The Orlando Sentinel has ranked all 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 120 to our projected No. 1 team. We will not be including the four teams the NCAA lists as still reclassifying to the Football Bowl Subdivision level.
Today at No. 89: Eastern Michigan
Coach: Ron English (8-28, fourth season)
2011 record: 6-6 (4-4 in Mid-American Conference, tied for fourth in West Division)
Look back: It’s been quite a turnaround for the Eastern Michigan program in the past three seasons. Under Ron English, the program as gone 0-12 in 2009, 2-10 in 2010 and 6-6 in 2011 earning him MAC Coach of the Year honors. Four of the team’s six losses last season were to teams that went on to go to bowl games while three of the losses were by six points or less.
Offensive starters lost/returning: 2/9
Defensive starters lost/returning: 6/5
Key losses: WR Trey Hunter, LB Marcus English, DE Brad Ohrman, NT Brandon Slater
Top returnees: QB Alex Gillett, RB Javonti Greene, WR Nick Olds, LB Justin Cudworth
Strengths: Last season, Eastern Michigan excelled in the running game thanks, in part, to quarterback Alex Gillett and running back Javonti Greene, who combined for more than 1,400 yards. Throw in running back Dominique Sherrer and you have a triple-threat in the backfield. Gillett continues to work on his passing game – he threw for 1,504 yards with 14 touchdowns and that development could be key for the Eagles attack.
Weaknesses: Eastern Michigan’s defense ranked 34th in the nation last season but lost six starters going into 2012 including three starters from the defensive line including defensive end Brad Ohrman (8.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks) and nose tackle Brandon Slater. On the plus side, the squad returns linebacker Justin Cudworth, who led the team in tackles (83) and was tied for first in tackles for loss (8.5). He also forced three fumbles last season and will be key to rebuilding the defense.
Outlook: For Eastern Michigan to continue its recent success on the football field, a lot will have to happen right in 2012. The offense returns nine starters but as explosive as Gillett has been on the ground, it’s his passing game that could be key for the team’s success. The Eagles only managed to score 21 points per game in 2011 which was fine with a top 50 defense but not for a team that will be missing six defensive starters. The team cut down on turnovers and increased its takeaways and needs to continue that trend in 2012. A quick start could help this team especially with back-to-back road games against Big Ten opponents Purdue and Michigan State. The schedule is a lot tougher than last season – six games against opponents who played in bowl games last season – so wins will be at a premium. If English and his staff can get the defense to play as well as it did last season, than Eastern Michigan can continue the trend of showing marked improvement.
Aug. 30 at Ball State
Sept. 8 Illinois State
Sept. 15 at Purdue
Sept. 22 at Michigan State
Oct. 6 Kent State
Oct. 13 Toledo
Oct. 20 Army
Oct. 27 at Bowling Green
Nov. 1 at Ohio
Nov. 10 Central Michigan
Nov. 17 at Western Michigan
Nov. 23 Northern Illinois