Daily Egyptian

Column: SIU football expectations fall back to Earth

SIU+senior+running+back+Aaron+Stanton+%282%29+is+brought+down+by+Murray+State+senior+defensive+back+Toby+Omli+%2824%29+during+the+Salukis%27+50-17+win+over+the+Racers+on+Saturday%2C+Sept.+17%2C+2016%2C+at+Saluki+Stadium.+%28Ryan+Michalesko+%7C+%40photosbylesko%29
SIU senior running back Aaron Stanton (2) is brought down by Murray State senior defensive back Toby Omli (24) during the Salukis' 50-17 win over the Racers on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

SIU senior running back Aaron Stanton (2) is brought down by Murray State senior defensive back Toby Omli (24) during the Salukis' 50-17 win over the Racers on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

SIU senior running back Aaron Stanton (2) is brought down by Murray State senior defensive back Toby Omli (24) during the Salukis' 50-17 win over the Racers on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

By Sean Carley

As I watched SIU football lose to Northern Iowa on Saturday, one classic quote kept running through my mind.

“They are who we thought they were,” the late coach Dennis Green famously said in a post-game press conference while coaching the Arizona Cardinals.

The quote rings true in multiple fashions.

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First, we finally realized what this year’s Saluki football squad is: an improved team from last year, but a team that still needs to grow before competing for a Missouri Valley Football Conference championship.

SIU’s wins against Southeast Missouri and Murray State lifted the hopes of fans that had an immediate turnaround on the horizon. Northern Iowa was the first true road test against comparable talent and at times, SIU appeared to crumble.

The Salukis’ total of 20 combined turnovers and penalties Saturday showed that this young team is just a bit too inexperienced.

The roughing the punter penalty on UNI’s first drive lends evidence to that. Top teams would brush off that play, but SIU ended up allowing a touchdown.

And the Dawgs have the raw talent to compete with top teams, but need time to develop.

Green’s quote also applies to the MVFC as a whole.

Six MVFC teams were ranked in the Football Championship Subdivision coaches’ poll entering Saturday, with another winning votes. The toughest team in the conference — five-peat national champion North Dakota State — isn’t even on the schedule this season.

But iron sharpens iron, so if the Salukis want to learn from the best, this is the league to do it in, which is an entirely different animal to face. There will be games like the one on Saturday that are tough for watch for fans.

Unless maturity happens quickly, playoffs now appear unlikely with more tough opponents on the horizon. But that’s not a bad thing.

Each game will be a learning experience as well as an opportunity to improve for SIU, which it has already done.

The defense, especially the secondary, has cut down on huge coverage errors. The offense has limited turnovers far better than last season, even after the three on Saturday.

SIU’s record will likely surpass last season’s 3-8 mark. A .500 record may even be achievable.

Turnarounds take time, and fans should enjoy watching the process at work because this year’s team is the first step.

Sports editor Sean Carley can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @SCarleyDE.

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