There's plenty to be optimistic about this season. New coaching staff, new field, promising recruits, and even some promising transfers. But optimism just doesn't cut it anymore. Loyal fans that have been eager for Eastern Michigan football season to start all have different attitudes towards the upcoming season, all depending on how long they've been committed to program. The younger fans are probably just ready to be on or around campus, get hammered at the tailgates and party after the games. But the elder crowd is weary, annoyed and find themselves saying "Well, here we go again."
Last year, I broke down everything that went wrong last year, from Reed's death to what Ron English is now infamously known for. But life goes on, and we can only move forward. And that's just how AD Heather Lyke treated the situation surrounding the program.
Moving forward with this, it's time to bury the hatchet and make the most of all of the changes that have taken place over the offseason.
Rebranding Yourself, The Factory
For years, Eastern Michigan football has been nothing short of a laughing stock. When a 6-6 season ends up being a miserable fluke, nobody in the nation is going to take you seriously, let alone your conference opponents.
On National Signing Day, Heather Lyke addressed those that attended their open-to-the-public event in celebration of the addition of the 17 Signees. Handing out block 'E' pins at the door, saying that the 'E' now stands for 'excellence.' The athletic program would be excellent in everything they do from there on out would be her selling point.
The Factory, the nickname given to the new all-gray field that's finally in place at Rynearson Stadium, is meant to be a visual representation of the hard working people in southeast Michigan, instilling a blue collar mentality around the program. At this point, nothing is given to the program. Everything is work for and earned.
New Coaching Staff Led By Chris Creighton, With Former NFL Players
Creighton, coming from Drake University, has 17 years of head coaching experience at the tender age of 45. He's never had a losing record in those 17 years. The only real knock on that is that he's never coached a Division-I program before. He's been to Division-III and NAIA programs in Ottawa University, Wabash College and Drake University. With all of the success that he's had at these smaller programs, he definitely deserved a shot at EMU for his first D1 gig.
If there's one thing that should be highlighted on his resume, it'd be his very first year as a head coach with the Ottawa Braves. First time as a collegiate head coach, he took a team that hadn't been good in a long time to become conference champions with a 9-2 record. It's either that or having played for the Limhamn Griffins in 1993 in Malmo, Sweden as the team's starting quarterback and head coach. He led that franchise to winning their first ever national championship.
Here's a few others on the coaching staff that are worth mentioning:
Kalen DeBoer, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks: Coached three NAIA National Players of the Year. Two quarterbacks, one running back.
Brad McCaslin, defensive coordinator and inside linebackers: From Drake, held his opponents to under 100 rushing yards per game in 2013. He also coached Chris Cooper and Buck Rasmussen, both went on to play in the NFL.
Herb Haygood, wide receivers: A 5th round NFL Draft pick in 2002 out of Michigan State. Played with the Denver Broncos, Indianapolis Colts and Kansas City Chiefs.
Jay Peterson, running backs: Was EMU's linebackers coach from 2004-2008. He was a standout running back for the Miami RedHawks from 1980-83, rushing for 2,874 yards. That's fifth on Miami's all-time career rushing list.
Chris Simpson, outside linebackers: Won three straight Division-III National Championships with Wisconsin-Whitewater as their linebackers coach.
Jimmy Williams, defensive line: Played defensive line for the University of Nebraska, followed by 12 years in the NFL (Lions, Vikings and Buccaneers). Coached the Toledo Rockets in 2002 and Buffalo Bulls in 2007, where those teams made it to the MAC Championship game.
Offense, The Team's Strong Suit
A pair of 4-star quarterback prospects in Rob Bolden and Brogan Roback make up the major headlines at quarerback. But Creighton sees the potential in redshirt freshman Reginald Bell and freshman Lemar Harris, wanting them all to battle for playing time.
Bronson Hill didn't even make up for half of the team's carries last year, and they were still sixth in the conference in rushing. There's absolute depth here. Hill, Ryan Brumfield, Darius Jackson all back-ended by talented freshmen in Iak Erickson and Shaq Vann are all very skilled in their crafts. The main three (Hill, Brumfield, Jackson) are all balanced backs that can run up the middle and act as a slot receiver. What playbook doesn't open up more for an abundance like this?
The team is returning their two top receivers from 2013 as well: Dustin Creel and tight end Tyreese Russell, who account for 90 receptions for 1,187 yards and eight touchdowns. Hill and Brumfield are fifth and sixth on last year's receiving board with 175 and 80 yards, respectively.
Defense, Not The Team's Strong Suit
The numbers speak for themselves here. Last in the MAC in scoring defense (45.2 points per game), last in the MAC in rushing defense (258 ypg), and 11th in the MAC in passing defense (252 ypg). This defense gave up 50 points on six occasions under Ron English, who hired Stan Parrish in his final season to be more focused on defense.
Under Brad McCaslin, the defense will be switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 base. Which gives junior captain Pat O'Connor a lot of responsibility to make some noise on the defensive line, who only had 22 sacks last year. This will also give linebackers like Hunter Matt, Ike Spearman and Great Ibe more flexibility with their roles.
If it weren't for terrible coaching by English, senior captain Pudge Cotton has been one of the best tacklers on the team, but wasn't used to the best of his abilities to create the off-season hype that he deserves. He's been a hard-hitter ever since he was in high school. With the new coaching staff, Pudge could and should be taking a huge responsibility for the defensive backfield. A notable freshman that could see a lot of playing time is Jason Beck.
Schedule, Hold Your Breathe
|8/30||vs. Morgan State|
|9/13||@ Old Dominion|
|9/20||@ Michigan State|
|10/25||vs. Northern Illinois|
|11/1||vs. Central Michigan|
|11/15||@ Western Michigan|
|11/22||@ Ball State|
Expectations, With Optimism
Looking at the schedule, there are five to seven acceptable "winnable" games for EMU. We don't know if this quarterback situation backfires and implodes. We don't know if Creighton's just not quite ready for the talent at the D1 level. We don't know if injuries quickly plague this team to be unsuccessful.
But we also don't know if the quarterback situation if better than EMU fans are hoping for. We don't know if the other coaches are ready for Creighton. We don't know if something bad happens to teams that should be performing well against the Eagles.
We've moved forward from being told to "Embrace the Process" to being told that this is the "Era of Excellence". No matter how it turns out, we are now experiencing what it will be remembered by.