Soft scheduling may haunt Salukis

By Tyler Davis

SIU football’s 2013 season started with an eight-point loss to Illinois which looked like a “good loss,” if there is such a thing. After all, Illinois plays in a higher subdivision of Division I football.

The 2014 season started with a 45-point win against Taylor University, which could be considered a bad win if the Salukis miss the playoffs this season. Taylor is not a Division I football team and that could be problematic.

To make the Football Championship Subdivision’s playoffs, SIU needs to win the Missouri Valley Football Conference or have at least seven wins against Division I opponents.

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SIU’s best route to the postseason is reaching seven wins. Sitting at 5-3 and only having to win two of the last four games seems like a favorable position. But when considering Taylor is not Division I, SIU really only has four wins.

The Salukis haven’t made the postseason since 2009, and making it via an MVFC championship seems highly improbable. North Dakota State, Youngstown State, Illinois State and South Dakota State each have a better conference record than SIU.

To win the conference, SIU needs each of those teams to win one game or less. I’m not in the business of predicting the future, but I can assure anyone that is not going to happen.

There is still a realistic chance of getting to seven wins. But standing in SIU’s way are four regular season games, each of which features FCS ranked opponents, including a season-ending game at No. 9 Illinois State. Circle that one on the calendar y’all no matter what happens, that game will be huge for the MVFC. The Salukis undoubtedly need to win this week’s homecoming game against No. 24 Indiana State to keep hope alive for a ferocious 3-1, or better, run into the playoffs.

But even if SIU makes it with Saluki Country natives biting their nails and riding the edges of their seats, the folks writing up the schedule got this one wrong.

Having an easy win like Taylor the first week does not make a team better. It only inflates ostensible confidence. If the team would have scheduled a better opponent, say a bottom-of-the-barrel Division I squad like Murray State or Connecticut, the Salukis would not only be better on the field, but better in the eyes of the FCS playoff selection committee as well.

Now the team is stuck in a similar spot as last year: They looked poised to win seven games, but just six of them will really “count.”

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Last season, it was a 31-10 effort against Division II, University of Charleston that was a nice, but useless, win for SIU. The team ended up going 6-5 against Division I opponents and watching the Bison claim their third straight national title from a Lay-Z Boy or sofa.

The 2013 team finished 3-1 down the stretch including road wins at Western Illinois and Indiana State, which is impressive albeit both teams appear stronger this year. This year’s Salukis will need a similar effort against tougher competition.

Is it impossible? Not at all.

Is it probable? Well, let’s just say Las Vegas would gladly take anyone’s bet on SIU to join the 24-team playoff.

If this talented Saluki team doesn’t make the playoffs, it would be a tremendous disappointment for the seniors and the fans. It’s not every year that the team has two potential NFL skill players—seniors MyCole Pruitt and Malcolm Agnew.

Besides the starting tight end and running back, the offense will lose starting skill players like Tay Willis and LaSteven McKinney and starting offensive linemen, Corey Boemer and Tanner Crum, as well as a host of other starting seniors.

Not saying that this is SIU’s only year to ever win it all, much less make the playoffs, but it’s hard to imagine a more talented team in Carbondale.

The question really boils down to the legacy of this team. This team is easily the best I‘ve seen in my short three years as a Saluki and, from my perspective, the best team of this decade. There should be no reason it misses the playoffs.

Of course, scheduling does not determine everything; the games are still played on the field. But more foresight and strategy when choosing those games, especially in an MVFC as competitive as this year’s, could manifest the difference between playing deep into November or preparing for a relaxing Thanksgiving break.

Either way, a big part of the question will be answered with Saturday’s game against the Sycamores.

Tyler Davis can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @TDavis_DE.

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