HERO Sports welcomes you to "Three-a-Days", where we will preview every single one of the 126 FCS programs, with three teams being released each day from June 17 to July 28. Then, we'll preview all 13 conferences from August 1-4. Today, we present … Eastern Illinois.
We'll leave no stone left unturned when it comes to giving the FCS diehards all they could ask for this offseason. Learn about every program in the country, with HERO Sports.
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EASTERN ILLINOIS (3-8 IN 2018)
The OVC (EIU was Tied for 6th in 2018)
COACH: Adam Cushing – At School: 1st year (0-0 record), Overall: Same
LAST FCS POSTSEASON: 2015 (first round loss to Northern Iowa)
2018 OFFENSE: 32.5 ppg. (25th in FCS)
2018 DEFENSE: 40.5 ppg. (112th in FCS)
KEY GAME: Sept. 14 – vs. Illinois State: The 108th Mid-America Classic is a tradition in these parts, and the Panthers could go a long way in establishing themselves if this game goes well.
SUM IT UP: Eastern Illinois made a nice hire last December in bringing long-time Northwestern assistant Adam Cushing aboard, as he received rave reviews from Wildcats' head coach Pat Fitzgerald and their A.D. Cushing brings a wealth of experience and excitement to the program as it looks to rebound from a three-win 2018 campaign.
In OVC play last year, EIU won three games and was in all but one game (Jacksonville State). The Panthers were hardly a pushover and put up a ton of points on offense. This year, the program may need to lean a bit more on its defense, with seven solid starters back — primarily in the linebacking corps and secondary. One strength offensively is the luxury of having two 1,000-yard passers back on the roster in Johnathan Brantley and Harry Woodberry. They combined to throw for 27 touchdowns and only eight interceptions, but they'll need some new stars to emerge to throw to as 2019 pro prospect Alex Hollins has moved on. All conference tight end James Sheehan will undoubtedly be one of the answers.
OUR TAKE: Once again, EIU isn't backing down from anybody and the non-conference schedule is brutal — ranked No. 6 in the FCS in the HERO Sports schedule strength rating. All three FCS opponents (Chattanooga, Illinois State, Indiana State) seem like potential playoff teams, and Indiana is obviously a Big Ten program. If EIU comes away with a win in any of these first four games, that's a massive step forward for Cushing's program, as it aims to build itself back to the prominence we saw at EIU in the first half of this decade. The toughest OVC games are definitely at home (Jacksonville State, Eastern Kentucky, SEMO) so that's a positive. We think this program may be just a year away from being .500 or better, but the good news is there is a lot of young talent on this roster. Four or five wins with this schedule would be a major stepping stone for EIU, and good things lie ahead in 2020.
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COUNTDOWN: The Best Player in FCS Who Wears Each Number, 1-99
TOP RETURNEE: Sr./TE James Sheehan (2nd Team All OVC – 50 receptions, 544 yards, 3 TDs)
THE FOUNDATION: Sr./QB Johnathan Brantley (All OVC Newcomer team – 2,016 yards passing, 14 TDs only 2 INTs; 310 yards rushing, 6 TDs); Jr./OL Travis Buckwalter (10 starts at guard last year); Sr./LB Joe Caputo (2018 leading tackler – 86 tackles, 7.5 TFLs); Jr./LB Dytarious Johnson (2nd leading tackler – 78 tackles, 15 TFLs); Soph./DB Edwyn Brown (55 tackles, 2 INTs); Jr./DB Ray Crittenden (51 tackles)
THE NEWCOMER: Fr./DL Dominic Moore (HERO Sports No. 111 ranked signee this spring – reported an Illinois offer and 4 FBS offers total).
THE QUOTE: "Today is the greatest day of my professional life. EIU is an amazing place with a rich football tradition. I'm humbled by the opportunity to lead this program. The plan is to take these student-athletes to places they've never been before and transform this community with their actions on and off the field." — Head Coach Adam Cushing said when hired
WERE WE RIGHT?: Last Year's Eastern Illinois Preview
FCS 2020 NFL PROSPECTS: The List
BEST FCS TRADITIONS: The List
PREVIEWS: The Rest Of The OVC
SUBSCRIBE: HERO Sports FCS Podcast