It's easy to lose patience at this point. And how could you expect fans to not want a dramatic change from how things have looked for decades? Nearly 20 years of successful head coaching experience gave fans plenty of reasons to be optimistic when the head coach who could captivate an entire room if you'd just give him less than two minutes of your time was hired away from a Division-II program in Indiana.
At the same time, optimism doesn't win on Saturdays, but Chris Creighton and his staff has brought in some promising prospects despite only winning three games in his first two seasons. Recent memory reminds us that Ron English was able to give fans a 6-6 season in his third year. That's probably not the best way to go about having a measuring stick for expectations in 2016, nor should it be in years to come, but it's not like fans would complain about reaching (or surpassing for that matter) that milestone either.
Sat. Sept. 3 vs. Mississippi Valley State
Yes, the Eagles should open up with a win over an FCS squad at home under a third-year head coach. If not, it opens up a new series of foreshadowing that would be unfathomable. This game, like at many schools, is a true audition for players to solidify themselves on the two-deeps. The new 4-2-5 defense brought in by Neal Neathery will be on display, so we'll get a quick preview of how much players like Pat O'Connor, DaQuan Pace, Jason Beck and Anthony Zappone look and how much of the playbook they and others have been able to learn since the spring.
EMU wins by two touchdowns.
Sat. Sept. 10 @ Missouri
Just do me a favor: don't use an early road game in September against an SEC team as a true measuring stick for how the team will do the rest of the year. However, if the offense were able to put in work against a team that was second in the SEC in scoring defense last year (16.2 ppg), that wouldn't go unnoticed. I guess what I'm saying is, it's just one game that should be watched closely, but not taken all too seriously. Another thing that shouldn't be taken seriously if we see Brogan Roback and Todd Porter rotate at quarterback.
Sat. Sept. 17 @ UNC Charlotte
The 49ers were bad last year. They didn't have a single quarterback throw for over 100 yards in a game, nor did any of them have a positive TD-INT ratio. It's a good time for the Eagles to pick up a win on the road as UNC Charlotte enters their second season as an FBS program. This team also gave up nearly 200 yards on the ground per game last year, and Shaq Vann has already proven his worth to the EMU run game, so now we'll start to know who'll be more looked upon as the No. 2 back, which very well could be Breck Turner who was redshirted last year.
Sat. Sept. 24 vs. Wyoming
Bill Connelly says that this is Wyoming's biggest game of the season, where the Cowboys would really like to have a win on the road after EMU took the contest last year in Laramie. The Cowboys are also projected to win 4.2 wins this season, things could still look good for the Eagles, assuming that the regressing trend that Wyoming has had continues to work in EMU's favor to this point. The Eagles really won last season's game with the rushing attack, but the offense should also prove that there is a third wide receiver that can be threatening against their young secondary that could be used in multiple formations. Defensively, getting turnovers (or even creating limited success) against young quarterback(s) would be a good way to end the non-conference slate on a high note. Just. Please. God. Please. Stop. The. Run. Please.
Sat. Oct. 1 @ Bowling Green
We know what the defending MAC champions don't have anymore, but what do they have? They have a new head coach with James Knapke (or maybe James Morgan, but let's just say Knapke for the sake of argument) at quarterback -- and he wasn't all that bad when he was thrown into the fire two years ago when Dino Babers was in his first year there. Knapke will certainly be missing those same targets, but I'm comfortable saying that he'd still do a fine job this season. Again, I'm going to see what the EMU defense can do for their offense in any case. If Neathery's defense can live up to its promise and create turnovers, they'll be in good shape. And since the EMU offense is the most clear strong suit, they'll have to score early and often for their rushing attack to dribble out the clock in the later third of the game.
Sat. Oct. 8 vs. Toledo
Toledo's still in a very good position to win the West division. Backfield is solid, defense loses pieces but it's still more talented than EMU's roster. Actually, Ely's graduation gives Toledo an upgrade at quarterback. What would be good to see is for the defensive line to be able to create stops in the backfield. Pat O'Conner is still an NFL prospect, and with the growth of Jeremiah Harris, Luke Maclean, Kwanii Figueroa, Nick Dillon and Maxx Crosby, the Eagles should prove if this unit is one that'll give offensive lines trouble throughout the course of the season.
Sat. Oct. 15 @ Ohio
Similar thoughts as Toledo, as in: I think Ohio might have the best odds to win the East this year. Receiving corps with Jordan Reid and Sebastian Smith, JD Sprague could be a good enough quarterback to give the offense what it needs, AJ Ouellette is solid, and their defense is scary good. EMU certainly doesn't want to start the conference slate out going 0-3, but it's hard to see this going in a different direction.
Sat. Oct. 22 @ Western Michigan
Do the Broncos still have Corey Davis?
Sat. Oct. 29 vs. Miami
We discussed this in brief not too long ago. Both programs with promising coaches but in situations where it seems impossible to rise out of. Plenty of arguments can be made about how Chuck Martin has brought in better talent via recruiting, but this is where progression on and off the field will show. I've got a hunch that this will come down to whose defense shows up more, and offenses picking up first downs on second downs: little match-ups like that.
Tue. Nov. 8 @ Ball State
At this point, we've already known whether or not EMU looks good when they play or not. Same can be said for the opposition with Mike Neu at the helm and still have Riley Neal at quarterback. What will matter more than anything is the defense getting stops in the backfield in the fourth quarter. I know there are a lot of fans that assume there'll be controversy at QB this season, but if Roback stays the starting QB to this point, it's probably for good reason.
Wed. Nov. 16 vs. Northern Illinois
NIU certainly won't be as good as they have been, but it's always hard to pick against them. But judging by the way NIU ended their season last year around this time of the schedule and now they lose a few pieces on both sides of the ball, but still have Drew Hare, Joel Bouagnon and Kenny Golladay on offense. And despite NIU having to replace coordinators on both offense and defense, I still have to pick the Huskies until we're all wrong about this.
NIU wins, but EMU covers.
Tue. Nov. 22 vs. Central Michigan
Oh come on, your really think I think that EMU will drop this game again? After last year when they came so close? Ha! You must not know me that well. And I'm going to side with optimism on the EMU defense on the regular season finale against a rival because why the heck not. That, and Shaq Vann is still a real good ball player.