There was another preview of the Eastern Michigan Eagles written on here but I figured I would take a stab at it. I don't normally write articles as I am a photographer. I do occasionally get my pen out and will write though.
As we enter Coach Creighton's third season, I would like to throw some numbers out at you: 29, 11, 316, 3.7 and 3. It has been 29 years since Eastern Michigan went to the California Bowl in 1987. That was a magic season for me as I was a freshman there and it was cool to watch the campaign. Little did I realize that was rare for Eastern. In 1995, Eastern Michigan went 6 and 5, that would be the last time they would finish above 500. Last year, Eastern Michigan made many teams look like the Pere Marquette 1225 as it plows through the snows of the North Pole, as a result they gave up an average of 316 rushing yards per game. They also gave up an average of 3.7 rushing touchdowns per game last year. Currently, Coach Creighton has three wins in his tenure at Eastern Michigan.
Five Players to Watch This Year
QB Brogan Roback - With the loss of Reggie Bell, Junior Brogan Roback is going to have to step up his game if Eastern Michigan is going to have any chance of being competitive. Last year, he showed that he was the highly touted recruit that came to Eastern and then every so often he would show his occasional poor decision making skills. I'm hoping that with the offensive line being more experienced this year, those numbers will improve.
RB Shaq Vann - With Darius Jackson wearing the Blue Star of the Dallas Cowboys, Shaq Vann has very big shoes to fill. He was a player that was pretty impressive to watch last year. I think the only knock against him is that he may not be big enough to be competitive as a back in the MAC. However, I think if the line shows improvement, he will as well.
TE Sam Browning - With some names that I don't recognize from the receiving corps, some of the receiving duties may fall on the experience tight end. Personally, I love offenses that involve the tight end because it throws another wrinkle into the mix.
DL Pat O'Connor - Pat O'Connor spent last year in the MASH unit. The year before, he was pretty dominating with the number of sacks he got. He was also pretty handy in run defense. If he recovered from his injury, he should be a dominating force in the MAC this year. Given Eastern Michigan's horrible run defense last year, he will be a much welcome addition.
LB Ike Spearman - For some reason, I remember hearing his name mentioned quite a bit during the games last year.
Four Games to Watch:
9/2 against Mississippi Valley State - Even though they are FCS team, this is still a game to watch because the first game of the season is a pretty good indicator of how the rest of the season will go. I think if Eastern Michigan blows these guys away, it should be a pretty good season. If its close, watch out.
9/10 at Missouri - Eastern Michigan dumped a game against Michigan State at Rynearson in order to get the guaranteed revenue of this game. I am thinking that Eastern Michigan may be able to beat these guys. That would represent the first Eastern Michigan win against a major program in a long time. It would also give them momentum to carry them into the MAC portion of the schedule.
10/8 against Toledo - Eastern Michigan will usually show up to play at the homecoming game and Toledo can provide a good yardstick to see how far they need to go in the MAC. I remember a game a couple years ago where I thought that Eastern was going to get crushed by Toledo. In fact they were in the first half. In the second half, Bronson Hill exploded and nearly gave them the win.
11/22 against Central Michigan - Eastern Michigan has two rivals in the MAC. Western Michigan and Central Michigan. For some reason, wins against Central Michigan are always more satisfying. It might have something to do with me growing up in that part of the state and knowing so many people that went there. Plus this would be a win to close the season and that might be something to build on for next year.
Three Keys to Success
Improve the Run Defense - When I started this article, I posted a bunch of numbers. Two of those number had to do with Eastern Michigan's run defense from last year. At the end of the season, Brad McCaslin was shown the door and Neal Neathery was given the job of Defensive Coordinator. During his tenure at UTSA, Neal Neathery was able to improve their run defense. He runs a defensive scheme that helps in that regard. You can't keep giving up over 300 yards on the ground each game and expect to win. I would love to see that greatly reduced this season.
Open Up the Offense - I think I saw that Eastern's passing game averaged around 6 yards per play. I also think I saw that Brogan Roback didn't have a very good TD to INT ratio. It seemed like there were too many times last year where Eastern wouldn't throw the deep ball last year. With the running game they had last year, defenses should have been more susceptible to the long ball. I think Roback is capable of throwing the deep ball because I've seen it, so I would love to see them use it more often.
Improve the Offensive Line - The corollary to the above is improved play by the offensive line. Roback wont be able to succeed if he is spending much of the game on his back. I think I also saw that Roback had an average of 6 sacks per game. In my opinion that is not sustainable.
My Bold Prediction:
There were many games that Eastern Michigan was in last year where they could have won. They were leading Ball State and Army at halftime last year. I was up in the stands waiting for the band when Ball State made it game last year. For a brief moment, their quarterback looked like Cam Newton (on a normal day) when he eluded at least 7 tackles. I'm not sure if that was the result of poor tackling or the players being out of position. That was the turning point of that game and the season. I think that if Eastern Michigan shows improvements on defense, some of the games that they lost last year could become wins. This is Coach Creighton's third year. It seems like the third year for Eastern coaches is always a charm. I'm going to make the bold prediction that Eastern Michigan will finish 6 and 6 this year.