There is a huge gap in playoff experience between Southern Illinois and Weber State. The two teams will square off in the first round of the 16-team FCS Playoffs on Saturday afternoon. Weber State has been a constant in the playoffs, while Southern Illinois is in the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
Salukis hoping to spring upsetSouthern Illinois is in the FCS Playoffs for the first time since 2009. The Salukis earned one of the six at-large bids available after going 5-3 in the regular season. They closed the regular season with a 55-48 win in a thrilling game against Southeast Louisiana. It snapped a two-game losing skid, which had come against South Dakota State and Missouri State. They went 3-3 in the Missouri Valley Conference and are ranked No. 14 in the country. Their best performance of the season was a 38-14 blowout over then-No. 1 North Dakota State, snapping the Biston’s record-setting 39-game winning streak.
The Salukis played one game during the fall, beating No. 25 Southeast Missouri State in a 20-17 final. They are an excellent third-down team, ranking fourth in the country in third-down conversions. Southern Illinois is No. 17 in total offense and No. 18 in rushing offense. Sophomore running back Javon Williams Jr. was named the MVC Offensive Player of the Week after rushing for 145 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries. He also completed a pass for a 56-yard touchdown. It was the third time in his career he has won the award.
Wildcats riding long home winning streakWeber State has been a mainstay in the FCS Playoffs. The Wildcats are making their ninth trip to the postseason and have now been there in each of the last five years. They have advanced to the quarterfinals in the last three seasons, making a semifinal appearance in 2019. Their five straight appearances is the fourth-longest active streak in the FCS. Weber State finished the spring season with a 5-0 record, coming back from a deficit to pick up a 20-15 win over Idaho State on April 10. It was the fourth straight Big Sky title for the team and has led to a No. 3 ranking in the latest polls.
5-0 regular season ✅— Weber State Football 🏈 (@weberstatefb) April 22, 2021
Outright conference title ✅
Coach of the Year ✅
For the first time in his career, Jay Hill has been named the #BigSkyFB Coach of the Year!
Congrats @CoachJayHill! 👏https://t.co/2sr8clhE70#PurpleReign #WeAreWeber pic.twitter.com/YdVFzJEjG4
The Wildcats have now won 11 home games in a row, which is the longest streak in school history. They have not dropped a home game since the 2018 FCS Playoffs. Head coach Jay Hill was named the Region 5 Coach of the Year for the second time in a row. Senior linebacker Conner Mortensen was the Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year, while running back Dontae McMillan was the co-Big Sky Freshman of the Year. Freshman quarterback Bronson Barron is a finalist for the Jerry Rice Award, which honors the nation’s top freshman. He has thrown for 847 yards and six touchdowns with zero interceptions.
Best Bets for this Game
Full-Game Side Bet
The playoffs are a completely different animal from the regular season in any sport. Weber State has a ton of playoff experience, which gives them a huge edge over a Southern Illinois squad that has not been in the playoffs in more than a decade. The Wildcats are also riding an 11-game home winning streak, so this line looks awfully low. They have excellent players on both sides of the ball and have a coaching edge. Southern Illinois is ranked 15 spots behind Weber State in the polls.
Full-Game Total Pick
This game is going to be won by Weber State’s stout defense. The Wildcats have the Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year leading their defense. Their offense will just be trying to control the game with their rushing attack. They do not ask too much from their freshman quarterback, which tends to lead to low-scoring games. Southern Illinois also relies on its rushing attack, so the clock is going to be moving throughout this contest. The Salukis have been excellent on third downs this season, which tends to be a stat with high variance. If they come up short in those moments on Saturday, their offense will struggle.