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[Mon Sep 15 2003]

Southern Illinois University's football team is starting to gain some elite status, both in the present and in relation to its past.

With very little proding, voters across the country who contribute to The Sports Network I-AA football poll have pushed the 3-0 Salukis to No. 17.

And the heretofore reserved Don Hansen of the Football Gazette has placed SIU at No. 25. I expect the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll to give the Salukis a bump up as well.

Since I-AA rankings appeared in 1986, SIU's high point has come at No. 15, which happened in 1987 and Sept. 30, 1991, when SIU started the season 5-0.

SIU was not ranked once between then and 1999. And the two times the Salukis earned the top-25 designation, they fell flat on their faces, dropping a 34-14 decision to Northern Iowa in '99 and a 35-14 game at Illinois State in mid-October of last year.

So what makes the voters so confident in SIU, especially when Murray State (1-2) and Southeast Missouri (0-3) are now nowhere near the top 25?

Fact is, the TSN poll is awful fickle.

Witness McNeese State dropping from its No. 1 perch to No. 3 after losing 55-14 at Kansas State, a top-10 BCS squad.

Big deal.

But, Western Illinois was made the top dog, a moniker that was bound to last seven days considering the Leathernecks were headed to LSU.

Duh, WIU lost 35-7.

Very impressive to me, but as a TSN voter, I've kept McNeese State as No. 1 all year and will continue to do so unless the Cowboys give me a good reason to do otherwise (like lose to a I-AA program).

Still, WIU fell to No. 2 and McNeese State was rushed back to the top spot after routing then No. 2 Georgia Southern and Western Kentucky crept up to No 3.

Three teams are new to the poll, with No. 20 Lehigh, No. 22 Portland State, and No. 24 Colgate making their way into the rankings this week after big wins.

But look for more poll shuffling this week as a bevy of top games will take place in the I-AA ranks: McNeese State at No. 13 Grambling State, No. 12 Massachusetts at No. 16 Maine, No. 6 Georgia Southern at No. 25 Wofford, No. 11 Montana State at No. 21 Cal Poly, Eastern Kentucky at Western Kentucky, William & Mary at No. 4 Northeastern, Northern Arizona at No. 22 Portland State and Illinois State at No. 19 Eastern Illinois.

THE END ZONE: Southeast Missouri's end zone troubles have not subsided. The Indians lost 21-3 to D-I Arkansas State on Saturday.

Starting quarterback Jeromy McDowell went down with an injury and was replaced by junior Andrew Goodenough. Later, Goodenough was replaced by senior Jack Tomco.

Southeast finished the first half with minus-6 yards offense, but finished with 259 yards of offense.

HELLO, SI ON CAMPUS?: I found this story written by Bill Knight of the El Paso Times:

"Most of the UTEP fans came disguised as empty seats Saturday night (Sept. 7). Driving up Sun Bowl Drive, half an hour before kickoff, is usually as good as a traffic jam gets in this city. Saturday night, it looked like driving into Ghost Town, U.S.A.

"A crowd of only 18,195 showed up to see UTEP take on San Diego State. It was the smallest Miner crowd in the Sun Bowl since 19,892 showed up for the final game of 2001 to see UTEP lose to Nevada 48-31.

"Saturday night's crowd and all those WAC crowds are a far cry from the glory days of 2000 when UTEP had crowds of 53,304, 52,085 and 50,068.

UTEP bottomed out this weekend with a bad loss to I-AA Cal Poly.

HOOPS NEWS: It looks as if new Illini basketball coach Bruce Weber might be missing out on the state's hottest prospect, Peoria Central's Shaun Livingston, who has taken a liking to Duke and North Carolina as well as the idea of entering the NBA draft out of high school.

"(Shaun) is more skilled than any high school player taken last year except LeBron," said Central assistant coach Daniel Ruffin to the Peoria Journal-Star's Greg Stewart. "Besides, the college experience is overrated, especially for black kids. The whole point of going to college is to prepare you for the job market, but what's the sense in preparing if you can get $12 million out of high school?"

VANDY SHUFFLE: Vanderbilt recently dismantled its athletic administration department, removing its AD and reassigning his duties to something called the "Office of Student Athletics, Recreation and Wellness," in an effort to better mainstream the student-athletes.

No other school in the sports-mad SEC is likely to follow suit, but could this be a model for cash-strapped schools like SIU?

Stay tuned.

JIM GORDILLO covers college athletics for The Southern. You can reach him at or call 618-529-5454 x15085.


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