While college football fans everywhere rejoice the start of the 2014 season, Redbird fans will still have to wait one more week until opening day for Illinoi State University. However, this year’s team should be well worth the wait. There is certainly much more to look forward to with scoreboards and a second year in the renovated Hancock Stadium as the Redbirds look to build on last year’s campaign.
Last season was a strange one for the Redbirds as they struggled with consistency, often looking like a different team in the process. If fans were to only follow their home games, ISU would have seemed like the best team in the conference, as they continuously dominated opponents and went undefeated at Hancock. Road games however, were a different story. The team failed to secure even one win on the road, frequently struggling to score in the second half of games.
“I think experience has a lot to do with it; playing on the road is never easy. We were a pretty young team last year. We have an older, more experienced squad going into this season,” head coach Brock Spack said.
That experience comes in the form of returning starters and newly arrived transfers. Junior Marshaun Coprich returns as one of the Missouri Valley Conference’s premier running backs, who rushed for nearly a thousand yards and nine touchdowns last year. Second-Team FCS All-American Chris Highland, along with juniors Pat Meehan and Alex Donnelly, anchor a much more seasoned defense. They are joined by Oregon transfer Oshay Dunmore, who turned down offers to play at UCLA, Vanderbilt and Baylor to avoid sitting out a season per NCAA rules. Dunmore was one of the most impressive players in the ISU scrimmage game and looks to be a key figure on the defense.
Former Indiana quarterback Tre Roberson, who started four games for the Hoosiers last season, has also transferred to ISU and looks to challenge returning starter Blake Winkler for the position. Both looked impressive in the scrimmage game. Winkler passed for 121 yards and a touchdown while Roberson showed his dual-threat capabilities, throwing for 96 yards and a touchdown and another 61 yards rushing. Without a clear starter named yet, it’s possible both will share time as quarterback during the season opener, similar to last year’s Iowa State transfer Jared Barnett.
The Redbirds start their season with a four -game home stand, one that begins with Mississippi Valley State, a team who just went 2-9 last year. That game is followed by a visit from Eastern Illinois as ISU hopes to avenge a 54-27 loss the team suffered in Charleston last year. Given the Redbird’s home dominance and only four road games, the schedule seems to be a favorable one. However, no matchup is being underestimated.
“I think our entire schedule is exciting. Right now we are only focused on our first game, Mississippi Valley State. We have a ‘one game at a time’ mentality. We know we can’t overlook anyone on our schedule,” coach Spack told the Vidette.
With the right mix of experience and talent, the Redbirds and their fans could be in for a very exciting season.