Eastern Michigan isn't exactly what you would call a powerhouse when it comes to football. They haven't had a winning season since 1995 and have not been to a bowl game since 1987 when they upset the mighty San Jose State Spartan in the California Bowl. In the four years since Ron English took the reins after serving as defensive coordinator for Michigan, the Eagles have gone 10-38, a record significantly aided by a 6-6 season in 2011. With the troubles on the field, the Ypsilanti bleachers have become exceedingly bare. Just over a thousand fans came to watch eventual BCS bowl participant Northern Illinois come to EMU in the season finale last year.
Will 2013 be the season that the Eagles take flight for the postseason for the first time in over 25 years? Let's take a look on how things shake out for them:
On the offensive side of the ball, Eastern Michigan brings back a large chunk of their production from the skill positions last year including junior running back Bronson Hill (920 yards, 6 TDs) and junior quarterback Tyler Benz (1,511 yards, 14 TDs and 8 INTs). They do lose over one hundred career starts on the offensive line due to graduation, but fills the holes with senior guard Orlando McCord and juniors Campbell Allison and Lincoln Hansen who share 33 starts between them. As long as Benz can be protected which will ultimately depend on the new offensive line gelling together, he'll have the weapons to get the ball to.
The defense, however, may not take the step that the offense has the ability to this year, though. They return only five starters, although six of their top eight tacklers from 2012 will be back in 2013. The only problem is that the
defense has not shown any signs of improvement since the English era began, a surprise as English was the mind behind the dominant Wolverines defense of 2006 (but also the same that gave up 34 points to Appalachian State in 2007). In his four years at EMU, English's defense have given up 38.3, 43.9, 24.3 and 37.6 points a game. Part of the reason for those disastrous numbers are because of the lack of pressure they put on any offense they play. In 2012, they totaled seven sacks all season. SEVEN. The Eagles should have a strong secondary with Donald Coleman and all-name team nominee Pudge Cotton returning, but the front seven will have to do something to give those guys in the back a break.
No matter how much Eastern Michigan improves on each side of the ball this year, the MAC scheduling committee didn't do them any favors when it came to finding six wins on the 2013 slate. The Eagles play the top two teams in the MAC West, Northern Illinois and Toledo, in back-to-back weeks away from the confines of Rynearson Stadium. They also have to take on the top-three teams in cross-divisional games, getting Ohio and Bowling Green at home but having to travel to Buffalo to take on the mighty Bulls (Go Bulls!). Add in trips to Penn State and Rutgers and a trip to rival Central Michigan to end the season and winning six games may be harder than Sisyphus rolling that ball up that one hill in that one story.
So, while Penn State will face a test in Syracuse in their opening game, Nittany Lion fans can take solace in the fact that their MACrifice comes soon after in the form of Eastern Michigan. The Eagles will play for pride as well as building up experience for a 2014 run (English has done a lot of work on both the high school and JUCO recruiting fronts) for most of the 2013 season and may surprise a team or two once they get into the MAC schedule, but unfortunately for Ypsilanti natives, they will more than likely see their team go bowl-less for a 26th straight season this fall.
For more information on Eastern Michigan, check out SB Nation's Mid-American Conference blog Hustle Belt.
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