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 Kentucky.
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.
[divider]MORE FCS FOOTBALL:
- FCS Home
- FCS Preview Schedule – Team Links
- The HERO Sports Preseason Top 25 Poll
- Preseason All-American Teams
EASTERN KENTUCKY (7-4 IN 2018)
The OVC (EKU was Tied for 3rd in 2018)
COACH: Mark Elder – At School: 4th year (14-19 record), Overall: Same
LAST FCS POSTSEASON: 2014 (lost in first round to Indiana State)
2018 OFFENSE: 26.9 ppg. (66th in FCS)
2018 DEFENSE: 28.7 ppg. (68th in FCS)
KEY GAME: Sept. 14 – at Indiana State: This is the key game? Are you serious, HERO Sports? Absolutely it's a big one for both of these teams because we think come November this game may be a determinant for an FCS Playoff berth. Indiana State and EKU were both bubble teams last year and both return a nice chunk of talent. Keep an eye on this one, as it'll be one of the more critical non-conference matchups in the FCS this season.
SUM IT UP: For the past few seasons, our preseason prognostications involving Eastern Kentucky have always been — well — curious, but tentative. We've been impressed with the recruiting of EKU's staff, which always gets one thinking of "what's to come?". Well, we're going to throw out those tags of "curious" and "tentative" and we're going to have some guts with our take on EKU, and we're going to go with our gut. We think this is going to be a breakout season for the Colonels, because the evidence is there that this team is going to be good in 2019. That's why we have Eastern Kentucky at No. 24 in our HERO Sports FCS Preseason Poll.
First of all, look at 2018's body of work: Two FBS losses that were super close late in the ballgame stick out, a win over FCS playoff team SEMO, a four-game win streak to enter 2019, and an ability to win close games in the OVC. Couple all of that with 16 returning starters on offense and defense and every single specialist back, and combine that with the fact the Colonels bring in some serious talent via recruiting and transfers and you see where this is heading. This is a traditional FCS/I-AA powerhouse (21 all-time playoff berths, second only to Montana with 23), and it has the talent this year to prove it is back.
The quarterback situation will be interesting. Oregon State Conor Blount started six games for the Beavers last year as a sophomore, throwing for more than 1,100 yards and 7 TDs. There's also Parker McKinney, Dakota Allen and Austin Scott, who all have seen key playing time for EKU in years past. No matter what happens at quarterback, the position seems to be in good hands. The running game starts with 1,500 career yard rusher Daryl McCleskey and the two offensive linemen and tight end coming back (see below) are solid. Oh, and two FBS transfers will help plug the holes up front.
The defense looks really strong up front, led by long-time stud DE Aaron Patrick, who really does seem like he's been an EKU cornerstone for most of this decade. And when it comes to playmaking, the Colonels were fifth in the nation with 19 interceptions, led by stud LB Leodis Moore (5 INTs, 1 TD). In all, this program did a good job of owning the clock, finishing seventh in time of possession — a testament to both sides of the ball.
OUR TAKE: Like we said above, we have a hunch about this group. The non-conference schedule has two likely wins in Valpo and Presbyterian, one toss-up with Indiana State and a P5 game against a Louisville team that is in major rebuild mode right now. The OVC is stronger than it has been in awhile, and that's something to consider. Jacksonville State is as strong as it has been since 2015, so that's certainly a hurdle — and that game is in Alabama. SEMO was very strong last year, but EKU did beat the Redhawks — and that game will be on the road too.
Murray State should be pretty strong this year too. So what are we getting at? This isn't the OVC of the past number of years where it's Jacksonville State and "who wants second place bad enough?". We think the parity will be good, meaning even the strongest team in years at EKU isn't going to be guaranteed much in league play. We think seven wins is a definite here, and eight wins makes a serious case for a FCS Playoff berth for the Colonels — the potential of the first postseason trip since 2014. As stated in the "game to watch" description above … that Indiana State game might ultimately be the pivotal game on the resume. To us? It's must win for EKU.
[divider]SUBSCRIBE: HERO Sports FCS Podcast
COUNTDOWN: The Best Player in FCS Who Wears Each Number, 1-99
TOP RETURNEE: Sr./DE Aaron Patrick (HERO Sports Preseason All American – 53 tackles, 7.5 sacks).
THE FOUNDATION: Sr./DB Leodis Moore (1st Team All OVC — 5 INTs, 48 tackles); Jr./LB Steven Crowder (73 tackles); Sr./RB Daryl McCleskey (651 yds rushing, 5 TDs); Jr./OL Jackson Bardall (returning starting center); Jr./WR B.K. Smith (244 yards receiving); Sr./DB T.J. Comstock (40 tackles, 2 INTs); Soph./WR Jackson Beerman (324 yards receiving); Soph./OL Tucker Schroeder (freshman starter); Sr./LB Ben Bascom (66 tackles, 2 INTs); Sr./PK Samuel Hayworth (15 of 21 on FGs); Jr./RS-WR Jaelin Carter (25 yards per kickoff return, 8.2 per punt – 232 yds receiving and 2 TDs).
THE NEWCOMER: Fr./DL Josiah Ezirim (HERO Sports Top 200 prep signee – Cincy offer among other FBS reported offers)
THE QUOTE: "The next step for us as a program is a conference championship. That's where we've set our standards. Those are our goals and they won't change. I really believe this team had a taste of what it was like to be a seven-win team and how close we were to making the playoffs. In a couple of games, we didn't play our best defensively. We are constantly reminding them of those games to remind them this is what we're playing for – the opportunity to play in the playoffs and get a chance for a conference championship." — Defensive Coordinator Coach Kurt Mattix said during spring ball
WERE WE RIGHT?: Last Year's Eastern Kentucky Preview
FCS 2020 NFL PROSPECTS: The List
BEST FCS TRADITIONS: The List
PREVIEWS: The Rest Of The OVC
SUBSCRIBE: HERO Sports FCS Podcast