I may be the only one, but I put a lot of stock into preseason polls.

The preseason poll in the Missouri Valley Football Conference gives me a regional opinion of SIU, among other teams, and where people generally expect it to be. Many voters follow last year's standings to some degree, which is fair if the teams at the top return a lot of players, which they typically do at this level. Not many Valley players leave early for the NFL like former Saluki running back Jewel Hampton did after winning the Valley's newcomer of the year award in 2011. 

I picked the Salukis in the middle this year, fifth, I believe, after North Dakota State, South Dakota State, Youngstown State and Northern Iowa. With 15 starters back, and the second year in the system — SIU moved from a 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 system in 2016, and it takes some time to recruit to a new defense — I expected a move up from last year's 4-7 finish. The Salukis lost six of those seven games by one possession, and had a ton of first-year players. 

There's still time for that rebound, but it better start soon. SIU (2-3, 0-2 MVFC) dropped its third straight game Saturday at No. 8/9 South Dakota State, and looked like last year's team doing it. Prior to the game, the Salukis' defense made teams work hard for points. Their opponents' longest offensive scoring play before Saturday was 14 yards.

The Jackrabbits, who have three of the most explosive players in the conference, had four scoring plays longer than that. And only one of their best players, running back Brady Mengarelli, had any of them, rushing for a 28-yard touchdown and a 32-yard score in the fourth quarter.

SIU could get starting defensive tackle Malik Haynes back after he missed last weekend's game with a migraine headache that started Friday night, and must figure out its run defense. Illinois State's James Robinson had 122 yards and a touchdown all by himself last year in Normal, and the Redbirds (4-1, 2-0) always have a stout defense. The Salukis get a Homecoming crowd behind them, and a shot at a momentum-building victory, because Illinois State hasn't played a tough schedule and is coming off its first loss of the season.

* New oral histories: The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library's oral history project has released 54 interviews with former coaches, players, media and administrators of the Illinois High School Association on its website (www.oralhistory.illinois.gov). 

Longtime sports writer Taylor Bell, SIU grad and former administrator Susan Hinrichsen and Jim Woodward, a former board president of the IHSA and a former administrator at Anna-Jonesboro High School, are included in the interviews. Hinrichsen helped bring the IHSA state girls golf championship to the region in 2003.

The oral history project also has a look back at the evolution of girls basketball, which features Title IX pioneer Dr. Charlotte West, former Saluki women's coach Cindy Scott and former SIU athletic director Jim Livengood. They're worth a listen.

TODD HEFFERMAN covers SIU athletics for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at todd.hefferman@thesouthern.com, 618-351-5087 or on Twitter at @THefferman.

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Sports reporter

Todd Hefferman has covered SIU athletics since 2008. A University of Iowa grad, he is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and a Heisman Trophy voter.

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