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2011 College Football Preview: Eastern Michigan Eagles

2010 Record: (2-10, 2-6 in MAC)

Head Coach: Ron English (2-22 at EMU, 2-14 in the MAC)

Last Bowl Game: 1987 California Bowl: Beat San Jose St 30-27


9/3: Howard

9/10: Alabama State

9/17: at Michigan (2009 result: lost 45-17)

9/24: at Penn State 

10/1: Akron (2009 result: lost 28-21)

10/8: at Toledo (2010 result: lost 42-7)

10/15: at Central Michigan (2010 result: lost 52-14)

10/22: Western Michigan (2010 result: lost 45-30)

10/29: Ball State (2010 result: won 41-38 OT)

11/12: Buffalo (2010 result: won 21-17)

11/19: at Kent State (2009 result: lost 28-21)

11/25: at Northern Illinois (2010 result: lost 71-3)

2010 Offensive Statistics:

Scoring: 19.0 ppg (11th in MAC, 108th in Nation)

Rushing Yds/Game: 173.33 yds/game (2nd in MAC, 37th in Nation)

Passing Yds/Game: 160.1 yds/game (11th in MAC, 104th in Nation)

Total Yds/Game: 333.4 yds/game (7th in MAC, 91st in Nation)

2010 Defensive Statistics:

Scoring: 43.9 ppg (13th in MAC, 118th in Nation)

Rushing Yds/Game: 230.58 yds/game (last in MAC, 118th in Nation)

Passing Yds/Game: 223.5 yds/game (9th in MAC, 66th in Nation)

Total Yds/Game: 454.1 yds/game (last in MAC, 113th in Nation)

2010 Misc Stats:

Turnover Margin: -0.92 per game (last in MAC, 113th in Nation)

Penalties: 53.3 yds/game (10th in MAC, 69th in Nation)

Returning Starters:

Offense: 6

Defense: 7

Kicker/Punter: 2

Top Returning Statistical Leaders:

Passing: Alex Gillett, Jr (127 of 229 for 1633 yds, 13 TD, 13 INT)

Rushing: QB Alex Gillett, Jr (179 for 766, 5 TD)

Receiving: WR Kinsman Thomas, Jr (26 for 473 yds, 4 TD)

Tackles: DB Marcell Rose, Jr (56)

Sacks: DL Javon Reese, Sr (3.5)

Interceptions: DB Marcell Rose, Jr; LB Colin Weingrad, Soph (1)

In Ron English's second year the EMU Eagles posted a 2-10 record. The team did manage an improvement from their 2009 team that went winless but also gave up 527 points, which was the most given up at EMU since the 2002 season and posted a point differential of -24.9 per game. English is now in his third year of trying to change the culture at EMU, which has endured 15 straight losing seasons and hasn't been to a bowl game since they went 10-2 under Jim Harkema. We reached out to the EMU based blog Eagle Totem to get a local perspective on the the 2011 version of the Eagles.

Last year Eastern Michigan finished 2-10. What were the biggest issues with last years team that need to be addressed in order for them to be successful this year?

The offense needs to improve ball control. Last year they had a lot of drives that sputterred out after two to five plays, due to turnovers and failure to convert third downs. That put too much pressure on the defense, resulting in some high scores for opponents. As for the defense, I'd settle for giving up fewer big plays. I'm not asking for a defense that wins games, I'm just asking for a defense that doesn't lose games.  

Ron English is 2-22 as the Head Coach for the Eagles. What is your take on him and what does he need to do better this year?

Considering that he was a defensive coordinator at two AQ programs (Michigan and Louisville), the EMU defense needs to show huge improvement. With the moderate improvement to be expected with a more-experienced quarterback and o-line, the offense should be at least MAC-respectable this fall, and possibly near the top of the conference. If the play-calling opens up a little, which we saw glimpses of last year, particularly against Ball State and Virginia, the offense is probably capable of scoring at least 28 points against any team on the schedule. The trick will be whether the defense can hold opponents to a reasonable number and give the offense a chance to win the game.  

For those that don't follow the MAC that closely...tell us a little about the best players on this team.

There's a lot of returning strength on the offense. Obviously we have high hopes for Alex Gillett, as a returning starter at quarterback. There's also been a lot of good buzz around Tyler Benz, who'll probably be Gillett's backup. The team is returning a very experienced offensive line this year, returning four players who combined for 39 starts last year, including LT Bridger Buche and LG Andrew Sorgatz who each started every game. This o-line is going to be big and tough. They also return four of six receivers from the 2010 two-deep, including #1 option Kinsman Thomas, and TE Garrett Hoskins, who was the #3 pass catcher. Despite losing senior RB Dwayne Priest, the Eagles return a solid group of ball-carriers, including Javonti Greene, who exploded for 153 yards in the loss at Virginia.  

On defense, EMU fans are hoping from big contributions in the secondary from Latarrius Thomas, a sixth-year senior (yes, you read that right -- he had a regular red-shirt year and, since he's still practicing with the team, I'm assuming his medical red-shirt for the 2010 season was approved) who transferred from Louisville when Ron English was hired, and Marlon Pollard, a transfer from UCLA. Both were highly-touted recruits coming out of high school.  

Also, the punter, Jay Karutz, provided a great feel-good story last year. He's from New South Wales, Australia, and had primarily played Aussie-rules football, plus some rugby, but never American football. In his first American football game ever, he was name the MAC West Division Special Teams Player of the Week.  

Who are some under the radar guys that have to have big seasons for Eastern Michigan to turn their team around this year?

Of course, as the incumbent quarterback, a lot of this season is going to rest on Alex Gillett's shoulders. I think a lot of EMU fans are also looking for a big year from Greene, though he'll be battling seniors Dominique Sherrer and Corey Welch for playing time.   On the defense, people are expecting a lot from Marlon Pollard, a highly-touted recruit who landed offers from Nebraska, Notre Dame, Stanford, and Washington before choosing UCLA and then transferring to EMU. He may also take some punt returns. The team has also brought in a whole bunch of junior college transfers to try to strengthen the linebacking corps.  

What is the one game on the schedule that you want to win more than any other?

Am I allowed to say Michigan? I know it's not going to happen -- even if the Wolverines have a let-down after hosting Notre Dame in Michigan Stadium's first night game ever -- but that's the game most EMU fans privately fantasize about someday winning. Of the more-realistically winnable games, it would be really nice to pay Central Michigan back for the painful losses they've inflicted on the Eagles the last two years.  

What is your gut feeling on the final record for the 2011 season and what makes the season successful in your eyes?

I break the season down as follows: three "gimme" games (Howard, Alabama State, and Ball State), and four nearly-unwinnable games (at Michigan, at Penn State, at Toledo, and at Northern Illinois). The other five games are teams that will probably finish in the middle of the MAC. I expect Akron and Buffalo to show significant improvement over last year, when both teams were breaking in new head coaches. Kent State was in the middle of the MAC last year, but it's hard to project how the Golden Flashes will do under first-year head coach Darrell Hazell.

The game against Western Michigan should be very evenly matched. Central Michigan is probably the biggest puzzle in the EMU schedule; after walloping the Eagles in Ypsilanti, the Chippewas collapsed.   So that gives a range from 3-9 to 8-4. Realistically, I'm looking for the Eagles to finish 5-7 or 6-6, winning two or three of the five games against Akron, Buffalo, Kent State, Central Michigan, and Western Michigan, which would put them at 3-5 or 4-4 in the MAC, and probably third or fourth in the West Division. Either way, that would be EMU's best finish since 1995. Because they're playing two FCS opponents this year, compared to none last year, I'd consider a 4-8 record to show no progress over 2010, and three wins or fewer to be moving backwards.

 Next Preview: Bowling Green

2011 Team Previews

C-USA- Houston

MAC- Buffalo, Central Michigan, Temple

MWC- UNLV, Wyoming

Sun Belt- FAU, North Texas

WAC- Idaho


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