clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

MAC Football Previews: Eastern Michigan Eagles

Now that head coach Chris Creighton has settled in for his second year in Ypsilanti, the Eagles could become a huge surprise team in the MAC in 2015. Or not.

Andrew Mascharka (The Eastern Echo)

Year after year, it's been the same age-old question: will the Eastern Michigan Eagles finally get their stuff together? The best thing that's happened to this program in terms of single-season success in recent years was a fluke 6-6 season, but they were still ineligible for a bowl birth with two of those wins coming against FCS schools.

After a nosedive into whatever word is worse than disappointment is to sum up the English era, Chris Creighton was hired in from Drake University to turn things around. People hated 'The Factory' last year, saying it's nothing more than a huge PR stunt merely because, well, what was his record in 2014? 2-10? Again?

Tough losses, big losses, still those that would show up to Rynearson every home game in Saturday, for the most part, were the ones that would always show up no matter the coach, no matter the record. For new fans to spring into Rynearson this season, they'll have to be given a new reason to not make other plans on Saturday afternoons: to watch a winning team.


Date Team Time (ET)
Sept. 5 vs. Old Dominion 3 pm
Sept. 12 @ Wyoming 4 pm
Sept. 19 vs. Ball St. 3 pm
Sept. 26 vs. Army TBA
Oct. 3 @ LSU TBA
Oct. 10 vs. Akron 3 pm
Oct. 17 @ Toledo TBA
Oct. 24 @ Northern Illinois 3:30 pm
Oct. 29 (Thur.) vs. Western Michigan 7:30 pm
Nov. 7 @ Miami TBA
Nov. 14 vs. UMass TBA

Nov. 27 (Fri.) @ Central Michigan TBA

Game times yet to be finalized, the Eagles are going to have more 3 pm starts at home than there used to be. They'll start things off against Old Dominion, who the Eagles lost to down in Norfolk, Virginia last year 17-3 in a weather-contested game. They'll also get to see the Army Black Knights at home in a non-conference matchup while facing both Wyoming Cowboys and LSU Tigers on the road.

The first MAC game of the year is also going to be held at EMU as they face the Ball State Cardinals, who started seeing more success with redshirt-sophomore Jack Milas at quarterback. While they also take on both Akron Zips and UMass Minutemen at home, none are more exciting than seeing the Western Michigan Broncos come to Ypsilanti for a Thursday night matchup. Even though the Broncos are neck-and-neck with Toledo to be atop of the preseason polls for the MAC West, there's nothing more polarizing a rivalry game under the lights on national television.

On the road in MAC play, the Eagles will have their hands full in October having to see the Toledo Rockets and Northern Illinois Huskies in back-to-back weeks. They'll face the Miami RedHawks on November 7 to meet with second year head coach Chuck Martin, who hauled in a very impressive signing class this past February. To finish the regular season off, the Eagles will go on the road to face rivaled Central Michigan Chippewas, who the Eagles haven't been able to beat since that 6-6 season in 2011.

Head Coach

Chris Creighton is entering his second season at the helm of EMU football. Coming in with 17 years of head coaching experience in smaller programs with 17 years of winning records was a very promising sight for many. Unfortunately, his first year ended with a 2-10 record with wins over FCS program Morgan State and over the Buffalo Bulls.

Immediately after Creighton was hired in December of 2013, he hit the road and started recruiting in Michigan and had to start picking who would be "his guys" on the coaching staff. Kalen DeBoer (offensive coordinator) and Brad McCaslin (defensive coordinator) were a pair of key hires for the Eagles and will be returning again this season. EMU hasn't had both coordinators returning since 2010-2012 with OC Ken Karcher and DC Phil Snow. Consistency with the playbooks gives room for more optimism for the program. If nothing else, it can't hurt.

Unlike how the majority of the 2014 signing class was treated, the 2015 signing class won't be "blanket red-shirted." Red-shirting an entire or most of a signing class is a fairly common practice for new head coaches. This helps the program in the long run and should provide some more depth in various positions heading into the season.

Five key players

Pat O'Connor (DT)- Led the MAC with 7.5 sacks (47th nationally) and fourth in the conference with 14 tackles for loss. 64 total tackles to be fifth on the team. A First Team All-MAC pick last year, O'Connor is elected as a team captain again, and is on the watch list for both Rotary Lombardi Award and Bronko Nagurski Trophy.

Great Ibe (LB)- A Second Team All-MAC pick last year after leading the Eagles with 133 total tackles (11 TFL) for the season (third-most in the conference). Also on the Lombardi Award watch list, Ibe is one of the top inside linebackers in the conference and should be ending his college career o a high note,

Reggie Bell (QB)- First year as the starting quarterback and Bell was one of seven quarterbacks nationally to lead his team in both rushing (562 yards, 4 touch downs) and passing yards (1,297, nine TD). He practiced and battled with a chip on his shoulder to get the starting job last year and still carries the same mental approach to the game. He's only shown progression week after week last year, but will have to cut down on his turnovers for his efforts to not go to waste.

Darius Jackson (RB)- After having to battle for playing time with Bronson Hill and Ryan Brumfield on the roster, Jackson earned four starts last year, but only finished with 295 yards worth of rushing yards with one touchdown. Still, he's a preseason Doak Walker Award candidate and should have a better stat line than 2014's and this season's end.

Dustin Creel (WR)- Not the most exciting career so far, but if there's ever a time to have the best season ever, it's your senior season. Only 24 catches for 228 yards last year without any touchdowns is brutal, especially since he was nearing 600 yards with five scores off of 46 catches the year before. This is where the consistency with the playbook should help Creel out.

The Eagles' strong suit

Returning a pair of All-MAC selections in O'Connor and Ibe after switching to a 3-4 system are definitely going to be huge helps for the defense heading into their senior year. That defensive line, led by O'Connor, is going to be something else with transfer Clay Dawson to play some defensive end along with returning players Mike Brown, Derrick Dunlap, Jeremiah Harris and Aaron Pipkins all to be included in the rotation. Nick Dillon and Kwanii Figueroa are also two of the better prospects from the 2015 signing class that could fight their way into some playing time on the defensive line.

The Eagles are most deep at linebacker. Ibe is projected to be a First Team All-MAC player by season's end, returning as the team's leading tackler. He and Anthony Zappone are good compliments for each other as inside linebackers, which wasn't something that was figured out until midway through the season last year. Ike Spearman led the 2013 team in tackles and missed all of last year with a leg injury. Losing senior linebacker Hunter Matt as the other projected outside linebacker hurts, but there are still other options to turn to with Nathan Adams, Gabrield Gubilee-Rodriguez, Amos Houston, D'Marcus Moon and even Kyle Rachwal to turn to this year.

Harris was one of two players from the 2014 class that wasn't red-shirted. The other was safety Jason Beck, who made 10 starts last year and was fourth on the team with 86 total tackles. There's reason to believe that Brody Hoying could find himself into a similar situation this year, first cousins of former  Ohio State Buckeyes Bobby Hoying and Ross Homan. They also add Anthony Brown, JUCO transfer from the state of Iowa, who is listed as a defensive back but could find himself playing in a minor outside linebacker role.


Trying to figure out who could be valuable assets on the field is pretty tough, especially if names that are being talked about aren't ones that we really recognize from previous Saturdays. Having a deep corps of running backs has been a thing at EMU for a few years now, but now with Jackson and Juwan Lewis as the clear top two running backs, it'll be interesting to see how the rest of the guys behind them perform. Shaq Vann, one of the blanket red-shirt players from the last signing class, is getting plenty of mentions from Bell and has shown that he could be an option as a returning option on special teams. 5-foot-10 Blake Banham found himself in the same situation as a red-shirt. Bell thinks this versatile back could be a breakout performer in 2015.

"He's able to play in the backfield, flex out to receiver... I work with him almost daily," Bell said at MAC Media Day. "He's one of my really good friends. Once he's got the ball in his hands, he could pick up an extra 15-20 yards and even take it to the end zone."

There's a few new faces to look out for as well. To stay with the running backs, Breck Turner was one of the top 50 recruits coming out of the state of Ohio, rushing for over 5,600 yards and scored 79 times. When it comes to possible true freshman with good playing time, he could be one.

Turner's senior highlight tape, courtesy of Hudl:

Wide receiver Kevin Davis sat out all of last year after transferring from the Indiana Hoosiers program, but will step on the field this year to help out the EMU offense. Bell has echoed that Davis should be a hot target for him this season, not only at Media Day, but said the same back during spring practices. Cody Tuttle is a Moorpark College (CA) transfer that could fit in well in the tight end/h-back position.

As for the offensive line, there's just not enough evidence to say whether or not they'll be able to hold up their end of the bargain this season. Andrew Wylie, Darien Terrell and Darian Miles are all returning players on the OL, but it looks like I should be saying the same thing for Cole Gardner, who is no longer listed as a tight end and has switched to an OL, switching his number from 84 to 75.

TL;DR: Season outlook

Another year under Creighton and his staff is good for playbook purposes. A promising incoming class of freshmen could lead to some of these guys, without any Division-I (read: college) experience, to get some playing time right away. However, it's still a tough season with a rough stretch of MAC West foes to get through so the expectations remain relatively low by the outsiders.