PLAYER TO WATCH
Illinois State quarterback Matt Brown capped off his stellar career by being named the 2012 Missouri Valley Football Conference Offensive Player of the Year and an All-MVFC First-Team selection. The Marion, Ill., native led ISU and the MVFC in passing yards (2,676), yards per game (243.3) and total offense (2,789). He threw for 20 touchdowns and added six rushing touchdowns, while completing 62.7 percent of his passes. Brown tallied two 300-plus yard passing games and had five games with two or more touchdown passes, including five against Eastern Illinois.
No. 15 Illinois State (8-3, 5-3 MVFC) will make its first NCAA Division I FCS playoff appearance since 2006 on Saturday, when the Redbirds travel to Boone, N.C., to face three-time national champion No. 6 Appalachian State (8-3, 6-2 SoCon) in a second-round game at Kidd Brewer Stadium. The game will be televised live on ESPN3, with a berth in the quarterfinals on the line with a victory.
Illinois State and Appalachian State will meet for the first time on the field Saturday. However, the Redbirds have played several games against current teams from the Southern Conference in the past, including a loss to Georgia Southern in the semifinals of the 1999 playoffs. ISU is 1-7 all-time against SoCon opponents.
Illinois State: Brock Spack (Purdue, 1983) is in his fourth season as the head coach at Illinois State (27-17). In his four seasons at the helm of the program, the Redbirds have put together four-straight winning seasons for the first time since 1945-48 and advanced to the playoffs for the first time since 2006.
Appalachian State: Jerry Moore (Baylor, 1961) is in his 24th year at the helm of the Appalachian State football program (215-86). The winningest coach in Southern Conference history, Moore led Appalachian to three-consecutive NCAA Division I FCS national titles from 2005-07.
THE PROGRAM IN THE PLAYOFFS
- Fourth playoff appearance in school history (1998, 1999, 2006)
- 3-3 overall record in FCS playoff games in school history
- 2-3 record in road playoff games, including 1-1 record in 2006
- The 1999 team advanced to the FCS semifinals, with wins at home over Colgate and on the road against Hofstra. ISU eventually fell to eventual national champion Georgia Southern by a score of 28-17 in the semifinals, as Payton Award winner Adrian Peterson ran for three touchdowns and 183 yards on the ground.
THIS WEEK'S OPPONENT
- Appalachian State University is located in Boone, N.C., and has an enrollment of 17,344 students. The Mountaineers are members of the Southern Conference and play their home games at the Kidd Brewer Stadium (24,050).
- Appalachian State won three-consecutive FCS national championships from 2005-07 and gained national attention early in the 2007 season, when it shocked No. 5 ranked Michigan and defeated the Wolverines, 34-32, in Ann Arbor, Mich.
- The Mountaineers finished the regular season with an 8-3 record and clinched their record-tying 12th Southern Conference championship with a 33-28 victory over Furman in the final game of the regular season.
- After starting the season 1-2, with losses at East Carolina and to The Citadel (ranked No. 21), the Mountaineers finished the season winning seven of their last eight games including three-straight to end the year.
- Appalachian State will be facing a ranked opponent for the sixth time this season when it faces Illinois State today. The Mountaineers are 3-2 against ranked FCS opponents this season, with wins against No. 12 Montana, No. 25 Samford and at No. 2 Georgia Southern.
- The Mountaineers are led on offense by a pair of national standouts. Junior quarterback Jamal Jackson is a Walter Payton Award candidate and was named a Southern Conference first-team all-conference pick. Jackson has completed 65.1 percent of his passes this season and thrown for 2,905 yards and 19 touchdowns, while running for 334 yards and five scores.
- He's thrown most of those passes to freshman wide receiver Sean Price, who is a candidate for the Jerry Rice Award and was recently named the SoCon Freshman of the Year. Price has hauled in 68 passes for 1,029 yards and eight touchdowns this season for the Mountaineers.
- On defense, Appalachian State is led by a pair of Buck Buchanan Award nominees in senior linebacker Jeremy Kimbrough and senior defensive back Demetrius McCray. Kimbrough was named the SoCon co-Defensive Player of the Year and ranks sixth nationally with 128 tackles on the season. He is also among the SoCon's top 15 in both tackles for loss (9.0) and sacks (3.5).
- McCray joined Kimbrough as a SoCon first-team defensive honoree, after he recorded four interceptions on the season and accounted for 51 total tackles in 11 games played.
Illinois State state senior quarterback Matt Brown is often referred to by his teammates and coaches as QB #1, and it just so happens that the rest of the league's head coaches, sports information directors and media members see him that way as well. Brown was named the 2012 Missouri Valley Football Conference Offensive Player of the Year in the league's annual vote and was also tabbed as an All- MVFC First-Team selection. With the honor, Brown becomes the third Redbird in school history to win the league's offensive player of the year award. He joins running back Toby Davis (1992) and current Jacksonville Jaguar wide receiver Laurént Robinson (2005) as winners of the league's top offensive honor. Brown adds this to his mantle along with the 2009 MVFC Freshman of the Year Award.
EIGHT IS GREAT
Led by 2012 Missouri Valley Football Conference Offensive Player of the Year Matt Brown, a school-record eight Illinois State football players were named All-MVFC First-Team selections Monday by the conference office. Brown picked up All-MVFC First-Team honors for the first time in his illustrious career and was joined on the first team by senior wide receiver Tyrone Walker, senior offensive lineman Pete Cary, and junior fullback Jordan Neukirch. Four Redbird defenders also earned All-MVFC First-Team honors for the first time in their careers. Junior defensive end Colton Underwood, senior middle linebacker Mike Zimmer, senior free safety Ben Ericksen and junior defensive tackle Shelby Harris rounded out the record-number of Redbird first-team honorees.
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 (9.5) and tackles-for-loss (18) and he has added a staggering 89 total tackles. The Washington, Ill., native is also nationally ranked in both categories at No. 7 in tackles-for-loss and tied at No. 9 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 and Siskowic finished fifth in the voting the following year in 2006.
MAKING AN IMMEDIATE IMPACT
Since the arrival of head coach Brock Spack in 2009, the Redbirds have had at least four players each year that were honored for their first-year efforts in the program as a member of the Missouri Valley Football Conference All-Newcomer Team. This season, that trend continued and ISU had five players named to the annual list that recognizes the achievements of freshmen, redshirt freshmen and transfers that make an immediate impact for their teams. This year, offensive tackles Josh Aladenoye and Jermaine Barton, wide receiver Phil Dudley, linebacker Alex Donnelly and strong safety Ezra Thompson were recognized by the voters for their play on the field. The five selections extended the team's streak to three-consecutive years with at least five honorees and were the most among all league schools in 2012.
'BIRDS FLYING HIGH IN POLLS
The Illinois State football team has set up shop in the national polls during the 2012 season 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. 15 in the final regular-season FCS Coaches Poll and No. 17 in The Sports Network Top 25 Poll and this week, following its loss to No. 1 North Dakota State (Nov. 17). The Redbirds have now been ranked for 18-straight weeks, dating back to last season.
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.
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 850 yards and scored 12 touchdowns on the ground, the most for an ISU player since 2006. Dunn has rushed for over 100 yards and scored multiple touchdowns in four contests this season.
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 are among the conference leaders in tackles-for-loss, with Underwood leading the way with 18 on the season. Palmer is ranked fourth in the league with 13 TFLs and Harris is just behind in fifth place with 12.5. The trio has helped the team amass 77 tackles-for-loss this season, which ranks the 2012 squad No. 11 on the school's 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 and All-MVFC First-Team selection Ben Ericksen leads the way and is No. 1 in the country in interceptions with seven. 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.
WHAT CAN BROWN DO FOR YOU?
Illinois State senior quarterback Matt Brown already owns nearly every passing record at Illinois State and has also taken the top spot in several career categories in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. During the course of the season, Brown set seven school and four MVFC career records. He holds school records for pass attempts (1,375), completions (880), passing yards (9,897), passing touchdowns (71), completion percentage (64.0), total offense yards (10,219) and touchdowns responsible for (79). Brown also became the conference's all-time leader in pass attempts, completions, passing yards and total offense yards to cement him as one of the best quarterbacks in league history.
WALKING UP THE CHARTS
In four years as a standout receiver at Illinois State, Tyrone Walker has cemented himself at or near the top of several career lists at ISU. With his performance in the victory over UNI (Oct. 27), Walker became the ISU all-time leader in receiving yards passing current Jacksonville Jaguar Laurént Robinson for the top spot. Walker's 120 yards receiving moved him past Robinson (3,007) for the Illinois State career lead in receiving yards with 3,038 and he now has 3,241. Walker also owns the school record for career receptions (231) and is tied with Robinson with 29 career touchdown receptions.