playoff Bound: Saluki football to host Nicholls on Nov. 25

SIU makes the FCS Playoffs for the third time in four seasons
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Lylee Gibbs | @lyleegibbsphoto
Abdou Toure (70) cheers at the Dawg Pound in celebration as the Salukis pull ahead of the SEMO Redhawks late in the fourth quarter Sept. 16, 2023 at Houck Stadium in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

For the first time since 2009, Carbondale will host an FCS playoff game.

Saluki football got good news on Sunday morning, as the FCS playoff bracket was revealed. Southern Illinois not only made the field as an at-large bid, but will be hosting their first-round matchup against the Nicholls Colonels (6-4) of the Southland Conference.

The game will be at Saluki Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 25 at 2 p.m. The winner will travel to the University of Idaho to face the No. 4 Idaho Vandals (8-3) on Dec. 2.

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[Editor’s note: A previous version of this story listed the Nicholls game as starting at 1 p.m. This was based on the original bracket reveal, and has been updated according to Saluki Athletics.]

After Southern’s regular season finale on Saturday, head coach Nick Hill made his pitch to the committee, emphasizing the team’s resume. Being an at-large team, the Salukis did not know whether or not they would make the playoffs until the full bracket was announced.

“If you’re looking at quality wins, quality strength of schedule, getting to seven wins, in the Missouri Valley, the toughest conference in the country, then that resume, I would say, stacks up against anybody,” Hill said.

Nicholls State University is located in Thibodaux, Louisiana, more than 600 miles and a nine-hour drive away from Carbondale. The Colonels finished with just six wins, but swept their conference schedule en route to a Southland Conference championship and an automatic bid into the FCS playoffs.

Among Nicholls’s four non-conference losses are two matchups against FBS teams – reigning National Runners-up TCU and nationally-ranked Tulane. The Colonels also lost to playoff-bound Sacramento State in their first game of the year, as well as Southeast Missouri State on Oct. 28.

SEMO is the only common opponent SIU and Nicholls share. While the Colonels lost to the Redhawks 35-31 late in the season, the Salukis won in the final minute of their Sept. 16 matchup.

Nicholls averages 26.7 points per game while allowing 24.6 per game. Southern Illinois tends not to find itself in the 20’s and 30’s range, scoring just 30 points combined across four games against Valley opponents who went on to make the playoffs.

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Towards the end of the season, it seemed like Southern Illinois making the playoffs would be an uphill battle. Entering the final game of the season, the Salukis had lost four of their last six games, with their latest loss being one of their worst against North Dakota State. But their regular season finale against Indiana State provided an opportunity for the team to reset and get right ahead of a playoff run.

“I think that just says a lot about the character, and what those guys stand for, and just the willingness to compete…” Hill said. “In an 11-game season, to really look back and say one game [North Dakota State], you didn’t play to the standard, you’ve got to tip your hat to the team that we were playing. And then to respond.”

Reaching the postseason also allows the Saluki seniors at least one more game in the maroon and white. Sixth-year senior quarterback Nic Baker, who tied Joel Sambursky’s career passing touchdowns record in the regular season finale, will have a chance not only to overtake Sambursky, but to lead his team in what will be his third playoff run, and second as the starter.

“I feel like we’re one player away at times,” Baker said. “We’re getting there. They give us a chance, we’ll make a run and start clicking.”

Nick Hill is 13-4 in his career against non-conference FCS opponents. 2023 will mark his third postseason trip, after back-to-back runs in the spring and fall of 2021.

In 2020-21, the Salukis traveled to Weber State, winning 34-31, before falling to Valley champion South Dakota State in the second round. A similar fate awaited them in the fall, with a win over South Dakota before losing to North Dakota State.

The way the bracket is structured ensures the Salukis will not face a Valley opponent until the semifinals at the earliest. If Hill’s history against non-conference FCS opponents is indicative of the future, Southern Illinois might be primed for a deep run.

This season, the Salukis were unbeaten through their first four games, which featured wins against Austin Peay, Northern Illinois and Southeast Missouri State. Austin Peay went on to win their conference with a 9-2 record; Northern Illinois is approaching bowl eligibility in the FBS; and SEMO was nationally ranked before injuries derailed its season.

“We’ve never shied away with having a strong strength of schedule,” Hill said. “We’ve scheduled it that way to know that when you get to seven wins, you should be in the playoffs. And this team did that.”

If the Salukis can meet the standard they’ve set for themselves, with history and trends on their side, this season might produce a December to remember.

Sports editor Brandyn Wilcoxen can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @BrandynWilcoxen. To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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