The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 124 Eastern Michigan.
Previewing Eastern Michigan’s Offense for 2014:
As bad as the 2–10 Eagles were in 2013, running back Bronson Hill proved to be a difference-maker, rushing for 1,101 yards with a 5.6 yards-per-carry average. It was the first 1,000-plus yard rushing season for an Eastern Michigan running back in a decade. Hill, a third-team All-MAC selection, will be a critical piece of first-year coach Chris Creighton’s offense.
Hill and the other Eastern running backs aren’t likely to carry the load as much under Creighton as they did under former coach Ron English. In 2013, the Eagles ran the ball on 57 percent of their offensive snaps. That was down from 59 percent in 2012. Creighton wants to be closer to a 50-50 team and is particularly excited about the prospect of sophomore quarterback Brogan Roback getting the ball into the hands of his wide receivers out of multiple offensive formations.
Roback, a Maumee, Ohio, native, is one of the highest-recruited players to sign with Eastern in decades. He was thrown into the fire as a freshman when EMU’s season began to spin out of control, replacing Tyler Benz and starting the final three games of the season. Benz has since left the team, leaving Roback as the only quarterback with any experience on the roster. Roback threw for 640 yards and four touchdowns with five interceptions and a completion percentage of 42.2 in 2013.
What the Eagles lack in experience under center, they make up for at receiver and on the offensive line. Eastern brings back its top four pass-catchers, most notably second-team All-MAC tight end Tyreese Russell, and three of its five starting lineman. Right tackle Lincoln Hansen, a third-team all-conference pick in 2013, is the headliner.
Of course bringing back a bunch of players that contributed to one of the worst teams in college football in 2013 isn’t necessarily a good thing.
Previewing Eastern Michigan’s Defense for 2014:
Eastern gave up an average of 510.8 yards and 45.2 points per game in 2013, which both ranked in the bottom 10 in the country. It was enough to drive English, who was defensive coordinator as well as head coach, mad. A tape of an expletive-filled rant from English — recorded during a defensive meeting — expedited his inevitable firing by three games.
Eastern shouldn’t have to worry about any more rants — Creighton doesn’t allow players or coaches in his program to swear. He may want to give the policy a second thought after seeing his defense. The Eagles are thin at nearly every position, particularly in the defensive backfield. Ike Spearman, who led the team in tackles with 82 and tied for the lead in interceptions with two, should provide stability at the linebacker position. Creighton believes the defensive line will be where his team is deepest.
Previewing Eastern Michigan’s Specialists for 2014:
Tyler Allen accumulated 1,014 yards in kickoff returns in 2013. Allen, combined with punt returners Jay Jones and true freshman Cameron Bouldin, could make Eastern dangerous in the return game. Dylan Mulder made only 6-of-11 field goals as a sophomore. Austin Barnes returns as the punter.
Eastern is not the type of program that can be fixed overnight by any coach, let alone one with zero experience — as a player, assistant or head coach — at the FBS level, although no experience should be required to improve upon the four wins Eastern has accumulated the past two seasons. Creighton has a solid résumé, with an overall record of 139–46 as a head coach with stops at Ottawa (NAIA), Wabash (Division III) and Drake (FCS). His task at Eastern Michigan is immense. The Eagles have not had a winning season since 1995 and have been one of the worst FBS programs in the nation in recent years.