Normally when I do a preview of an Eastern Michigan football season, I ask the question of, “Can the Eagles bounce back from another losing season?”. This year I get to ask a question that hasn’t happened since 1989, “Can Eastern Michigan win back to back seasons?” (Actually, they had a four season winning record streak in 1989, so they won four seasons).
Saturday was the Eastern Michigan spring game. Since I went there for pictures, I figured this would give me a good opportunity to do a way too early Eastern Michigan Football preview.
In his first three seasons at Eastern Michigan, head coach Chris Creighton led his team to 2-10, 1-11 and 7-6 seasons, respectively. The 2016 campaign saw Creighton lead his squad to the program’s first bowl game since 1987.
The Eagles would end up losing in the Bahamas Bowl against Old Dominion, but they never showed any signs of quitting when they got behind. Can they continue that trend this season? Time will tell.
On offense, Eastern Michigan returns most of their skill positions from last season. The Eastern Michigan passing attack should be led by Brogan Roback, who was pretty effective last year despite missing a couple games due to suspension.
Roback threw for a total of 2,694 yards and 18 touchdowns las season, and perhapd more importantly, he only threw 7 picks in 10 games.
Roback was the main architect for the comeback victory in the Wyoming game last year, which I think was the emotional springboard for the rest of the season. The EMU offense should have some pretty capable hands in Sergio Bailey and Antoine Porter at receiver. Nigel Kilby is returning at tight end. Kilby provided a good relief valve when the receivers were covered.
With the return of Shaq Vann at running back, Eastern Michigan will be able to throw a hydra at it’s opponents this season. By my estimates, they will have four very capable backs and should be able to throw different looks at defenses with Breck Turner, Ian Eriksen and Blake Banham joining Vann in the backfield.
All four are potentially explosive backs that could give a good ground attack to combine with Eastern’s more capable aerial attack.
Of course, all of this was behind a veteran offensive line that only allowed one sack per game.
If I remember correctly, most of those players graduated last year, so the Eagles will be behind a rookie offensive line. If that line can gel during practices and the first couple of games, the Eastern Michigan offense can be very explosive. If not, it could be a long season in Ypsilanti (made longer by the lack of Saturday games in November).
I think the biggest story of last year was the defense that was taken over by Neal Neathery. He was able to cut rush yardage allowed in half.
Eastern Michigan gave up for passing yardage but I think that was more of a function of the 2015 team not being able to stop the run. Why bother passing when you can pretty much pass at will? Eastern Michigan’s defense improved their sack total by three. They also improved their takeaways by one.
If Neathery’s past is any indication of the future, I’m hoping that they will be even better this year.
The question mark on defense will be the loss of DaQuan Pace and Pat O’Connor. Both were very good players and they will be missed this year. But looking at the stats from last year and the returning players, the gaps they leave behind should be filled.
Next years schedule will be made slightly tougher in that they play seven of their 12 games on the road. But I’m not sure that will make a huge difference.
Game 1 - vs. Charlotte
This year Charlotte travels to Ypsilanti. Last year in Charlotte, Eastern Michigan exploded to a 37-19 win. I see no reason why they can’t chalk up a win as football returns to Rynearson.
Game 2 - at Rutgers
Eastern appears to be a team on the upswing and Rutgers is well Rutgers. If Eastern Michigan can shake the Big Ten aura off Rutgers, I will predict a victory in this one as well.
Game 3 - vs. Ohio
Last year, Eastern Michigan traveled down to Athens where they defeated the Bobcats. The Bobcats would end up winning the MAC East and nearly derailed Western Michigan’s chances at the Cotton Bowl when they faced them in the MAC Championship. The game was close last year but again, I will predict an Eastern Michigan victory.
Game 4 - at Kentucky
Eastern Michigan then travels to Lexington, KY where they will face Kentucky. I think this game may present a challenge for the Eagles and I will call this one a loss for the plucky Eagles.
Game 5 - at Toledo
Last year, the Rockets traveled to Ypsilanti where they beat the Eagles 35-20. I don’t think the score was as reflective of the game as it seemed close for much of the game. When the Eagles travel to the land of Tony Packo’s, I’m expecting another loss. But you never know because often times the Eagles play close against the Rockets.
Game 6 - at Army West Point
Eastern Michigan then flies from DTW to one of the New York airports (hopefully not LaGuardia). Then they travel up the Hudson River, where they face the Army West Point Black Knights. This is another game that is usually a toss up and the Black Knights may still be riding high after breaking the streak against Navy. So I’ll predict another loss but a close one.
Game 7 - vs. Western Michigan
Eastern Michigan returns to the shadow of the Water Tower to face the Broncos of Western Michigan.
If you will recall, Western Michigan were the MAC Champions last year and went to the Cotton Bowl as the top G5 team. They were defeated by the Badgers of Wisconsin but it was pretty close.
Almost immediately after that, PJ Fleck rowed his boat down the Kalamazoo River to Lake Michigan. He then rowed through Illinois to the Mississippi River. After turning north, he landed at the University of Minnesota. Western also lost some talent so it is potentially a rebuilding year for them.
In my books, that makes this game a tossup, and I think the Eagles will provide a good game and a victory for homecoming.
Game 8 - at Northern Illinois
The Eagles continue their road antics and travel over to DeKalb, Illinois where they face the Huskies. Eastern Michigan started the game strong last year but petered out the end and they allowed the Huskies to escape Ypsilanti with a victory. But still it was close. So if Eastern Michigan has learned how to win, they could win this one.
Game 9 - vs. Ball State
After hopping on a commuter line to Union Station in Chicago, the Eastern Michigan Eagles hop on the Wolverine to return home. Sadly, they have to stop in Ann Arbor and drive the rest of the way. Upon their return to Rynearson, they face the Cardinals of Ball State. Last year, the Eagles emerged victorious after a barn burning ending. And I see no reason why things will be different this year.
Game 10 - at Central Michigan
Last year’s game ended in victory after Brogan Roback converted on a fourth and long. The next play found him going deep to catch a waiting Sergio Bailey. The Eagles would win that game 26-21 and cemented their chances for a bowl game. This year finds them traveling to Mount Pleasant. In normal years, this game is a toss up. But I’ll toss the victory to the Eagles too.
Game 11 - at Miami (the proper one not the one in Florida)
For the next game, the Eagles hop on US-23 to I-75. After taking a bunch of backroads, they find themselves in Oxford, OH (beautiful area by the way). Last year, the Eagles were beat pretty soundly and I see no reason why things should be different this year.
Game 12 - versus Bowling Green
Last year was another close victory against Bowling Green. This year, the Eagles face them after two games on the road. I think it will probably be close but I’ll give the nod to the Eagles.
So with that, I predict the Eagles finishing the season at 8-4. If that holds up, they could find themselves contending for the MAC West and the MAC Championship. However, if their rookie line doesn’t gel the way I hope, it could just as easily end 4-8.
With that being said, here’s to the rest of spring practices across the MAC. Enjoy this gallery of photos created for your viewing pleasure:
Matthew Sexton running after a catch.
Brogan Roback setting up to pass
- Breck Turner eludes the defense. Kenneth Bailey
- A pretty nice kickoff
- Blake Banham finds himself a nice hole. Kenneth Bailey
- Ian Eriksen works his way through the defense Kenneth Bailey
- Antoine Porter eludes a tackler Kenneth Bailey
- Paul Fricano splits the uprights Kenneth Bailey
- Issac Stiebeling sets up the pass. Kenneth Bailey
- A pretty nice punt Kenneth Bailey
- Sergio Bailey gets tackled after the catch Kenneth Bailey
- Eddie Daugherty works to the outside. Kenneth Bailey
- Anton Skupin sets up a pass Kenneth Bailey
- After years of trying, I finally get the football in a field goal shot Kenneth Bailey
- And the post game handshake Kenneth Bailey