HERO Sports welcomes you to "Two-a-Days", where we will preview every single one of the 125 FCS programs, with two being released each day from June 18 to August 18 (with the final day having three in one day). Today we give you … Eastern Kentucky.
EASTERN KENTUCKY (4-7)
OVC (EKU was T5th in the OVC in 2017)
COACH: Mark Elder – 3rd year (7-15 record)
2017 OFFENSE: 20.7 ppg (86th in FCS)
2017 DEFENSE: 26.5 ppg (67th in FCS)
SUM IT UP: How good can this program be? Consider this: It had the SEC's Kentucky on the ropes last year for nearly three quarters. The potential is there, the recruiting has been impressive under Mark Elder the past two years, and this could be "the year" if this talented team buys in. One other positive thing to build on is how the Colonels played down the stretch last year. In the last five games, EKU won three and went to overtime with the No. 3 team in the OVC (Eastern Illinois) and played the OVC's No. 2, Austin Peay to within one score. You can see the spark here, but that spark just needs to be taken one step further. Quarterback Austin Scott was a PARADE All-American prep player back in 2015 — and he is just one option to replace Tim Boyle, who caught the eye of the NFL. In general, the offense looks intact and the O-line is 80% back. The defense loses some outstanding seniors to graduation, but seven of the 11 players who started the season finale are back in the lineup — and NFL prospect Aaron Patrick is back from injury. Read the room, right?
BEST-CASE SCENARIO: The stout recruiting classes seem to be blossoming and there is talent abound. The way EKU finished 2017 gives rise to optimism, as did the way this team played the SEC's Kentucky last year. Is this the year the Colonels return to being a playoff contender like this program has historically been? Honestly? I think so. Here's the problem though — Jacksonville State is Jacksonville State. Austin Peay may have the best team in school history if all goes well — and that is an away game. Eastern Illinois will be at home, which is key for EKU. The truth is, EKU may have its best team in several years, but the OVC may post more roadblocks than it has the past few years.
TOP RETURNEE: DL Aaron Patrick (HERO Sports Preseason All-American – coming off 2017 injury)
THE NEXT BEST: TE Dan Paul (1st team All OVC – 41 catches, 407 yds); KR/RB L.J. Scott (2nd team All OVC – 30 ypr on KR; 6 total TDs); LB Gavin Bryant (leading returning tackler – 44 tackles in just 9 games); DE Taquan Evans (23 tackles, 5 TFLs); LB Steven Crowder (11 tackles in spring game); OL Justin Myles (started every game in 2017); DL Connor Foos (29 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, 3 hurries); OL Cameron Kowalewski (19 career starts at tackle).
TOP NEWCOMER: QB D.J. Irons (6-foot-4 star out of Georgia who had many D-I options)
DID YOU KNOW?: Eastern Kentucky won the second I-AA/FCS national championship in 1979, beating Lehigh in the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, and the Colonels actually won two of the first five national titles of the new level — which began in 1978. EKU also won in 1982 and the Colonels were national runners up in 1980 and 1981. Only Montana has had more FCS Playoff appearances than EKU (24 to 21).
THE QUOTE: "We have a very large percentage of our snaps back. We're going to be a much more veteran crew. That's not just with the starters." — Head Coach Mark Elder told the Richmond Register
SOCIAL MEDIA SPOTLIGHT
THE HASHTAG: #FireTheCannon
FOOTBALL TWITTER: @EKUFootball
— EKU Football (@EKUFootball) July 2, 2018
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