No. 11 Redbirds Host No. 1 Bison In Regular Season Finale
Matt Brown

Matt Brown

 #1 North Dakota State (9-1, 6-1 MVFC) at #11 Illinois State (8-2, 6-1 MVFC)
 Date  Saturday, Nov. 17
 Location
 Normal, Ill.
 Kickoff
 12:05 p.m. CT
 Stadium
 Hancock Stadium
 Stadium Capacity
 7,700
 Radio  WJBC/Country Financial Illinois State Radio Network (Dick Luedke - Play-by-Play | Ted Schmitz - Analyst)
 Television  ESPN3
 Live Stats  GameTracker
 Game Notes  Illinois State | North Dakota State | Missouri Valley Football Conference

PLAYER TO WATCH
In four years at Illinois State, Matt Brown has put his name on the top of every career passing category in the Illinois State record books. Brown, who will be playing his final regular season game at home today, has accumulated 27 wins as the Redbird quarterback and is the ISU career leader in pass attempts (1,340), completions (858), passing yards (9,685), passing touchdowns (70), completion percentage (64.0), total offense (9,970) and touchdowns responsible for (77). Brown also sits atop the MVFC career rankings in attempts, completions and passing yards.

THE GAME
A share of the Missouri Valley Football Conference title is on the line for No. 11 Illinois State (8-2, 5-2 MVFC) in its battle with defending national champion and No. 1 ranked North Dakota State (9-1, 6-1 MVFC) Saturday in the regular season finale at Hancock Stadium. A win would give the Redbirds a share of the conference title and its first league championship since 1999.

The Last Meeting
Illinois State10
North Dakota State20
October 1, 2011
Fargo, N.D.
Turnovers Cost Redbirds in 20-10 Loss at North Dakota State
Two North Dakota State interceptions with Illinois State threatening deep in NDSU territory helped lift the #5/6 Bison to a 20-10 win against Illinois State Saturday afternoon at the Fargodome.


THE SERIES
Illinois State and North Dakota State will play for the sixth time on Saturday. The Bison won the first two games in the series in 2007 and 2008, but the Redbirds won the next two games in 2009-2010. NDSU leads the series 3-2, thanks to a narrow 20-10 victory over the Redbirds last October at the Fargodome.

THE COACHES
Illinois State: Brock Spack (Purdue, 1983) is in his fourth season as the head coach of the Illinois State Redbirds (27-16). In his time at the helm of the program, the Redbirds have put together four-straight winning seasons for the first time since 1945-48.

North Dakota State: Craig Bohl (Nebraska, 1982) is in his 10th season at the helm of the North Dakota State football program (84-32). Last season, Bohl led the Bison to their second-straight NCAA FCS playoff appearance and guided his team to the 2012 national championship with a win over Sam Houston State.

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

  • North Dakota State University is located in Fargo, N.D., and has an enrollment of 14,399 students. The Bison are members of the Missouri Valley Football Conference and play their home games at the Fargodome (18,700).
  • The Bison return 14 starters and 44 letterwinners from last year's squad that finished with a 14-1 overall record and a 7-1 mark in conference play (T-1st).
  • NDSU went on to win the NCAA Division I FCS national championship with a 17-6 win over Sam Houston State in the title game in Frisco, Texas.
  • The Bison (9-1, 6-1 MVFC) have already secured at least a share of the conference title, thanks to their 20-17 defeat of South Dakota State last Saturday.
  • North Dakota State is the best defensive team in the country, as they allow just 183.5 yards per game. The Bison also rank No. 1 in the country in scoring defense, allowing just 11 points per contest.
  • The Bison are led on offense by quarterback Brock Jensen, who has thrown for 1,839 yards and 14 touchdowns this season. He has also been helped by the two-headed rushing attack of John Crockett (660 yards, 7 TD) and Sam Ojuri (629 yards, 7 TD).
  • Defensively, the Bison are led by junior linebacker Grant Olson. Olson had eight tackles, including 1.5 sacks, in No. 1 North Dakota State's 20-17 win over No. 16 South Dakota State and was named the MVFC Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts. On the season, Olson leads the team with 87 tackles and 11 tackles-for-loss.

TIES WITH THIS WEEK'S OPPONENT

  • Illinois State head coach Brock Spack is very familiar with North Dakota State wide receivers coach Kenni Burns. Burns played running back for four years at Indiana (2003-06), where he lettered three times for the Hoosiers, while Spack was the defensive coordinator at Purdue.
  • Redbirds assistant head coach Spence Nowinsky and North Dakota State head coach Craig Bohl both served as assistant coaches at Wisconsin. Nowinsky was a graduate assistant defensive line coach from 1999-2002, and Bohl was a linebackers assistant coach for the Badgers from 1987-88.
  • ISU offensive line coach George Barnett and North Dakota State offensive line coach Scott Fuchs both worked as assistant coaches at Grand Valley State. Barnett was the offensive line coach from 2008-09, and Fuchs was as assistant at Grand Valley State in 2007.
  • Current Illinois State Athletics Communications graduate assistant Lauren McLaughlin graduated from North Dakota State, where she played volleyball from 2007-10.

CONFERENCE TITLE TIEBREAKERS
If North Dakota State wins against Illinois State, the Bison are outright champs and earn the conference's automatic qualifier. If Illinois State wins, then several scenarios could play out:
- In a 2-way tie with ILS and NDSU ... the AQ goes to ILS.
- In a 3-way tie with SDSU, ILS, and NDSU ... the AQ goes to NDSU.
Common Opponents: INS, MSU, UNI, USD, SIU, YSU [ILS: 4-2; NDSU: 5-1; SDSU: 5-1] ILS out; NDSU beat SDSU head-to-head.
- In a 3-way tie with INS, ILS, and NDSU .. the AQ goes to ILS
ILS is 2-0 in the pool of tied teams (Indiana State is 1-1; NDSU is 0-2).
- In a 4-way tie with SDSU, ILS, INS, NDSU ... the AQ goes to the team with the highest GPI.
Common Opponents: MSU, USD, SIU, YSU [ILS: 2-2; INS: 4-0; NDSU: 4-0; SDSU: 4-0].
ILS out; SDSU/NDSU/INS remain (and went 1-1 against each other and have identical records against all common opponents.

UNDERWOOD ON BUCHANAN WATCH LIST
It's been five years since an Illinois State defensive player was named to the Buck Buchanan Award Watch List, which recognizes the top defensive player in the Football Championship Subdivision. That changed earlier this season, when junior defensive end Colton Underwood was added to the list of 20 top players from around the country in competition for this year's honor. Underwood's numbers speak for themselves, as he currently leads the Missouri Valley Football Conference in sacks (8.5) and tackles-for-loss (17) and he has added a staggering 84 total tackles. The Washington, Ill., native is also nationally ranked in both categories at No. 6 in tackles-for-loss and tied at No. 11 in sacks. Underwood is the fifth Redbird player to be named to the prestigious list and the first since 2007, when linebacker Kye Stewart finished fourth overall in the voting. Illinois State Athletics Percy Family Hall of Fame member and former All-American linebacker Boomer Grigsby was a three-time finalist for the award from 2002-04, finishing as runner-up in 2003 to current Minnesota Vikings star Jared Allen. Defensive end Brent Hawkins and linebacker Cameron Siskowic were both finalists in 2005, finishing second and 13th respectively, and Siskowic finished fifth in the voting the following year in 2006.

FACING NO. 1
Since 1970, the Illinois State football team has line up against the No. 1 team in the country a total of six times. In those games, the Redbirds have won two of those contests, including a 13-10 victory against top-ranked Youngstown State at Hancock Stadium on Nov. 13, 1993. The Penguins would eventually go on to win the national championship that season. The other win against a top-ranked team came in 2005, when the Redbirds beat Southern Illinois in Carbondale, 61-35. Only twice has the No. 1 team in the country visited Normal, in 1993 and in 2004 when the Salukis picked up a 41-14 victory over the Redbirds.

#DUNNGETTINITDONE
When Ashton Leggett ran for over 1,000 yards last season, he became the first Redbird back to do so since 2006. If not for a broken hand that forced senior Darrelynn Dunn to miss a game and play with a cast for the last several games, he could have joined Leggett in the 1,000 yard club. Even though he may not get to that plateau, Dunn has made a huge impact in the rushing game for the Redbirds in 2012. Dunn has rushed for 811 yards and scored 12 touchdowns on the ground, the most for an ISU player since 2006. Dunn has rushed for over 100 yards in four games this season and scored multiple touchdowns in four contests.

'BIRDS FLYING HIGH IN POLLS
The Illinois State football team has set up shop in the national polls recently and has little plans of moving out. After heading into the season ranked in both The Sports Network and FCS Coaches Polls in 2012, ISU was ranked No. 11 in both The Sports Network Top 25 Poll and the FCS Coaches Poll this week, following its bye week and win two weeks ago at Indiana State (Nov. 3). The Redbirds have now been ranked for 17-straight weeks, dating back to last season.

LOSING GROUND
The defensive line trio of Colton Underwood, Nate Palmer and Shelby Harris have been a dominant force up front for the Redbirds and have become the best TFL artists in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. All three sit atop the conference leaders in tackles-for-loss, with Underwood leading the way with 17 on the season. Palmer is ranked second in the league with 13 TFLs and Harris is just behind in third place with 12.5. The trio has helped the team amass 75 tackles-for-loss this season, which is tied for No. 11 on the school single-season list.

TAKEAWAYS THE NAME OF THE GAME
Last season, the Illinois State defense played extremely well but was not able to get key interceptions at tough times. The Redbirds only had three interceptions all last season, but have turned that around in 2012 with 15 interceptions. Senior safety Ben Ericksen leads the way and is No. 1 in the country in interceptions with seven and a total of eight different players have recorded picks. The 15 total interceptions tie for 11th on the single season list, matching the mark of 15 last achieved in 1993.

TAKING BACK THE TURF
Heading into the season, Illinois State had posted a 14-3 record at Hancock Stadium and has established a dominant home field advantage under head coach Brock Spack. However, this season the turf at the stadium has not been as friendly with the Redbirds posting a 3-2 overall record at home including a loss in the last home game against Missouri State on Oct. 20. The Redbirds will be looking to get back to their winning ways at home with a win against NDSU this weekend, which would secure the team's fourth season in a row with a winning record at home.

ROAD WARRIORS
One of Illinois State's team goals for the year was to be road warriors and have a perfect record on the road. After the Redbirds' 17-10 victory at Indiana State (Nov. 3), they improved to 5-0 away from home this season. The five road wins are the most for a Redbird team since 2006 and the most for a Spack team in his four years at Illinois State. With the victory, ISU also recorded its first spotless record on the road since 1937, when the team was 5-1-2 overall with the only loss coming at home.