A couple of years ago, there wasn’t a whole lot of chatter around Illinois State sports, with football being the best example of this. Most students who decided to attend ISU chose to do so with their own educational purposes in mind.
But in the last couple of years, the football team has been gaining momentum toward becoming something that students actually think about when college football is mentioned.
Since Brock Spack took over as the Redbirds’ head coach for the 2009 season, the team has never had a losing record, and has improved every season.
In 2011, the Redbirds finished 7-4 and left many with a puzzled look on their face after being left out of the playoffs. In 2012, they finally broke through after beating FBS school Eastern Michigan, and Youngstown State in a thrilling comeback to show the nation they could compete with the elite of the Missouri Valley Conference.
The Redbirds now have a new stadium to hold their home games in, and are looking at improving a team that was already among the top 10 teams in the nation at the FCS level.
Despite losing numerous starters to graduation, including star quarterback Matt Brown, the schools’ all-time leader in just about any passing statistic you can think of, the Redbirds look poised to build on their success.
They have several players on the roster who have transferred to ISU from FBS programs in recent seasons, including Jared Barnett, a quarterback who last played at Iowa State and was the Cyclones’ starter in 2011 when they upset then undefeated Oklahoma State, ruining the Cowboys’ hopes of playing for a National Championship.
With the new stadium, the football program could generate a lot more money for the school, and in turn attract more talented recruits. Redbird football could become a traditional power at the FCS level in the vein of North Dakota State, the two-time defending National Champions, or Sam Houston State, who lost both of those national title games to NDSU. Maybe they’ll even become a team like Appalachian State University, who won three straight National Championships from 2005 to 2007, and are now in a transition period to joining the Sun Belt Conference — an FBS football conference.
The Redbirds’ highlight of last season came against that very Appalachian State football team, as their first round playoff game went into overtime, and ISU won by way of a blocked extra-point which sent the Redbird defenders jumping in the air and running to celebrate with their teammates who were watching from the sidelines.
ISU will open their 2013 season on August 29 in Muncie, Ind., against Ball State, one of the favorites in the Mid-American Conference for the 2013 season. How the Redbirds perform in this game will send a message to the Missouri Valley Conference and the rest of the nation about what kind of team the Redbirds are going to be.