(STATS) - The depth of strong Missouri Valley Football Conference teams caught up with Western Illinois last season, so the Leathernecks are intent on overcoming it this year.
They began coach Charlie Fisher's first season in Macomb with a 5-1 record, which included an FBS win over Northern Illinois, only to lose four of their final MVFC games to wind up 6-5 and just 3-5 in the conference.
With a veteran team back this year, the Leathernecks will have an eye toward the fall when they play their annual Bruce Craddock Memorial Spring Game Friday night at Hanson Field.
Anything short of an FCS playoff season would disappoint a team that returns 18 starters.
"We've thrown a lot at them so they have been exposed to a lot scheme-wise," Fisher said. "We're in a different look defensively (3-4 alignment under new coordinator Tony Grantham), there's a learning curve there, but I'm not in any way displeased with the progress we are making defensively. They are doing a very good job.
"Offensively we've got a pretty veteran group - really on both sides of the ball … our offensive line is a veteran group. They're doing a good job. You really go as your guys up front go. I feel really good about our offensive line and what we can have the potential to accomplish next year on offense, especially running the football."
Quarterback Sean McGuire and running back Steve McShane will keep the offensive motor going, while 2016 STATS FCS All-America linebacker Brett Taylor, who ranked No. 3 in the nation in tackles, fuels the defense.
Western Illinois will play its entire non-conference schedule on the road against Tennessee Tech, Northern Arizona and new FBS member Coastal Carolina as it prepares for the rigors of the MVFC.