No. 19 Redbirds Set To Open Season vs. Dayton
Evan Frierson
Evan Frierson

Aug. 29, 2012

 Dayton (0-0, 0-0 PFL) at #19 Illinois State (0-0, 0-0 MVFC) | Normal, Ill.
 Date  Saturday, Sept. 1
 Location
 Normal, Ill.
 Kickoff
 1 p.m. CT
 Stadium
 Hancock Stadium
 Stadium Capacity
 7,700
 Watch Live  RedbirdHD.TV
 Radio  WJCB/Country Financial Illinois State Radio Network (Dick Luedke - Play-by-Play | Ted Schmitz - Analyst)
 Live Stats  GameTracker
 Game Notes  Illinois State | Dayton | Missouri Valley Football Conference

PLAYER TO WATCH
Evan Frierson heads into his senior season with a lot to prove for the Redbirds. The preseason All-American is ISU's leading returning tackler from 2011 and led the team with 15 tackles-for-loss last season on way to being named a First-Team All-MVFC selection and a member of the MVFC All-Newcomer Team. The Washington, D.C., native was also second on the team with 6.5 sacks in 2011.

THE GAME
No. 19 Illinois State will begin its quest for a Missouri Valley Football Conference championship and a FCS playoff appearance, when the Redbirds host Pioneer Football League opponent Dayton at Hancock Stadium in the first of six home games in 2012.

THE SERIES
Although both school regularly play schools from their opposing conferences, the Redbirds and the Flyers have never met on the gridiron. Saturday's game will be the first between the two schools, who have each been playing football for over 100 years.

THE COACHES
Illinois State: Brock Spack (Purdue, 1983) is in his fourth season as the head coach of the Illinois State Redbirds (19-14). In his three seasons at the helm of the program, the Redbirds have amassed a 14-3 record at home and put together three-straight winning seasons for the first time since 1998-2000.

Dayton: Rick Chamberlin (Dayton, 1980) is in his fifth year as the head coach at Dayton (34-11). During Farley's four years as the head coach at his alma mater, the Flyers have won a share of two PFL titles, tying Butler for first place in 2009 and Jacksonville in 2010.

THE PROGRAM

  • Illinois State was home to the Missouri Valley Football Conference's Defensive Player of the Year each season from 2002-06.
  • The Redbirds had at least one player selected in the NFL Draft each year from 2005-07.
  • Illinois State was the most improved team in the Missouri Valley Football Conference with a multi-year rate APR of 943 following the 2010-11 academic year.
  • In each of the past six years, ISU student-athletes have contributed more than 2,000 hours of community service to the Bloomington-Normal area, including a school-record 3,500 hours in 2011-12.
  • Redbird student-athletes matched a record with a department-wide 3.15 grade-point average during the fall 2011 semester and spring of 2012, while posting a 3.0 mark in six of the last seven semesters.

THIS WEEK'S OPPONENT

  • The University of Dayton is located in Dayton, Ohio, and has an enrollment of 7,800 students. The Flyers are members of the Pioneer Football League and play their home games at Welcome Stadium (11,000).
  • The Flyers return 13 starters and 41 letterwinners from last year's team that finished with a 6-5 overall record and a 4-4 mark (5th) in PFL play.
  • Dayton Flyer was picked fourth in the Pioneer Football League in the 2012 preseason poll of the league's coaches. Dayton has won or shared the Pioneer Football league title 11 times, including three of the last five.
  • Among the top offensive returnees are running back Taylor Harris and quarterback Will Bardo. Harris, one of the team's co-captains, was named to the preseason All-Pioneer Football League team and was a First-Team All-Pioneer Football League in 2011. Despite missing the last game-and-a-half with a hamstring injury, Harris gained 899 yards on 132 carries and scored nine touchdowns. Bardo started all 11 games under center for the Flyers last year and threw for 1,206 yards and 13 touchdowns, while also racking up 491 yards and four touchdowns on the ground.
  • The Flyers' defense also returns a pair of standouts in linebacker Colin Monnier and cornerback Matt Pfleger. In his first college action after not playing in 2009 or 2010, Monnier played in all 11 games and was second on the team with 64 tackles and nine tackles-for-loss. Pfleger has started every game for the last two years at cornerback for the Flyers. Last year, he had 43 tackles, three interceptions and six passes batted away with one fumble recovery and one fumble forced.

TIES WITH THIS WEEK'S OPPONENT

  • Dayton has 16 players that hail from Illinois, while ISU only has one (Pete Cary) from Ohio.
  • ISU's Patrick Dougherty was high school teammates with Dayton's Robert Delaney and Michael Scott at Loyola Academy in Wilmette, Ill.
  • ISU's James O'Shaughnessy and Dayton's Soern Osborne both played football together at Naperville North High School.
  • Will Davis, Rocco Ammons and Jake Lipinsky were teammates on the Wheaton Warrenville South football team with the Flyers' Chris Cortopassi.
  • Ricky Simpson played alongside Devon Morgan at Waubonsie Valley High School in Naperville, Ill.

'BIRDS FLYING HIGH IN POLLS
For the first time since the 2007 season, the Redbirds found themselves nationally ranked in the 2012 preseason polls. After finishing the season ranked in both The Sports Network and FCS Coaches Polls in 2011, ISU was ranked No. 19 by The Sports Network in its preseason FCS Top 25 poll and No. 20 in the FCS Coaches Poll. The TSN and FCS Coaches Poll are considered the most respected polls in FCS football.

REDBIRDS RECOGNIZED EARLY
Despite the team being selected fourth in the 2012 preseason poll, the Redbirds received four 2012 MVFC Preseason Team selections in the annual vote. Senior wide receiver Tyrone Walker, senior linebacker Evan Frierson, senior defensive end Nate Palmer and junior fullback Jordan Neukirch were among 27 MVFC student-athletes listed on the preseason lineup. In addition, senior quarterback Matt Brown was tabbed as a preseason honorable mention selection, signifying he received at least five votes on the ballots submitted.

SMILE, YOU'RE ON CAMERA
Illinois State will have six of its 11 regular-season games distributed by national and regional television outlets, the most in the history of the program. With four broadcasts slated to be broadcast on Comcast SportsNet Chicago, the Redbirds will also appear for the third time on ESPN3.com, as part of an agreement with the Missouri Valley Football Conference, and once on Mediacom.

REBDBIRDS NEVER FORGET
For the 38 letterwinners and 13 starters that return for the Redbirds from last season's team, the disappointment from not making the FCS playoffs last season lingers. With Illinois State's 31-7 win over in-state rival Western Illinois (Nov. 5) at Hancock Stadium, the Redbirds picked up their seventh win of the season, the most for the team since they went 9-4 in 2006 on way to a FCS playoff berth and a win in the first round. However, the double overtime loss to UNI in the season finale cost the Redbirds a spot in the playoffs, something they hope does not play out again in 2012.

MISSED IT BY THAT MUCH
Each of the four losses for Illinois State was tough to swallow, but the margin of defeat in each of those losses may be even more difficult to comprehend. The Redbirds lost their four contest last season by a combined total of 27 points, with the largest defeat coming by 10 points to the eventual national champion North Dakota State Bison on the road. ISU fell by seven points to Eastern Illinois and Youngstown State and only lost by three points to Northern Iowa in double overtime in the season finale. If one more of those games would have gone the Redbirds' ways, they would have certainly secured a spot in the FCS playoffs for the fourth time in school history.

THIRD TIME IS A CHARM
Illinois State finished the 2012 season with a 7-4 record, marking the team's third-straight winning season. The Redbirds had not put a string of winning seasons together like that since for the first time since 1998-2000, when they made a pair of FCS playoff appearances and won the 1999 Gateway (now Missouri Valley Football) Conference championship.

LET'S GO STREAKING
Prior to the Redbirds' season-ending double overtime loss to Northern Iowa, ISU had extended its season-long winning streak to five games in a row, marking the team's first five-game winning streak since 2006. The Redbirds will look to start a new winning streak against Dayton and continue to keep its winning ways alive.

OFF TO A GREAT START
Fourth-year head coach Brock Spack wanted to make Illinois State a consistent winner when the took over the program, and that is just what he has done. With a 7-4 record in 2011, Spack became the first Redbird head coach to guide his team to three-consecutive winning seasons since Edwin Struck led the Redbirds to six-straight winning seasons from 1945-1950.

FROM WORST TO FIRST
Heading into the 2011 season, ISU head coach Brock Spack challenged his defense to improve its conference and national rankings that ranked near the bottom of both lists. After finishing the 2010 season with a defense that ranked No. 112 out of 117 teams (446.27 ypg), the 2011 Redbird defense finished the season No. 9 out of 120 teams (294.82 ypg). The Redbirds also finished as the best defense in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, leading the conference in total defense with 294.8 yards per game given up to opponents.

LIKE RUNNING INTO A BRICK WALL
One of the main reasons for the defensive turnaround for the Redbirds in 2011 was the emphasis on stopping the run. ISU finished with the No. 5 rushing defense in the country (85.73 ypg), after finishing the 2010 season at No. 104 (199.82). The Redbirds held eight of 11 opponents to under 100 yards rushing, including -48 rushing yards for Morehead State (2nd fewest in ISU history).

SACK MASTERS
The 2010 Illinois State defense recorded just 12 sacks in 11 games, but the 2011 Redbirds nearly eclipsed that mark with a total of eight sacks in the victory over Morehead State (Sept. 17). With those eight sacks, ISU tied its third-best sack performance of all-time and recorded its most sacks since 2005, when the team had nine against Northern Iowa. The Redbird defense's 36 sacks in 2011 were fifth most in a single season and the 85 tackles-for-loss were tied for the seventh best single-season performance in school history.

ONE STEP FORWARD, TWO STEPS BACK
For every yard gained by opposing offenses in 2011, the Redbirds did their best to push them back at least two yards on the ensuing play. Tackles-for-loss numbers were significantly higher for the Redbirds last year, which resulted in a No. 13 ranking in the FCS (7.73) up from No. 108 in 2010. ISU also finished the season No. 8 in the country in sacks per game with 3.27, up from No. 105 the season before.

RARE AIR
Redbird signal-caller Matt Brown has been charging up the record books at ISU in his three seasons running the Redbird offense, but his performance in 2011 cemented him as one of the best quarterbacks in Illinois State history. With his 2,187 passing yards in 2011, Brown became just the second Redbird QB to throw for over 2,000 yards three times in career (joining Luke Drone) and he heads into the 2012 season second on the all-time ISU lists for completions (655) and third in passing yards (7,221) and touchdown passes (51).

TYRONE IS A TON
Senior wide receiver Tyrone Walker has his name all over the Redbird record book in just three seasons in an ISU uniform and heads into his senior season ranked fourth in the ISU record books in career receiving yards (2,246) and receptions (160) and is second in career receiving touchdowns with 23. He, along with his favorite quarterback Matt Brown, could break just about every receiving and passing record at ISU with average years in 2012.

TO BE THE BEST, YOU HAVE TO BEAT THE BEST
When Illinois State defeated No. 16 Indiana State by a final score of 17-13 (Oct. 22), it marked the first time since 2005 that the Redbirds defeated ranked opponents in back-to-back weeks. Illinois State defeated No. 16 South Dakota by a score of 28-3 (Oct. 15) the previous week to give the Redbirds back-to-back wins over ranked opponents. The last two ranked opponents the Redbirds defeated in a row were No. 1 Southern Illinois on Oct. 15 (61-35) and No. 13 Northern Iowa on Oct. 22 (38-3) of 2005.

EVAN THE TERRIBLE
With the way linebacker Evan Frierson tormented opposing offenses last season, it was no suprise that he earned himself a place among the FCS' most feared linebackers in 2012. The Washington, D.C., native
was named to the 2012 FCS Preseason All-America Team by College Sporting News, after he made an immediate impact on the Redbird defense and started 10 games at outside linebacker for ISU in 2011. Frierson led the team and was second in the Valley with 15 tackles-for-loss and ranked second on the team with 66 tackles and 6.5 sacks.

NEW TERRITORY FOR NEWKIRCH
The job of an H-back (combination of a tight end and fullback) is to be a blocker and catch a pass when needed, so that type of job description does not typically lend itself to being nationally recognized. However, ISU junior Jordan Neukirch has broken the mold and was named to The Sports Network FCS Preseason All-America Third Team. Neukirch was a 2011 All-MVFC Second-Team selection at fullback for the Redbirds, played in all 11 games, and helped the Redbirds rush for 183.4 yards per game, up from 131 yards per game in 2010. He was the primary lead blocker for Ashton Leggett, who rushed for 1,031 yards and 11 touchdowns and became the first Redbird back to rush for over 1,000 yards since 2006.

IN FAMILIAR TERRITORY
When Darrelynn Dunn played for Bloomington High School, he participated in several games at Hancock Stadium. After spending two seasons at Iowa Central Community College, Dunn made his return to ISU's home field in a big way against Morehead State (Sept. 10). The Bloomington, Ill., native carried the ball six times for 70 yards (11.7 avg.) and scored his first touchdown as a Redbird, when he scampered 25 yards for the game's final touchdown in the fourth quarter. He finished the season with 247 rushing yards and two touchdowns and will get the bulk of the carries in the season opener against Dayton.

EMBRACING THE SPREAD
The switch to the spread offense for the Redbirds over the past three seasons has proved very successful. The Redbirds ranked second in the Valley with 383 yards per game of total offense, which marks the ninth-best single season effort in school history. The ISU passing offense ranked second in the Valley in 2010 with an average of 258.4 yards per game and finished the season ranked 16th in the nation in passing offense. In addition, the Redbirds' 321 points scored were the seventh-most in school history and team's highest total since scoring 324 in 2007. It was just the 10th time in school history that ISU scored more than 300 points in a season. In 2009, the Redbirds' passing offense ranked first in the Valley with an average of 246.4 yards-per-game and finished the season ranked No. 20 in the nation in passing offense.

ANOTHER GREAT TURNAROUND
Not only was the Redbirds' improvement on the defensive side of the football recognized, but the team's performance in the classroom was also noted during the offseason. The Illinois State football program was one of 14 schools recognized for its Academic Progress Rate (APR) improvement by the Football Championship Subdivision Athletics Directors Association (FCS ADA). The FCS ADA recognizes one institution from each conference that has improved its APR the most from the previous year, as well as the team with the highest APR score in each league. Illinois State was the most improved team in the Missouri Valley Football Conference with a multi-year rate APR of 943 following the 2010-11 academic year, falling just short of the program record of 948. However, the team's single-year APR score of 983 from the most recent release is the highest single-year APR score posted by the football program at ISU since the first public release of APR scores, which began with the 2004-05 year.

UNDERWOOD IN GOOD HANDS
Illinois State junior defensive end Colton Underwood was recognized for his tireless work in the community, in the classroom and on the field, when the Allstate Insurance Company and the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) selected him as one of 117 nominees for the 2012 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team®. As one of college football's most prestigious off-the-field honors, the award recognizes a select group of college football players committed to making a difference in their communities. Since 1992, the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team® has shown a spotlight on the countless "good works" and remarkable stories of service by student-athletes at all levels of college football competition. Award recipients represent the sport's finest in terms of character and leadership in the community.

IT'S ALL ABOUT THE NUMBERS
A large group of Redbirds were nationally recognized for their performances last season, solely based on the numbers they put up on the field. A total of six ISU players were named to the College Football Performance Awards (CFPA) preseason watch lists at their respective positions. Patrick Wright (punter), Matt Brown (quarterback), Tyrone Walker (wide receiver), Shelby Harris and Nate Palmer (defensive tackle/end) and Evan Frierson (linebacker) were each named to the lists, which selects nominees exclusively based upon objective scientific rankings of the extent to which individual players increase the overall effectiveness of their teams.

THE STEELE CURTAIN DROPS
College football prognosticator Phil Steele broke down every team and conference in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) and recognized three Illinois State players on his preseason All-American team. Steele unveiled his FCS Preseason Top 40, his All-American selections and preseason Missouri Valley Football Conference picks in Phil Steele's 2012 FCS College Football Preview, which is available at PhilSteele.com. Steele slotted the Redbirds in the No. 21 spot, joining fellow MVFC foes Youngstown State (No. 4), North Dakota State (No. 6) and Northern Iowa (No. 15) in the top 25. In addition, senior wide receiver Tyrone Walker, senior defensive end Nate Palmer and senior outside linebacker Evan Frierson were each named fourth-team preseason All-America selections in the publication and all three were named preseason All-MVFC first-team selections as well.

AN INFLUX OF TALENT

Since 1993, when the NCAA rules changed to allow FBS transfers immediate eligibility at the FCS level, Illinois State has had 80 players transfer from FBS schools. ISU's FBS transfers on this year's roster include: Josh Aladenoye (Oklahoma), Brian Athey (West Virginia), Marlion Barnett (Washington), Jermaine Barton (Miami), Dominic Clarke (Ohio State), Milton Colbert (Michigan State), Phil Dudley (Ball State), Evan Frierson (Illinois), Shelby Harris (Wisconsin), Mike Liedtke (Western Michigan), Matt Meyers (Iowa), Jonathon Miller (Oklahoma), Nate Palmer (Illinois), Adam Pittser (Wyoming), Adam Rebholz (Illinois), Albert Sparks (Buffalo), Ezra Thompson (Colorado State) and Anthony Williams (Illinois).