Tough campaign ahead for Saluki football

By Tony McDaniel

The Dawgs were ranked fifth by the coaches, media and sports information directors of the Missouri Valley Conference on July 29. The result surprised me, based on the offensive weapons the Salukis have, and the nine starters returning on defense.

However, after careful consideration the ranking makes some sense and is hardly anything to be upset about. SIU plays in a ridiculous conference. The MVC is basically the FCS’s version of the Southeastern Football Conference. There are four teams ranked above SIU in the MVC also ranked in the FCS top-25, the Dawgs received votes, but were left on the outside of the top-25 looking in.

On offense the Salukis will bring back senior All-American tight end MyCole Pruitt. Senior running back Malcolm Agnew rushed for 888 yards last season, and could seriously help boost the Saluki offense. The inclusion of speedy senior receiver Tay Willis can only help SIU’s offensive production.

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On defense, the Dawgs will bring back senior linebackers Tyler Williamson and Jordan Poole, who combined return with 8 sacks, 2 interceptions and 119 tackles.

There seem to be two things hurting the Salukis with their ranking. The first is a question surrounding the quarterback.

SIU will have junior Mark Iannotti taking the snaps at quarterback and he is almost completely untested at the collegiate level. Iannotti transferred to SIU in the spring from Eastern Michigan University, where he only attempted one pass. Iannotti has played well in practice, but we’ll have to wait to see Iannotti in game action to get a grasp on how he is as a quarterback.

The other issue is the brutal MVC.

The four schools ranked in front of SIU are North Dakota State University, South Dakota State University, Northern Iowa University and Youngstown State University. All four schools are ranked in the top-25, and three of them will return most of their starters from 2013.

North Dakota State is a no-brainer to sit on top of the MVC preseason poll.

The Bison haven’t lost a game since October 2012. They will lose their starting quarterback and running back from last season, but will bring back senior running back John Crockett who ran for 1,307 yards last season.

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Junior quarterback Carson Wentz will fill the void left by Brock Jensen, NDSU’s three-year starter. Wentz appeared in 11 games last season for the Bison.

NDSU should be good and have a great chance to win not only the conference, but also the FCS for the fourth-straight time.

South Dakota State was picked second and they deserve that ranking as well.

On offense, the Jackrabbits return senior running back Zach Zenner, the nation’s second-best rusher. Zenner ran for 2,085 yards and added 23 touchdowns to his impressive yardage total.

On defense, the Jackrabbits lost Chase Douglas and Marshall Peugh who combined for 17 sacks last year. Junior defensive back Je Ryan Butler could be poised for a big year however. Butler recorded 4 interceptions last season as a sophomore.

After the two schools from Dakota in the MVC the talent level drops off a bit.

Northern Iowa was only 3-5 in the MVC last season, but will get most of its leading defensive players back in 2014.

The offense won’t blow anyone away though.

Northern Iowa will rely on its running game this season and senior running back David Johnson can try to carry the offense. Johnson will bring back 1,309 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns, but the passing game didn’t put up big numbers last year. The Panthers will be tested by even some of the lower ranked teams in the Valley.

SIU and fourth-place Youngstown State were separated by just three votes in the preseason poll, and its difficult to see why.

The Penguins return most of their offense including sophomore running back Martin Ruiz who posted an incredible 1,129 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns as a freshman.

Senior quarterback Kurt Hess will also be back, he passed for 22 touchdowns in 2013 and spreads the ball well to his receivers. Hess seems to do most of the work in the passing game though. 10 receivers caught touchdowns in 2013, but none of them managed to top 400 yards receiving.

Personally I think the Salukis should be ranked fourth, a few points behind NIU and well ahead of Youngstown State.

SIU’s weapons on offense should be enough to put them in fourth and into the preseason top-25, but the experts think differently.

Tony McDaniel can be reached at [email protected]@tonymcdanielDE or at 536-3311 ext. 256

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