No. 89 Eastern Michigan
Entering the 2016 season, Eastern Michigan was considered one of the worst programs in America. Now they're suddenly a MAC contender.
All eyes will be on a new offensive coordinator, senior quarterback and rebuilt offensive line as the Eagles look to match — or top — last year's historic season.
2016 Record: 7-6 (4-4, MAC)
Eastern Michigan's seven wins matched their combined total from the last four seasons. It was the first seven-win season since 1989, first four-win MAC season since 2011 and first bowl appearance since 1987. And it could've been a lot better.
The Eagles lost to Northern Illinois and Old Dominion by a combined 11 points and trailed both Toledo and Miami (OH) by one score in the second half. Despite the near-misses, it was a huge season for a program in dire need of a jump start — especially with discussions of ending the program — and they bring back enough pieces to do it again in 2017.
Head Coach: Chris Creighton (4th year, 10-27)
Chris Creighton did a lot of winning at his three previous head coaching stops at the FCS, D3 and NAIA levels. Like the five Eastern Michigan coaches who preceded him, he didn't win much in first two years in Ypsilanti. But after three total victories in 2014 and 2015, he engineered the most dramatic turnaround in college football.
Key Returning Offensive Players
The 6-foot-3, 206-pound former four-star recruit threw for three touchdowns and zero interceptions three times in 2016, including a near-flawless 29-for-39, 347-yard performance in a win over Ohio. He'll be working with new coordinator Aaron Keen, the Eagles' former special teams coach.
"I don't know the statistics, but in my mind, Brogan is the best quarterback in college football," said senior receiver Sergio Bailey. "Not only on the field but off the field as well. He is a great leader."
Bailey caught eight passes for 143 yards and one touchdown in that win over the comeback win over Ohio, and he'll anchor one of the MAC's better units. Sophomore Dieuly Aristidle emerged as a big-play threat late in the season, catching a pass of at least 40 yards in five of their final five games.
Shaq Vann returns from injury to lead a three-headed rushing attack, and they'll need immediate production from all three as a new offensive line is pieced together.
Key Returning Defensive Players
DT Luke Maclean, DE Jeremiah Harris, DE Maxx Crosby, LB Kyle Rachwal, LB Ike Spearman, S Jason Beck, S Vincent Calhoun, S Anthony Brown
Eastern Michigan couldn't stop anyone in 2015. That changed overnight.
They jumped form 123rd nationally in yards allowed per game and dead last in rushing yards allowed per game to 85th and 58th, respectively. And the Eagles return their top four tacklers, namely junior linebacker Kyle Rachwal, for a unit that began swarming to the football.
Jeremiah Harris and Maxx Crosby must explode if they expect no drop-off from Pat O'Connor, who registered 15 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. Harris only had 1.5 tackles for loss and 0.5 sacks in their final four games but is capable of mass disruption.
“You can ask anyone on our team, and Jeremiah Harris and Maxx Crosby have had fantastic springs,” Creighton said. “I think O’Connor was such a dominant presence and got so much attention, that those guys were in the wings but were still really good football players that didn’t get a whole lot of notoriety. Now those two guys are excited about the responsibility and opportunity to be those kind of players, and they have what it takes to be that type of playmaker.”
Sophomore safety Vincent Calhoun is a rising star, though the secondary still belongs to seniors Jason Beck and Anthony Brown. Brown missed 2016 with injury after recording 67 tackles, one interception, four pass breakups and eight tackles for loss in 2015.
Notable Player Losses
Losing four veteran offensive linemen is never easy, regardless of who's behind them. Cole Gardner, a First-Team All-MAC selection, and Andrew Wylie stabilized a unit that produced the program's best offensive numbers in years.
Defensively, Pat O'Connor, who finished his career with 34 tackles for loss and 20 sacks, is off to the NFL. Sure-tackling corner Ikie Calderon is also gone, as is Quan Pace, who led the team with three interceptions and eight passes defended.
Notable Player Additions
OT Samuel Dervil, DT Desmond Kelly, DT Tyler LaBarbera, DE Justice Williams, CB Shaq Jones
Jeremiah Harris and Maxx Crosby lead an upperclassmen-laden defensive line that adds depth in redshirt freshman Justice Williams, a 6-foot-4, 232-pound Michigan native who can rush from either side, and JUCO defensive tackles Desmond Kelly and Tyler LaBarbera.
Shaq Jones is a big (6-foot-1, 197-pound) three-star JUCO transfer who will help alleviate the losses of Calderon and Pace, and another JUCO transfer, offensive tackle Samuel Dervil, will compete for a starting job.
Eastern Michigan's 2017 schedule is an odd one. They get an early Week 3 bye, play two Power Five teams on the road in September, have a three-game road trip and don't play a Saturday game after mid-October.
|Friday, Sept. 1||vs. Charlotte|
|Saturday, Sept. 9||at Rutgers|
|Saturday, Sept. 23||vs. Ohio|
|Saturday, Sept. 30||at Kentucky|
|Saturday, Oct. 7||at Toledo|
|Saturday, Oct. 14||at Army|
|Saturday, Oct. 21||vs. Western Michigan|
|Thursday, Oct. 26||at Northern Illinois|
|Thursday, Nov. 2||vs. Ball State|
|Wednesday, Nov. 8||at Central Michigan|
|Wednesday, Nov. 15||at Miami (OH)|
|Tuesday, Nov. 21||vs. Bowling Green|