|MVFC challenges ISU every weekend|
|Written by Kevin Massoth, Daily Vidette Sports Editor|
|Wednesday, 06 October 2010 19:06|
A new coach, new players and a new confidence are all it took for the Illinois State football team to make a quick turnaround over the last two years.
The Redbirds’ transformation has paralleled a change in the entire Missouri Valley Football Conference as many of the Valley’s teams have recently made-over their programs to create a deeper conference this year.
“This conference is very good,” ISU Head Coach Brock Spack said. “Everybody’s getting a little better and we’re better than we were two years ago, obviously. Indiana State’s better than they were. Everybody’s better.”
The Redbirds have jumped out to a 3-2 record and have received some national recognition with two-straight rankings in the Football Championship Subdivision Coaches Poll prior to Saturday’s loss to Southern Illinois.
ISU is not the only MVFC team receiving recognition, as SIU, Northern Iowa, North Dakota State, South Dakota State and Western Illinois have each made appearances in the poll with SIU, UNI, NDSU and WIU in the current poll.
The depth of the MVFC this season has created a tough week-by-week schedule for each Valley team, and as long as the teams continue to beat up on each other, it should create a down-to-the-wire conference race.
“You have to come to play every Saturday, and you have to have a little luck too,” Spack said. “There are some very good coaches and very good players and very good programs top to bottom.”
One challenge facing the Redbirds in this specific conference season is the overall youth of this year’s Redbird team, with many freshmen and sophomores receiving extended playing time.
“If one thing’s different that I’ve noticed about this league, its the teams that are senior dominated are really the best football teams year in and year out,” Spack said.
One sophomore trying to help ISU change that pattern is running back Erik Smith. Smith recognizes the depth of the conference and the importance of playing every game like his last throughout the MVFC season.
“It’s crazy how this conference actually is right now,” Smith said. “One team beats one team and one team loses to another team. Southern lost to Youngstown and then they came and beat us. We beat Missouri State and Missouri beat Youngstown.”
Smith added, “What the coaches try to emphasize here is we control our own destiny. We can’t really worry about what other teams are going to do. We just know we have to win.”
The Redbirds found out the hard way on Saturday that winning in this conference will be a bit tougher than in years past. ISU got beat 38-17 at home to SIU who played better than their 1-3 record going into the game would indicate.
But all the Redbirds can do at this point is prepare for their next game on the schedule, which happens to be on Saturday in Terry Haute, Ind., against a much-improved Indiana State team.
“We play a very much improved team,” Spack said. “They’re a little older than they were a year ago and I thought they played well against us last year. We’ll have our hands full, there’s no doubt. They have enough weapons that if we don’t come to play, we’ll be in trouble.”
The Redbirds’ game against the Sycamores this weekend is just one more step in a challenging conference schedule that Smith and his Redbird teammates hope ends in championship fashion.
“Hopefully, at the end of the year when the picture’s all said and done, we’re sitting at the top of the conference,” Smith said