Redbirds set to open 2022 season under Wisconsin lights

Date: September 3, 2022
Time: 6:00 p.m.
Location: Madison, Wisconsin
Stadium: Camp Randall Stadium
Capacity: 80,321
Series: First Encounter
Last born
Watch: FS1
Feed: Fox Sports App
Listen: WJBC 1230 AM / 102.1 FM / 93.7 FM / The Varsity Network

For the first time since 2016, Illinois State will face a Big Ten foe when the Redbirds open the 2022 season on the road against No. 18 Wisconsin under the lights of Camp Randall Stadium.

Illinois State and Wisconsin will meet on the gridiron for the first time on Saturday. The Redbirds have faced Big Ten foes nine other times, including Minnesota, Illinois, Northwest and Iowa with a combined 1-8 record in those contests for the Redbirds. The lone win against the Big Ten came in 2016, when the Redbirds traveled north to play Northwestern State and stunned the Wildcats by scoring a final second basket to win the game.


State of Illinois: Brock Spack (Purdue, 1983) is in his 14th season as head coach of Illinois State (89-60). Spack guided the Redbirds to back-to-back MVFC title shares in 2014-15 and a 2014 FCS Championship appearance. He led ISU to five total playoff appearances and became the all-time wins leader of the program in 2021.

Wisconsin: Paul Chryst (Wisconsin, 1988) guided the Badgers to a 65-23 (.739) record in his first seven seasons as head coach of his alma mater. Twice selected for Big Ten Coach of the Year, Chryst’s 65 wins are tied for third most in school history, while his .729 winning percentage in Big Ten games is the best among active league coaches with a minimum of 50 games coached. Chryst also served as offensive coordinator at ISU for the 1995 season.


  • The University of Wisconsin is located in Madison, Wisconsin and has 47,932 students. The Badgers are members of the Big Ten Conference and play their home games at Camp Randall Stadium (80,321).
  • Last season the Badgers overcame a 1-3 start and won 8 of their last 9 games to finish the season with a 9-4 overall record. They capped off the year with a Las Vegas Bowl win over Arizona State.
  • Wisconsin’s defense was one of the best in the nation in 2021, leading the NCAA in total defense and rushing yards allowed. The Badgers’ defense allowed opposing offenses to score just 19 touchdowns and 169 points in 13 games last season (13.0 ppg).
  • The Badgers have one of the best backfield duos in the country with Chez Mellusi and Braelon Allen. The pair combined for 2,083 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns last season and are both on the preseason watch list for the prestigious Doak Walker Award.

Illinois State was 0-8 in school history against Big Ten Conference foes until the 2016 season when the Redbirds shocked Northwestern to claim a 9- 7. The 2022 season opener against Wisconsin will give the Redbirds another chance to play against one of the Big Ten’s best teams. Illinois State has faced four current members of the Big Ten Conference and suffered two losses to Illinois, Minnesota and Purdue and just one loss to the Wildcats and Iowa. Overall, the ISU head coach Brock Spack is 1-3 as a head coach against Big Ten opponents and has three wins (Eastern Michigan, Northwestern and Colorado State) on FBS programs during his time at ISU.

Quintet of Redbirds selected to MVFC pre-season squad, with senior linebacker Zeke Vandenburgh named a first-team selection, while a running back Cole Mulleroffensive lineman Drew Bonesdefensive lineman Braydon Deming and snapper Joey Malinowski earned second-team honors in the annual vote. Vandenburgh was selected as a 2021 All-MVFC honorable mention, after ranking second on the team with 73 tackles, leading the team with four sacks and tied for the team lead with 8.5 tackles for loss. Mueller was also named a 2021 All-MVFC honorable mention selection, following his first breakout season for the Redbirds.
Bones started all 11 games at center for the Redbirds, the only Redbirds lineman to start every game at the same position last season. Deming earned MVFC All-Newcomer team honors in 2021 in his first season with the Redbirds. Malinowski rounds out the preseason winners as one of the league’s oldest longsnappers. He was not credited with a bad shot during the 2021 season and had seven tackles on special teams cover during the year.

The Illinois State freshman nearly set a school rushing record for a freshman in the 2021 season and was on course to become the 16th player in league history. school to eclipse the 1,000 yard mark. However, he came close, ranking third in MVFC in rushing yards (977), fourth in rushing yards per game (88.8), and finished the season ranked in the FCS Top 20 in rushing yards ( No. 15) and yards per game (No. 20). This earned him a spot in the 2021 MVFC Newcomer Squad and he finished second in the league in the year’s freshman voting.

In their first season with the Redbirds in 2021, identical twins Bryson and Braydon Deming made an immediate impact and are looking to end their college careers in 2022 on a high note. After transferring from Montana, the brothers made huge contributions on every side of football for the ISU. Bryson was second on the team with 14 catches for 184 yards and was also second on the team with two receiving touchdowns. Braydon has wreaked havoc from his place on the defensive line, tied for the team lead with 8.5 TFL to go along with 2.5 sacks and 42 tackles on the year. This performance earned Deming a spot on the 2021 MVFC All-Newcomer Team.

Longtime Redbirds fans may recall that Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst spent a season on the Redbirds coaching staff in 1995 as offensive coordinator. Several other current ties to the football program will also be remembered this year, including the current offensive line coach Harold Etheridge who served in that same role in 1995 during his first stint with the Redbirds. ISU radio analyst Ted Schmitz was also on the Redbirds coaching staff and current defensive coordinator. Travis Niekamp was a defensive lineman for the Redbirds in Chryst’s only season in Normal.

Voted by the team at the end of fall camp, the Redbirds selected the senior linebacker Zeke Vandenburghjunior quarterback Zack Annexstad and senior snapper Joey Malinowski as captains for the 2022 season. They will be joined at each match by selected seniors elected weekly by the coaching staff as match captains.

The Redbird offense has struggled badly in the passing game in 2021 and the coaching staff is hoping their transfer from the Big Ten will be the quarterback to turn the tide. Junior Zack Annexstad joined the Redbirds in the spring and immediately took over the huddle, playing well all spring and summer before being named starting quarterback. Annexstad, a transfer from Minnesota, was named the starting quarterback by coach PJ Fleck as a rookie in 2018 and is believed to be only the second true freshman quarterback to start an opening. season, joining Baker Mayfield who started his first game in Texas. Tech in 2013 after walking. He would go on to complete 97 passes for 1,277 yards (the third-most all-time for a Minnesota freshman) and nine touchdowns (tied for third all-time for a Minnesota freshman with Tanner Morgan) this season, before missing parts of the next three seasons due to injury.

A trio of experienced FBS secondary defensemen will join the Redbirds this fall to help bolster a young squad for the Redbirds. Central Arkansas Transfer Deandre LamontIndiana transfer Larry Tracy III and transfer Bowling Green Sy Dabney have all worked toward playing positions during fall camp and hope to make a big impact this fall on the Redbird defense.

The Redbirds have become accustomed to finding the end zone on the defensive side of football in recent years, and they have kept that streak alive in 2021 when Jarrel Jackson recorded a 95-yard interception return for a touchdown against Eastern Illinois early in the season. The ISU has now scored a defensive touchdown in each of the past 13 seasons under the leadership of Brock Spack.

Fans who saw the Redbirds in person last fall will notice plenty of familiar faces and names on the field Saturday night in the home opener in Wisconsin. The ISU returns 56 winners and 17 starters (8 on offense, 9 on defense) from last year’s team. Many of these players saw significant action last season and with a full offseason in the weight room and work done during spring and fall camp, this roster should surpass the disappointing 4-7 season record. last.

About Darnell Yu

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