Although one team finished 5-7 and the other finished 2-10, 2017 was a highly disappointing season for both teams involved in Tuesday night's 34-31 thriller in Ypsilanti. In a battle of high-flying offenses, the Eagles soared above the Falcons in The Factory to close the season.
Here's what we learned:
Eastern Michigan should be in a bowl game
Eastern Michigan concluded the year by winning three of its last four, but it won't be enough to register a 13th game this winter. The Eagles finished the year with a -35 point differential in losses (5 points per game) and only lost one game by more than seven points (42-30 to Central Michigan, in a game closer than the score would indicate thanks to a last minute pick six).
Eastern Michigan finished 0-3 in overtime games and didn't lose a game in regulation by more than five points. The Eagles fought hard and played to the level of their competition nearly every week. After a 2-0 start and the team's first-ever Big Ten victory over Rutgers, a six-game losing streak ruined the season. It was a tough stretch of competition: Ohio, Kentucky, Toledo, Army, Western Michigan, and Northern Illinois. But although the Eagles nearly beat all six of them, they beat none.
Eastern Michigan will be spending December at home, although the team definitely has the talent to play in a bowl game. Once the schedule eased up at the end of the year, Chris Creighton's team displayed what we expected of this team after a 7-6 record in 2016.
The 2017 Eastern Michigan football season will always have tons of "what-ifs" because it's highly improbable a team can get THIS unlucky seven times. C'est la vie.
(Back when Eastern Michigan was 2-5, I wrote this piece to chronicle the Eagles' heartbreaks. The NIU and CMU losses aren't included but definitely fit the criteria of Eastern Michigan's first five gut-wrenching losses.)
Here's to Brogan Roback, Eastern Michigan legend
On senior night at The Factory, one of the toughest things to see was the injury to Brogan Roback in the second quarter.
The fifth-year senior, who received a medical redshirt after missing the majority of the 2014 season, was one the MAC's most consistent players. We watched him grow and develop over the years, finally reaching his true potential in the 2016 season.
Roback threw for 18 touchdowns and nearly 2,700 yards that year, but most importantly, he's the man who brought Eastern Michigan back. After spending nearly 30 years away from bowl season, Roback broke that drought and finished a season with a winning record, against all odds.
Statistically, he was performing at a similar level in 2017 as well. He threw for a career high 2,815 yards and is now Eastern Michigan's all-time leader in total offensive production. On Tuesday night, we witnessed Roback hook up with Sergio Bailey for an 18-yard score for his final career touchdown. Although it was tough to see his career end on an injury cart at home, the quarterback promises he'll be back again:
Appreciate the prayers, I️ will be back and better.. promise that! #GodSpeed— Brogan Roback™ (@broganroback11) November 22, 2017
Bowling Green completely repeated its 2016 season
Although the Falcons finished 4-8 and year ago and regressed to 2-10 for 2017, there is a same recognizable pattern in the Falcons' performance each year.
Both seasons started with extreme defensive concerns, lots of turnovers, and a poor performance against an FCS school. Then, a midseason quarterback change was implemented in back-to-back years and the Falcons seemed to be on the rise following the decision. And finally, the team's offense finally picks up and looks strongest at the closure of the season.
Bowling Green may have lost to a strong Eastern Michigan team on Tuesday night, but the Falcons displayed an impressive offense and competed with the Eagles throughout the entire 60 minutes. Had the team not missed a 29-yard field goal, this game could have gone to overtime and swung in the Falcons' favor. But there is plenty of hope for the future in this Bowling Green team. Many of us probably said that last year, but if the Falcons can put an average defense on the field, this offense should be able to compete for a MAC East crown in no time.
Eastern Michigan's rushing offense won the game
When you're playing the fourth-worst run defense in the FBS, the game plan should be to expose it. And that's just what Eastern Michigan did.
The Eagles totaled 266 yards on Bowling Green, and the Falcons could not stop the two-back duo of Shaq Vann and Ian Eriksen. Vann finished with 117 yards compared to Eriksen's 104, but the latter of the two finished the night with three rushing touchdowns. Eriksen scored a key go-ahead touchdown on the final play of the third quarter, making the score 34-31 — a lead Eastern Michigan would never relinquish.
And Bowling Green really needs to work on its run defense this offseason. In fact, defense in general. Head coach Mike Jinks is from Texas Tech, and unfortunately for the Falcons, their defense looks like a stereotypical Red Raiders defense now.
There's so much young talent at BGSU's skill positions
Quarterback Jarret Doege is only a freshman. In seven games of action, Doege threw for 1,381 yards, 12 touchdowns, and just three interceptions. He only won one game but he was certainly not reprehensible for those losses. If Doege continues to develop, Bowling Green could replicate the dominant passing offense from the days of Matt Johnson and Roger Lewis. In regards to this Falcons' offense, there's a lot to be excited about, especially since Bowling Green cannot perform worse in 2018 than it did this season.
At running back, senior Josh Cleveland exited his college career with a solid 150-yard, 1-touchdown outing. But freshman Andrew Clair will take over the reigns at the position, and Clair impressed with four-straight 100-yard games around midseason.
At receiver, Datrin Guyton (112 yards versus Eastern Michigan) and Scott Miller (98) will be back for their senior seasons. The unit loses Teo Redding to graduation but there is still enough firepower at the position to help Doege and the passing game out.
Akron won the MAC East in 2017. In other words, it's a wide open division. Although Nathan Rourke has created a masterful offense in Ohio and the Bobcats will likely be the division favorites going forward, don't count out Bowling Green's offense to make a run in the near future. If the team can recruit and develop solid defenders, the Falcons could navigate up the ranks soon.