Saturday—At Northern Illinois, 6 p.m.
The Redbirds have had success against FBS opponents recently with wins over Colorado State (2018) and Northwestern (2016). But the last time ISU took on Northern, the Redbirds absorbed a 52-0 thrashing in 2000. The Huskies return 16 starters from an 8-6 team and were picked for third in the Mid-American Conference West Division preseason poll. Former Northern running back Thomas Hammock is the team’s first-year head coach.
Sept. 7—Morehead State, 6:30 p.m.
The home opener brings the Eagles to Hancock Stadium. Hailing from Morehead, Ky., Morehead State is a member of the FCS Pioneer Football League. Coming off a 3-8 season, the Eagles were tied with Valparaiso for ninth in the Pioneer’s preseason poll.
Sept. 14—At Eastern Illinois, 2 p.m.
The Panthers have a new coach in former Northwestern offensive line coach Adam Cushing. Eastern was forecast for eighth in the preseason poll of the nine-team Ohio Valley Conference. The 108th Mid-America Classic has ISU in possession of the traveling trophy with wins of 48-10 and 44-13 the past two seasons.
Sept. 21—Northern Arizona, 6:30 p.m.
After a year’s absence from the ISU schedule, Northern Arizona returns a 2017 game it won over the Redbirds, 37-16, in Flagstaff. Quarterback Case Cookus, among the top quarterbacks in FCS, passed for 380 yards in that contest before missing the 2018 season because of injury. NAU was picked for sixth in the preseason prognostication of the 13-team Big Sky Conference.
Oct. 5 –North Dakota State, noon
After a well-timed bye week, ISU welcomes the big, bad Bison to Hancock to open the Missouri Valley Football Conference schedule on Family Weekend. North Dakota State has won seven of the past eight FCS national championships and is expected to contend for another. A win over the Bison, who lost a large number of standouts from last season to graduation, could be a springboard toward a special season for the Redbirds.
Oct. 12—At Southern Illinois, 6 p.m.
ISU manhandled the Salukis, 51-3, last season. But Redbird coach Brock Spack will surely remind his team of its last trip to Carbondale in which ISU was non-competitive in a 42-7 thrashing. Southern coach Nick Hill is trying to spark a resurgence after a 2-9 record and a 1-7 MVFC mark last season.
Oct. 19—At Western Illinois, 1 p.m.
Jared Elliott will have to navigate his second year as Western head coach without record-setting quarterback Sean McGuire and defensive lineman Khalen Saunders, a third round draft pick of the Kansas City Chiefs. ISU travels to Macomb for the first time since 2016 and downed the Leathernecks, 33-16, last season at Hancock Stadium.
Oct. 26—Indiana State, 2 p.m.
A huge part of Indiana State’s revival from 0-11 in 2017 to 7-4 last season was a 28-23 victory over the Redbirds in Terre Haute in which Illinois State outgained the Sycamores, 488 yards to 283. On homecoming, the Redbirds will be seeking payback for a game they believe they should have won, while Indiana State is motivated by an FCS playoffs snub.
Nov. 2—Northern Iowa, noon
ISU dropped a 26-16 decision to the Panthers last season at the UNI-Dome while playing without quarterback Brady Davis because of a shoulder injury. The Redbirds will need to spring loose All-American tailback James Robinson, who was limited to 40 net rushing yards in the 2018 defeat.
Nov. 9—At South Dakota State, 2 p.m.
ISU is thrilled Jackrabbits’ quarterback Taryn Christion has moved into the professional ranks. Yet SDSU has been picked as high as third in preseason FCS national rankings because of the returning firepower of tailback Pierre Strong and wide receiver Cade Johnson. The SDSU defense is anchored by All-American candidate linebacker Christian Rozeboom.
Nov. 16—Missouri State, noon
Just a week after scoring an FBS win at Colorado State last season, ISU stubbed its toes in a 24-21 road loss to Missouri State. Under fifth-year coach Dave Steckel, the Bears were forecast for last in the MVFC.
Nov. 23—At Youngstown State, 11 a.m.
Who knows what type of weather will await ISU in a late November trip to northeast Ohio. The Penguins opened their season with an encouraging 45-22 win over Samford. Youngstown is seeking a bounce back — after a 4-7 record in 2018 — during the up and down tenure of Coach Bo Pelini.
Compiled by Randy Reinhardt