|Final road game can threaten Redbird football season’s outcome|
|Written by Kevin Massoth, Daily Vidette Sports Columnist|
|Tuesday, 25 October 2011 13:40|
With two-straight wins over nationally-ranked opponents under its belt, the ISU football team is back on track to a winning season.Despite a 5-3 record, and a No. 22 ranking by The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS Top 25 Poll, the Redbirds are in danger of derailing this weekend when they hit the road to face Missouri Valley Football Conference rival, Southern Illinois.
The problem: ISU’s two impressive wins over South Dakota and Indiana State took place in the comfort zone of Hancock Stadium.
Critics will say the Redbirds can beat any team at home, but a 1-3 record on the road this season knocks them from elite to merely potentially elite.
The solution: A win this weekend over the Salukis could give ISU its second-consecutive road win, putting an end to some of the doubt swirling the team.
Granted, SIU is just 2-5 this season, including a 1-4 mark in the MVFC, but Saturday’s game is critical because although the Redbirds won’t win over a ton of people with a victory, they can lose them with a loss.
To win on the road in college football is tough, and SIU is one of ISU’s biggest rivals. But murmurs of the Redbirds becoming a consistent MVFC contender have surrounded the team for three years and this is a game they have to win if they ever want to reach that status.
ISU blew early road games against Eastern Illinois, Youngstown State and North Dakota State, but the Redbirds resurrected their season with their home play (4-0), and an Oct. 8 road win over Missouri State.
After ISU’s win this weekend over then No. 16 Indiana State, Redbird head coach Brock Spack made it perfectly clear what his team’s final road game meant.
“I want to go win on the road now consistently,” Spack said. “You’ve got to win consistently on the road if you want to win a championship. That’s what big-time college teams do in any sport, especially football.”
A winning season can be reached even if ISU falters against the Salukis on Saturday, but another above .500 record isn’t good enough in this stage of Spack’s stint with the Redbirds.
Two-straight 6-5 seasons were a good start for ISU’s third-year head coach, but Spack knows his team has a chance to go from good to great if they take care of business in the final three games this season, starting on Saturday.
Before the season started, I predicted this team to finish either 8-3 or 7-4 on the year. The 'Birds are still in shape to wind up with one of these records, but with a matchup looming against No. 2 Northern Iowa in the final regular season game, this Saturday’s contest looks larger than it may suggest at first glance.
The Redbirds have dropped four-straight games to the Salukis, including a 38-17 decision last season with ISU ranked No. 17 and SIU ranked No. 23 in the nation.
The Oct. 2, 2010 loss dropped ISU out of the national polls and sent them into a downward spiral
This season, the Redbirds promised to be a different team and this is their chance to prove it.
A 6-5 team loses road games against conference opponents, just as previous ISU teams have. But this is an opportunity to finish off the road schedule, move past expectations and keep the train chugging along.
The Redbirds’ final road game may not define their 2011 campaign, but with a loss it could be tabbed as the penny on the railroad track that derailed their season.