Why EMU football won’t be the worst in 2010, Part 2
Continuing in the vein of my post on Monday, there’s been a lot more discussion about the Eagles as the worst football team in 2010. Some of it has just been media outlets picking up on the Orlando Sentinal piece I wrote about, but I’ve noticed at least one additional article: Frat House Sports says that Eastern Michigan is the worst team in college football. Rather than answer these pieces one at a time, because I know there will be more, I thought I’d put together an anticipatory posting about why EMU football will be better in 2010. Arguments for Eastern as the worst football team in 2010 generally come down to a few basic points, so I’ll address the most common ones here.
1. Eastern’s defense was really bad in 2009. Well, sure they were. 0-12 is terrible, no doubt about it, and there weren’t many bright spots. The rushing defense was among the worst in the country. The passing defense, although the yards per game looked good, was bad when you consider yards allowed per passing attempt – as I’ve mentioned before, the issue there is that other teams could run the ball so easily and lead so often that there was little need for opponents to do much passing. But it’s unrealistic to think this is going to last under Ron English, who has proved himself to be among the better defensive coordinators in the country. They won’t have a great defense this year, but they should at least move up from 2009’s 106th in total defense to somewhere around 85-95. Expect the rushing defense to be a lot tougher, which will drive the passing defense down statistically as opponents pass more, but will result in a moderate improvement overall.
2. Eastern’s offense was terrible in 2009. Again, there’s little ground to argue with this statement. But consider what they were dealing with. They started with a mediocre-at-best 2008 offense, switched from spread to pro-style, and replaced a fifth year senior quarterback with a freshman midway through the season. Show me any team that can be successful with that combination of issues. Regardless of whether Alexx Gillett returns as the starter, Devontae Payne takes over, or they share snaps, this year’s quarterback(s) will be much better prepared than Gillett was last year. The rest of the offensive players have also had another year to learn the pro-style system, and English is starting to bring in his own recruits who should fit the system much better. The rushing game was one of the less bad areas last year, and with only modest improvement could truly be a bright spot this fall. Overall, Eastern’s offense will be significantly improved in 2010.
3. Eastern’s schedule is tough. Here, I’m not so sure I agree. Sure, when you’re coming off an 0-12 season, every game looks tough. But Ohio State is probably the only game that’s totally out of reach. Last Friday I pointed to an article suggesting that Eastern had a chance to win at Virginia. Vanderbilt plays in the tough SEC, but they’re generally at the bottom of the heap there. Last year, the Eagles were within one score of Army in the fourth quarter before collapsing, so with some improvement that’s a winnable game. In MAC play, Central Michigan should be good, but they’ve lost both their coach and their senior quarterback. Ohio, Temple, and Northern Illinois will probably be tough, but I think it’s premature to suggest that any particular MAC game is out of reach for the Eagles. Overall, I don’t think the 2010 schedule is necessarily any tougher than what Eastern has faced the past several years.
4. Eastern will win one or two games, but will still be the worst team in the country. Hogwash. There have been seven winless teams in the past five seasons, and numerous more teams that have only managed a single win. We can fully expect those trends to continue, so one or two wins would probably put the Eagles at about 115th to 118th place. Even last year, despite going 0-12, many people considered Western Kentucky, also 0-12, to be the worse team, because while Eastern remained competetive in several games, WKU was consistently blown out, not just by power conference opponents but in their conference play as well. One or two wins should put EMU safely out of consideration as the worst team.
As I wrote Monday, I think it should be no problem for EMU to get one or two wins this fall, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see them get three or four, with a final MAC ranking between 8th and 11th. More than four wins would be a big surprise.