Eastern Illinois Football enters 2014 at number 2 in our rankings. Check out our Top 25 Season Preview for more on the top college teams to watch this fall. Can’t find your team in the Top 25? View our full rankings to see where every team stands.
Last Season: 12-2 (8-0) Ohio Valley Conference
The Panthers amassed a 12-2 record last season, their second under head coach Dino Babers. They opened their 2013 campaign with a 40-19 win at San Diego State (an FBS school), and made it three in a row with wins at Southern Illinois and at Illinois State in the two weeks following. Eastern Illinois football had their only regular season stumble in week four – a loss to Northern Illinois – before they went on to win the Ohio Valley Conference and earn themselves a bye in the FCS tournament as the number two overall seed. After trouncing Tennessee State 51-10 in their first tournament game, the Panthers’ season ended in upset – a 49-39 loss to Towson.
-Head Coach Dino Babers
-Dominic Pagliara OT – All-American
-Jimmy Garoppolo QB – First team FCS All-American, 375/568 (66%), 5,050 yards, 53 TDs, 9 INTs
-Erik Lora WR – First team FCS All-American, 123 catches, 1,544, 19 TDs
-Pat Wertz DE – First team All-OVC, 38 tackles, 6.5 sacks
-Alex Mcnulty DB – 52 tackles, 3 INTs
-Nick Beard FS – First team All-OVC, 48 tackles, 2 INTs
What to Watch For
New Coach – After only two years at Eastern Illinois, Dino Babers left to take the head job at Bowling Green. The Panthers hired former Louisiana Tech defensive coordinator Kim Dameron as his replacement. In one season, Dameron improved the Louisiana Tech defense from 120th in FBS (out of 127) to 69th, and he’ll hope to affect similar change here.
Offense – Jimmy Garoppolo graduated last spring after leading the Panthers to an FCS-best 589.5 yards and 48.2 points per game last season. He threw for the second most touchdowns in the division (53), and no FCS player threw for more yards than Garoppolo’s 5,050. The first team All-American was selected by the New England Patriots with the 62nd overall pick of the NFL Draft – the highest an Eastern Illinois player has ever gone.
Things are changing in Charleston. Gone are head coach Dino Babers, record-setting Walter Payton Award-winning quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, and his number one receiver from last season – Erik Lora. On defense, the Panthers lost six of their top ten tacklers, their leading sack producer, and multiple starters from each position group. They have plenty of young talent and a new defensive-minded head coach in Kim Dameron, but these losses hurt. They should see incremental improvement from a defensive unit that finished 53rd in the division last season, but some regression from their high-flying offense should also be expected. Fans should expect a conference championship and playoffs, but with so much turnover, expectations should be tempered slightly relative to last season.