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MAC Roundtable, week 4

September 23, 2010

The MAC  Blogger Roundtable this week is hosted by Toledo blog Let’s Go Rockets.

1) What would you say is the biggest story line in the MAC so far this season? Surprises, injuries, etc?

We all knew that it would be a down year for the MAC, but I certainly didn’t expect it to be this bad. When you subtract out wins over FCS teams (and losses to FCS teams — yikes!), the MAC only has three non-conference wins, and those three teams are collectively 1-8 on the season. So I think it’s fair to say that the conference doesn’t really have any quality wins yet this year, and has registered several embarassing losses.

2) Which other team in college football most closely mirrors your respective MAC school (whether it be personnel / talent, coaching, reputation, injuries, etc.)?

I don’t think there’s any school that quite matches the historical futility that is EMU football. Other recent FBS bottom-dwellers include Florida International and Western Kentucky, but they both moved up from FCS within the past five years (2005 for FIU, which only first fielded a football team in 1999; 2007 for WKU, which won a Division I-AA championship in 2002), while EMU has struggled to field a competitive football team for decades. Key points in EMU’s legacy of losing include the latter half of Fred Trosko‘s tenure in the late 1950s and mid 1960s (a 29-game winless streak culminating not in Trosko’s firing but his quitting over the administration’s refusal to offer athletic scholarships), the Fountain Plan early 1980s capping athletic funding while fielding teams in more sports than any other MAC school, and the 1991 mascot change. There are plenty more, both old and recent, but let’s just say that I don’t think any other school has struggled as hard and as long with such poor results. The theme for the 2009 EMU football team was “Embrace the process”, and it’s clear to me that where EMU is today is a function of not just one or two bad years, but of a decades-long process.

3) If you had to select one player from any other MAC team to add to your roster — which player would you choose and why?

It would probably take a player like Terrelle Pryor or Denard Robinson to really make an impact, and I don’t know that there are any players like that in the MAC right now. That said, EMU has decent running backs (and more coming), a decent secondary (and more coming), a decent quarterback (if only Ron English would let him play), and capable receivers. Where the team is  really short is in the defensive line and linebackers who are solid against the run. I don’t know who the MAC’s best players at those positions are, but that’s what the Eagles need.

4) What have the first three games of this season showed you about your team?

The team has definitely improved from 2009, but not nearly as much as I had hoped. Last year’s 13-point loss to Army was replaced with a 4-point loss; last year’s 48-point loss to Central Michigan was replaced with a 38-point loss. So clearly the Eagles are getting closer. But I thought the Eagles would have won a game by now, and I had hoped they would have won a couple. Obviously my expectations were not totally unrealistic, since two of the three games have gone down to the final minute.

The problem is that EMU is running out of winnable games. Games at Ohio State, at Virginia, and at Western Michigan are probably out of reach. The best chances remaining for a win are probably at Vanderbilt, at Ball State, and possibly Northern Illinois on the day after Thanksgiving.

5) Rank the MAC Teams: 1 to 13.

1. Temple
2. Toledo
3. Ohio
4. Central Michigan
5. Miami
6. Western Michigan
7. Northern Illinois
8. Buffalo
9. Bowling Green
10. Kent State
11. EMU
12. Ball State
13. Akron

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 23, 2010 6:00 pm

    I was a freshman at Eastern in 1987 and that was actually an exciting year because they won the MAC and went on to the Cal Bowl, so they can scrape together winning seasons. The coach the stadium is named after had a winning record so there is the tradition there. I think they had a winning season in 1995. I went to the second half of the Army game and Eastern hung in there pretty close. I think if their defense were better, they could have won that game as they could have stopped the Army drive that put Army back ahead. I didn’t see the Miami game but I guess that Eastern was hanging in there as well. The hung against Central for a bit until Central unleashed the dogs. Despite that, I thought Eastern was moving the ball fairly well but then I don’t think offense has ever been a problem for Eastern. Heck, they put up a fair number of points against Michigan. I think Eastern’s two biggest problems are: it’s proximity to that school in Ann Arbor and that it is still mostly a suitcase college. It doesn’t help recruiting when you take someone to the stadium for a game and there aren’t many fans there.

    • September 24, 2010 6:23 am

      Don’t get me wrong, there certainly have been periods of success in the history of EMU football, if there hadn’t, the administration surely would have pulled the plug on the program years ago. But almost every on-field success has been followed by an off-field failure. Elton Rynearson, of course did an amazing job (not just in football — he coached every varsity sport that EMU offered, and he was EMU’s winningest men’s basketball coach until the 1995-96 season). His teams won five conference championships from 1925 to 1930 and went undefeated in 1925 and 1927. His 1943 team was off to a 4-0 start and held every opponent scoreless, but I think that season was cut short after those four games due to the war, and there was no 1944 season for EMU. In 1945 he again did a great job (3-0-1) but after that things started to slip and he ended his football coaching career with three consecutive losing seasons. I’m not sure what happenned, it may simply be that the game was changing and he wasn’t keeping up; he was only in his mid-50s, but he’d been coaching since he was 24 (1917).

      In the mid to late 1950s, Fred Trosko’s teams had some success, and it looked like he would be able to build on the foundation Rynearson had built, but around 1960 the practice of offering athletic scholarships — a practice the EMU administration refused to follow — was becoming widespread, and he suffered a 29-game winless streak (punctuated with two ties), in the end, resigning over the issue. Note also that in this period EMU jumped conferences twice, first from the Interstate Intercollegiate Athletic Conference to the President’s Athletic Conference, and two years later becoming independant, and those jumps had a lot to do with the scholarship issue also.

      In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Dan Boisture had a great tenure. This was the period in which Rynearson Stadium was built, and the team went to their first bowl. After the 1973 season, Boisture left EMU to coach the Detroit Wheels of the WFL (an abysmal failure, but that’s another story), persuading EMU to expand Rynearson Stadium so they could play home games there. The Wheels didn’t make it through their first season; George Mans, hired to to follow Boisture at EMU couldn’t put together a winning season; the EMU administration decided to place a greater emphasis on basketball; and EMU found itself with a too-big, off-campus stadium, which it had only filled once. By the early 1980s we had the 27-game losing streak of Mike Stock and the Fountain Plan requiring the athletic department to do more with less.

      Despite all that, EMU was again able to hire a good coach, Jim Harkema, who put together multiple winning seasons (including the ones you saw), taking the team to their second bowl (1987 California Bowl) and winning it, and even filling Rynearson Stadium (for the second, and so-far final time). But — and you probably remember this — EMU President Shelton pushed through a mascot change, after the committee studying the matter had suggested that the Huron mascot be retained, and angered a lot of alumni. Still today, only about 1% of alumni make any donation back to the school (most peer schools — MAC schools, Oakland U, etc. — are around 10% to 20%, and places like U-M and Michigan State are much higher still). Since the name change there’s been just the one winning season (1995, at 6-5), and the overall record is 61-163-1 (36 hours away from 61-164-1), for a 27% winning percentage in nearly two decades.

      I think the English might be able to get things going again, the way they haven’t been for 20+ years, and I think the current EMU administration (President Martin) will give him the support he needs. But I’m worried that Martin will move on to bigger and better things, and that a subsequent administration will again find a way to hold EMU football back.

  2. Ken permalink
    September 25, 2010 2:21 am

    I was pissed about the name change for a long time. I mean why change it first off all and then when you decide to change it, why change it to such a bland name. I mean Eagles is like the most common team name. The only time I was following any sort of EMU sports was when the Basketball team made it to the NCAA tournament in the mid 90’s. And then a couple years ago, I got my first DSLR and decided to go a couple football games. Soon basketball followed. Then a couple baseball games. I only made it to the U-M and Temple games last year. Then basketball again and then a couple baseball games. And then the two football games posted on my blog for this season. I seriously hope English can turn it around because I’d like to be able to root for Eastern proudly…..

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