Normal, IL (SportsNetwork.com) - Illinois State football likely won't have an easy start this year while trying to build off its first-ever appearance in the FCS national championship game.

In fact, it's never easy in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, where the Redbirds earned a share of the regular-season title last year en route to a school-record 13 wins. They lost in the national championship game to North Dakota State, the other Valley co-champ and the national title winner for a fourth consecutive season.

This season, Illinois State will play two of its three non-conference games on the road, opening the campaign at Big Ten member Iowa on Sept. 5 before facing Morgan State, the 2014 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference playoff representative, in its home opener on Sept. 12. The Redbirds will then travel to rival Eastern Illinois on Sept. 19 for the 104th meeting of the Mid-America Classic.

Following a bye week, the Redbirds will jump into conference play, first hosting the only team to beat them during the regular season last year, Northern Iowa on Oct. 3.

Coach Brock Spack's team also will play home games against MVFC foes Western Illinois (Oct. 24), Indiana State (Oct. 31) and South Dakota (Nov. 21).

The road portion of Illinois State's conference schedule will be against Youngstown State (Oct. 10), Missouri State (Oct. 17), South Dakota State (Nov. 7) and Southern Illinois (Nov. 14).

Illinois State and North Dakota State aren't scheduled to play in the regular season for a second straight year.

The Redbirds will return 11 starters this season, including 2014 MVFC offensive player of the year Marshaun Coprich at running back and newcomer of the year Tre Roberson at quarterback. Two first-team all-conference selections will return on defense, end Teddy Corwin and linebacker Pat Meehan.

2015 Illinois State Football Schedule

Sept. 5, at Iowa

Sept. 12, Morgan State

Sept. 19, at Eastern Illinois

Oct. 3, Northern Iowa*

Oct. 10, at Youngstown State*

Oct. 17, at Missouri State*

Oct. 24, Western Illinois*

Oct. 31, Indiana State*

Nov. 7, at South Dakota State

Nov. 14, at Southern Illinois*

Nov. 21, South Dakota*

* - Missouri Valley Football Conference game