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2019 College Football Rankings: No. 102 Eastern Michigan faces challenges building on success

The 2018 season was marked by missed opportunities for Eastern Michigan. The Eagles suffered five losses by seven or fewer points, including a last-second loss to Georgia Southern in the Camellia Bowl. Nonetheless, the Eagles managed to put together their second winning season since 1995.

Orlando Sentinel college insider Matt Murschel ranked all 130 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country entering the 2019 season. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 130 to our projected No. 1 team.

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Today at No. 102: Eastern Michigan

Coach: Chris Creighton (22-40, entering sixth season; 158-86 overall)

2018 record: 7-6, 5-2 in the Mid-American Conference; tied for second in the West Division

Look back: Eastern Michigan continued to take incremental steps forward during coach Chris Creighton's fifth season leading the program. For the second consecutive season, the Eagles toppled a Big Ten program — this time rallying in the fourth quarter to beat Purdue with a last-second field goal. It was the Eastern Michigan program's second win over a Power 5 program in 59 games.

Unfortunately, the team followed it up with a four-game losing streak, with all four games decided by a combined 16 points.

The team rallied to win five of its six remaining games to qualify for the program's second bowl bid during in the past three seasons under Creighton. It was also the team's second winning season since 1995 and the second time the Eagles put together a winning conference record.

Offensive starters returning: 4

Offensive starters lost: 7

Defensive starters returning: 5

Defensive starters lost: 6

Key losses: WR Blake Banham, OL Jeremy Hickey, OL Dakota Tallman, OL Jimmy Leatiota, QB Tyler Wiegers, RB Ian Eriksen, DT Tyler LaBarbera, LB Jeremiah Harris, LB Kyle Rachwal, LB Jaylen Pickett, DB Ross Williams, DB Justin Moody

Top returnees: QB Mike Glass III, RB Shaq Vann, WR Arthur Jackson III, WR Matthew Sexton, OL Sidy Sow, OL Steve Nielsen, DB Brody Hoying, DB Kevin McGill, DB Vince Calhoun

Strengths: Eastern Michigan took on the hard-nosed personality of its coach, especially on the defensive side of the football. The Eagles put together the top defense in the MAC, allowing 22 points and 354 yards per game.

The group was exceptionally strong against the passing game, allowing just 150 yards through the air. The secondary returns three experienced players from a year ago, including defensive back Vince Calhoun, a third team all-conference selection who tied for the team-lead in interceptions (3) and finished second in total tackles (84) last season. He'll be joined by two more All-MAC selections in Kevin McGill (3 interceptions, six passes defended) and Brody Hoying (69 tackles, three passes defended).

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Transfer quarterback Mike Glass III emerged as a dynamic playmaker for the Eagles, appearing in seven games last season, including a pair of starts against Toledo and Central Michigan. He finished with 1,436 yards of total offense and 15 total touchdowns while averaging nearly eight yards per play, giving the offense an exciting option heading into next season.

Tailback Shaq Vann led the team in rushes (135) and rushing yards (590) while starting seven of the team's 13 games. Along with Glass, the pair accounted for close to 1,000 yards on the ground.

Weaknesses: While the secondary is the strength of the EMU defense, defensive coordinator Neal Neathery must deal with the departures of defensive lineman Maxx Crosby, a first team All-MAC selection who was on the watch lists for the Nagurski Trophy and Bednarik Award. The team also lost linebacker Jeremiah Harris, who was the captain of the team and a third team all-conference selection.

Eastern Michigan must replace three starters on the offensive line who combined for more than 80 career starts. Tackles Sidney Sow and Steve Nielsen return to anchor the group, which allowed 39 sacks and six tackles for a loss per game in 2018.

Outlook: Despite a slew of heartbreaking losses, Eastern Michigan found some bright spots along the way. The high points included landing Glass, who could provide a spark on the offensive side of the football.

The challenge will be reshaping a defense that must replace several key contributors while facing a schedule that has EMU on the road during the first three weeks of the season.

2019 Schedule

Aug. 31 at Coastal Carolina

Sept. 7 at Kentucky

Sept. 14 at Illinois

Sept. 21 Central Connecticut State

Oct. 5 at Central Michigan

Oct. 12 Ball State

Oct. 19 Western Michigan

Oct. 26 at Toledo

Nov. 2 Buffalo

Nov. 12 at Akron

Nov. 19 at Northern Illinois

Nov. 29 Kent State

Previously on the countdown:

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