2011 Record: (6-6, 4-4 in MAC)
Head Coach: Ron English (8-28 at EMU)
Last Bowl Game: 1987 California Bowl: Beat San Jose St 30-27
Paying the Bills: 9/22 at Michigan State
Must Win: 9/8 vs Illinois State
Revenge: 8/20 at Ball State; 10/6 vs Kent State, 10/13 vs Toledo, 11/23 vs NIU
Stat to Cheer: Held opponents to 31.45% on 3rd down conversions (7th Nationally)
Stat to Fear: In six losses only scored four touchdowns in the red zone (30.77% TD rate)
Phil Steele's Returning Starters (Offense: 9; Defense: 7: Specialists: 2)
Key Defensive Returnees: LB Justin Cudworth (83 tackles), DL Andy Mulumba (7.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks)
Key Offensive Returnees: QB Alex Gillett (14 TD passing, 3 TD rushing, 7 INT), RB Javonti Greene (667 yards rushing, 6 TD)
Inside Scoop with the Eagle Totem Blog:
CFBZ: After going 2-22 in his first two seasons, Ron English and EMU seem to have turned the corner last year. What were the primary reasons for the improvement?
Eagle Totem: Personnel. Ron English was hired late in December 2008. That means he had to rush to put together a recruiting class for 2009, and his first class that he was really able to recruit was 2010. In football, except for exceptional players and exceptional situations (senior quarterback suffers a season-ending injury), freshmen tend not to be big contributors, and usually only a few sophomores are. That means that for his first two season, any new coach is mostly playing with his predecessor's recruits. In this case, part of Jeff Genyk's problem was that he was bringing in a lot of players who just didn't have Division I-A talent (sometimes not even Division I-AA talent). I wasn't following EMU football as closely then, so I don't know if it was bad talent evaluation, an inability to recruit against other schools, or (most likely) some combination.
Whatever the reason, despite a few good players, the overall talent level just wasn't there. Between the 0-12 2009 season and the 2-10 2010 season, English cleaned house, with nearly 30 non-seniors (and half his coaching staff) not returning. By 2011 he had pretty well cleared out the "dead weight", and the first players he recruited, players who are buying in to his hard-hitting brand of football (what our neighbors at MGoBlog call "Manball", defined as "I'm bigger, faster and stronger than you are, so I'm gonna hit you so hard your momma cries, then evoke masculine metaphors."), were juniors and sophomores and able to contribute more.
CFBZ: Besides being the QB, Alex Gillett was also EMU's leading rusher last season. Who are some of the other players on this Eagles offense that fans should take note of?
Eagle Totem: Aside from Gillett, EMU has a returning three-headed monster at running back, with Dominique Sherrer, Javonti Greene and Dominique White all back. There's plenty of talent behind them on the depth chart too, so the running game looks to be even better this year.
CFBZ: What are the biggest concerns for EMU this year?
Eagle Totem: Passing game and defense.
Gillett has always struggled with the passing game. Last year, there was a stretch during which he was statistically one of the best passers in the country, but the question is whether that was a fluke or a sign of better things to come. The Eagles have certainly spent a lot of time working the passing offense this spring. Even if Gillett's throwing improves, there's also a question as to who he'll be throwing it to. Garrett Hoskins has certainly proved himself capable as a pass-catching tight end, but I don't know that this team has a real playmaker at wide receiver, someone who can get separation from a defender, make the catch, and then add some good yards after the catch.
Almost all of the graduating football players were defenders, so there are some big holes to fill. All the 2011 starting cornerbacks and linebackers will be back, but there are big questions at safety and on the defensive line. Junior college transfers Cy Maughmer and Travis Linser were January enrollees who participated in spring football, and both are expected to be immediate contributors on the d-line. At safety, sophomore Sean "Pudge" Cotton has tremendous talent but no collegiate experience, have only played on special teams last year.
CFBZ: What is your gut feeling on the final record for the 2012 season and what makes the season successful in your eyes?
Eagle Totem: The team is better but the schedule is tougher this year. Anything less than 6-6, which would mean bowl-eligibility, is unacceptable, and even 6-6 would be a bit of a disappointment. I think 7-5 with no bad MAC losses (e.g. Toledo) is a reasonable expectation, and I think that would probably earn the Eagles a bowl bid. A MAC championship isn't out of the question.
Eastern Michigan made a huge jump in year three under Ron English. The defense reduced it's points allowed by over 19 points per game from the previous season. Overall, the defense was third in yards allowed in the offense happy MAC. One area where the Eagles need to improve is in takeaways. In 2011, the Eagles gained just twelve turnovers (tied for 116th in the Nation). Defense was a key for EMU last season but there is still plenty of room to grow on that side of the football for the Eagles. It will be very intriguing to see what Ron English can do in year four on the job.
If the Eagles can find more balance on offense and be more successful in the pass game with senior QB Alex Gillett, they could be a surprise team in the MAC. For right now, we are predicting a repeat of last season but if we were to lean one way or the other we would lean to the positive. The Eagles are on the right track.
2012 Prediction: 6-6
Previous 2012 Previews: