We can only go up from here, right?
After a miserable season on the field and a rougher one off it, the Eastern Michigan Eagles kick off another reclamation project in Ypsilanti Saturday night against the Morgan State Bears.
It's Chris Creighton's turn to try and fix this Eagles program, which has not had a winning season since 1995. Creighton hails from Drake (not confusing AT ALL), and turned the Bulldogs into an FCS power, winning the Pioneer League in 2011 and 2012. He brings with him some much needed head coaching experience to the Eagles' helm, and maybe most importantly entering his first season, a real sense that better things are on the horizon for the Eastern faithful.
There's no denying the approach Creighton has taken before kickoff on Saturday, the same approach P.J. Fleck took across the state last year. From giving Rynearson Stadium a unique style to hand delivering season tickets, Creighton is taking real, honest-to-God ownership of the program. Fans already know they'll need to wait some more for a winning product, especially with a new coach using another coach's recruits this season. So plant the seeds of something exciting now.
Of course, seeds only grow into beautiful flowers when taken care of properly... which bring us to Saturday. A big splash was made earlier this week when redshirt freshman Reggie Bell was named the starting quarterback in Week One, surpassing big name transfer Rob Bolden and four-star recruit Brogan Roback. No one really knows what Bell is capable of, so starting him against Morgan State is certainly not the worst idea in the world.
Creighton's offense sees a lot of rotation at the skill positions (quarterback excluded), his Bulldogs averaged 35 points a game in his tenure. Bronson Hill returns at running back for his third season, while Dustin Creel, Jay Jones and Tyler Allen will be Bell's main targets in the passing attack.
The bigger challenge will be shoring up a defense which gave up the fifth-most points in the country last season, and there don't seem to be too many answers to that problem just yet. Some clarity will hopefully come Saturday, otherwise there will be some really ugly numbers hung on EMU in the near future.
They'll see a Morgan State Bears team that returns seventeen starters from last year's 5-7 club, including leading rusher Lamont Brown III and leading receiver Thomas Martin. Morgan State, out of the FCS MEAC, employed a heavy running attack last season, with Brown splitting time with Herb Walker. Senior Tracy Martin looks to join that duo this season. Like the Eagles, the Bears have a quarterback battle on their hands, and will roll with senior Robert Council in Ypsilanti. The Bears will also debut a new coach in Lee Hull, and were picked to finish last in the MEAC preseason coaches poll.
Preseason polls are none too kind to EMU, either. USA Today certainly doesn't expect much from them, projecting the Eagles as the third-worst team in the nation in 2014. Their own conference doesn't expect much better. With Florida and Michigan State on the schedule in the next month, a win over an extremely beatable Morgan State will make the upcoming season semi-palatable while Eagles fans dream of what might be coming soon (no, I don't mean beating UMass).
The time to close the gap is here. "The Factory" is open for business. Just don't expect all the machinery to start working immediately.