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NCAA Football Preview - Eastern Michigan Eagles

2013 SEASON IN REVIEW: The Eastern Michigan Eagles endured a rough 2013 season that ended with a 2-10 overall record and a 1-7 mark in Mid-American Conference play. The conference record tied for the worst in the MAC West Division with Western Michigan.

The Eagles tried out two different quarterbacks in 2013, but neither helped improve the dismal scoring offense the Eagles trotted out each week. Eastern Michigan averaged a weak 18.8 ppg in 2013 and surrendered 45.2 ppg to opponents. EMU has finished each of the last two seasons with just two total wins.

The Eagles took down FCS program Howard to start the 2013 campaign by a 34-24 margin, but proceeded to drop eight straight contests, scoring more than 20 points just times the rest of the season. Some of Eastern Michigan's worst losses came against Penn State (45-7), Ohio (56-28), Northern Illinois (59-20) and Bowling Green (58-7). The only other team the Eagles defeated was Western Michigan, 35-32, in overtime.

EMU hasn't been to a bowl game since the 1987 season. The program hired former Drake coach Chris Creighton in the offseason to take the reins.

2014 ANALYSIS:

OFFENSE: Tyler Benz was the primary signal caller in 2013 after completing 129-of-217 pass attempts for 1,497 yards, 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions. But freshman Brogan Roback saw significant playing time as well, and will be the favorite under center heading into 2014. He passed for 640 yards and four touchdowns to five interceptions last season.

Since Roback started four games last year, he's considered one of the nine returning offensive starters for the Eagles. That number also includes tailback Bronson Hill and receivers Dustin Creel, Jay Jones and tight end Tyreese Russell. Hill led the team with 1,134 rushing yards and tied for the team lead with five touchdowns. Ryan Brumfield, who also registered five rushing scores, returns to the team as well.

Russell was the team's leading pass catcher a year ago with 594 yards and three touchdowns, but Creel was only a yard off the pace with 593 total yards and five scores. The offense is bolstered by the return of four starting offensive linemen that will provide some greater opportunities for Hill, Brumfield and Roback in the backfield.

The offense should be improved this season with plenty of returning starters to the team, but the players will have to start finding the end zone much more often than in 2013.

DEFENSE: The result of just six starters returning to the Eagles' defense is a porous few positions. Two of the team's four starting linebackers return for the upcoming season, but the two vacant spots are in the middle of the defense. The same goes for the defensive line, where there will be a competition for the starting tackle spot.

Junior Pat O'Connor and sophomore Mike Steals will man the edges of the defensive line, while Amos Houston and 2013 leading tackler Ike Spearman bookend the linebackers. Spearman recorded 82 tackles with three tackles for loss and two interceptions a year ago.

In the defensive backfield, cornerbacks Darius Scott and Willie Creear return as senior leaders, while the safety spots will likely be filled by seniors Pudge Cotton and Kevin Johnson. Creear led the team last season with five pass breakups.

The defense will need to improve greatly after giving up over 510 offensive yards per game to opponents, who averaged 7.6 yards per play. The opposition also averaged near 50 percent on third-down conversions. The defense was a mess in 2013, so a lot has to be done to make fixes.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Dylan Mulder and Austin Barnes both return to their kicking and punting duties, respectively. Mulder converted 6-of-11 field goal attempts last season with a long of 41 yards, while Barnes sent 50 punts flying for a 39.7-yard average. That included a long of 57 yards and 12 inside the 20-yard line.

OUTLOOK: In Eastern Michigan's past five seasons, the Eagles have lost double- digit games four times. Back in 2009, EMU went 0-12, and in 2010, '12 and '13, the team was 2-10. The only season that could be considered remotely successful was in 2011 when the Eagles went 6-6.

There's a lot of building Eastern Michigan has to do in order to become a winning football program, and it starts on the defensive side of the football. Giving up at least 50 points in six of the team's 12 games last season is not a way to win games. Creighton enters the fray with plenty of coaching experience, and will look to solidify both sides of the ball.

"I love our guys, I absolutely do," Creighton said. "It started day one. I've taken over a couple of different programs, and every time there's a different and a new feel to it. Right away I was excited about getting to know them and being with them, and joining their family. I am exceedingly proud to how they have responded to all the challenges we've thrown their way the last eight months."

The Eagles have tough matchups against Florida, Michigan State and Old Dominion out of conference, and must face Northern Illinois, Central Michigan and Toledo in-conference.

The offense will be improved, and the defense will likely take steps forward as well, but there's still a lot that needs to be done for this to be a winning football program. Expect a record better than 2-10 in 2014, but for a MAC West title to be out of reach.