Salukis picked second at MVFC media day

By Gus Bode

The SIU football team received its highest preseason ranking since 2005 Monday, but still has a hurdle to climb to take its second consecutive Missouri Valley Football Conference championship.

The Salukis were ranked No. 2 in the nine-team conference in the preseason poll, one spot behind rival Northern Iowa. Either SIU or Northern Iowa has won the conference five out of the previous six years, with the head-to-head game often deciding the winner.

But junior quarterback Chris Dieker, who will likely make his first start in the UNI Dome Oct. 17, said anything is possible once the conference season begins.

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‘Any team in the Missouri Valley Conference can beat any team on any day, so it’s just coming out and playing hard,’ he said. ‘I’d definitely say we’re in the running for (the championship).’

Northern Iowa tallied 26 first-place votes from the coaches, sports information directors and media members who answered the poll, while SIU received nine.

After SIU, South Dakota State, North Dakota State and Western Illinois rounded out the top five.

The Panthers have been ranked in the top two in each of the last five pre-season rankings, and have finished inside the top two during that span as well.

Northern Iowa head coach Mark Farley said his program’s ability to maintain such a successful record is a testament to his players and his coaches. He compared his own building process with the Panthers to what former SIU coach Jerry Kill built at SIU.

‘It’s a gradual progression, and if done right, you’re going to have some successful juniors and seniors when they come of age,’ he said.

Even though SIU’s reputation has grown, it hasn’t shown in preseason polls.

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In the rankings in 2007 and 2008, the Salukis were ranked No. 4 and No. 5 in respective seasons. The team finished No. 2 in 2007 and tied for No. 1 in 2008.

On the opposite side of the spectrum is North Dakota State strong safety Kyle Belmont, who talked about his team being picked No. 1 one year ago only to finish fourth in the final standings.

SIU coach Dale Lennon echoed the sentiment of many around the league, saying nothing is guaranteed until game day in the conference.

‘Once you get to the season, it’s all about one week at a time,’ Lennon said. ‘There, you just want to give yourself the opportunity to get back to the postseason.’

Youngstown State, Missouri State, Illinois State and Indiana State are ranked sixth through ninth respectively.

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