Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.
1. He wanted the job
If New Mexico State isn't the country's most consistent coaching graveyard, it's EMU. Since going 7-3-1 in 1989, EMU has finished with a winning record just once (6-5 in 1995). Rick Rasnick won 20 games in five years. Jeff Woodruff won 11 in four. Jeff Genyk won 16 in five. Ron English won 11 in most of five.
That said, Drake is not exactly a football hotbed, and Chris Creighton did average seven wins a year there. Creighton's résumé is ridiculously midwestern -- he went 32-9 in four years at Ottawa (Kan.), 63-15 in seven years at Wabash (Ind.), and 42-22 in six years at Drake (Iowa). He was a quarterback at Kenyon (Ohio) and an assistant in Illinois and Indiana before that.
He wasn't a sexy hire, but EMU isn't going to make a sexy hire. He wanted the job, which made him attractive, and if nothing else he has shown that he can unearth interesting talent in less-than-fertile areas. And he boasts more head coaching experience than most realistic EMU candidates. I'm intrigued.
That's what I said about EMU's new head coach in January. As UMass did, EMU found a guy with head coaching experience and lots of ties to the region. He was also crazy enough to want the job. That's good enough for now.
2. This job steals your sanity
You have to be a little on the crazy, confident side to believe you can do some damage at a job that typically only damages your résumé. And if you aren't sightly on the insane side when you start, you might be by the time you finish.
For a while, it seemed like Ron English was following the rebuilding checklist to a T. He succeeded Jeff Genyk in 2009, stripped everything down with an 0-12 season in a Year 0 situation, then began putting the pieces together. EMU went 2-10 in 2010 with competitive losses to decent teams like Army (7-6) and Miami-Ohio (10-4), then returned almost everybody for a run at a bowl in 2011.
They crafted a "Now's our time" video. They crafted a catch phrase ("The law of the price tag"). They were ready.
EMU came so very close. The Eagles did win six games in 2011, but thanks to two wins over FCS teams, they needed one more win for bowl eligibility. They lost via last-second field goal to Ball State on November 5. They lost by six to Kent on November 19. And then they lost by six to eventual conference champion NIU on November 25 and stayed home during bowl season for the 24th consecutive year.
And then things fell apart. Injuries and poor depth doomed the defense. EMU careened back to 2-10, then went 2-10 again.
In September 2013, as part of my Big Ten Road Trip piece, a friend and I swung through Ypsilanti to get a glimpse of the facilities on the way out of Ann Arbor. The two-year old "Price Tag" slogan by that point seemed to mean something a little bit different on a worn banner in front of patchy sod.
The English tenure was on death's door, and on the way out, English kind of went insane.
Good luck, Coach Creighton. You seem pretty good at your job. You need to be great.
2013 Schedule & Results
|Record: 2-10 | Adj. Record: 0-12 | Final F/+ Rk: 124|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L||5-gm Adj. Avg.|
|31-Aug||Howard||N/A||34-24||W||22.8 - 40.6||L|
|7-Sep||at Penn State||61||7-45||L||11.0 - 39.4||L|
|14-Sep||at Rutgers||91||10-28||L||17.8 - 35.3||L|
|21-Sep||Ball State||57||20-51||L||29.8 - 34.5||L|
|5-Oct||at Buffalo||80||14-42||L||25.5 - 35.4||L||-15.6|
|12-Oct||at Army||100||25-50||L||28.5 - 56.2||L||-17.6|
|19-Oct||Ohio||104||28-56||L||34.4 - 47.1||L||-14.5|
|26-Oct||at Northern Illinois||60||20-59||L||21.5 - 43.7||L||-15.4|
|2-Nov||at Toledo||62||16-55||L||21.8 - 47.6||L||-19.7|
|9-Nov||Western Michigan||117||35-32||W||28.5 - 43.8||L||-20.8|
|23-Nov||Bowling Green||47||7-58||L||-5.1 - 37.0||L||-23.6|
|29-Nov||at Central Michigan||111||10-42||L||24.2 - 45.7||L||-25.4|
|Points Per Game||18.8||113||45.2||123|
|Adj. Points Per Game||21.7||108||42.2||123|
3. Bad, then real-life bad
On the playing field, EMU's season was doomed from the start. Any hopes of reaching a bowl were extinguished by consecutive blowout losses to Ball State, Buffalo, and Army, and things certainly got even worse on the field down the stretch.
But for the most part, when we talk about "bad things," we're talking about losses on a playing field. But real-life got involved in a terrible way on the early morning of Friday, October 18, when receiver Demarius Reed was shot and killed in a robbery attempt near campus. His Twitter account, active as of that Thursday, still sits as a haunting reminder of his sudden passing. EMU had to play football barely 24 hours after learning of Reed's passing, and while the Eagles put up a decent fight against Ohio, that didn't really matter at the moment.
This is the third time in a week that we've previewed a team forced to deal with the passing of a teammate and classmate, and that's devastating.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||40.2%||81||Succ. Rt. +||86.1||109|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||32.9||110||Def. FP+||95.4||103|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||3.8||102||Redzone S&P+||81.0||114|
|Q1 Rk||121||1st Down Rk||108|
|Q2 Rk||104||2nd Down Rk||107|
|Q3 Rk||87||3rd Down Rk||118|
Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Brogan Roback||6'3, 185||So.||4 stars (5.8)||49||116||640||4||5||42.2%||6||4.9%||5.0|
|Brandon Bossard||6'2, 200||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Reggie Bell||6'3, 169||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Bronson Hill||RB||5'10, 208||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||195||1093||5||5.6||5.7||40.0%|
|Ryan Brumfield||RB||5'10, 188||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||98||509||5||5.2||4.6||42.9%|
|Darius Jackson||RB||6'0, 215||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||49||201||2||4.1||4.3||28.6%|
|Tyler Benz||QB||6'3, 215||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||22||118||0||5.4||3.9||45.5%|
|Brogan Roback||QB||6'3, 185||So.||4 stars (5.8)||7||16||1||2.3||2.8||28.6%|
|Juwan Lewis||RB||5'10, 210||So.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Shaq Vann||RB||5'10, 196||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
5. Brogan and Bronson
Back to on-field matters, no matter how awkward the transition.
Tyler Benz had to see the writing on the wall when four-star freshman Brogan Roback signed in February. A near-blue-chipper doesn't sign with a MAC program with the idea of sitting as an understudy for a few years. Sure enough, following a six-for-15 performance against Northern Illinois, Benz went from first-string to second-. When a new head coach came aboard, Benz quietly left the program.
Roback was one of three quarterbacks to sign in the 2013 class, but he was easily the most highly touted of the three. To be sure, he was in no way good in 2013, but he got some experience.
Roback was also quite aggressive with the football. Benz completed 59 percent of his passes at just 11.6 yards per completion, but Roback wanted it all: 42 percent completion rate, 13.1 yards per completion. His bad performances were absolutely horrendous (one-for-12 for four yards and a pick against BGSU, nine-for-22 for 139 yards against WMU), but he showed signs of life in blowout losses to Toledo and CMU. Creighton has said Roback isn't guaranteed to be the starter in 2014, but ... yeah, he's probably going to be the starter.
Be it Roback or anybody else, the starting quarterback will line up with a pretty good asset next to him. Bronson Hill made some serious noise in the middle of the 2012 season, rushing for 283 yards in a narrow loss to Toledo and reaching 905 yards for the season despite getting only seven carries before October 13. His production in 2013 was scattershot, but with this team, that was probably unavoidable. He rushed for 125 or more yards four times last fall, peaking with a 257-yard performance against Ohio, and he has now crossed the 2,000-yard mark in two years. He has decent wheels and size, and while Creighton's Drake offense threw nearly 60 percent of the time in 2013 (good news for Roback's future stat lines), there will almost certainly be a place for Hill, who has shown decent capabilities as a pass-catcher out of the backfield as well.
Toss in a couple of reasonably decent targets in Dustin Creel and tight end Tyreese Russell, plus some star recruits new (receiver Kenny Jones) and old (junior Quincy Jones, sophomore Juwan Lewis), and there's potentially some solid depth in the skill position lineup.
|Dustin Creel||WR||6'2, 205||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||76||46||593||60.5%||24.8%||55.1%||7.8||18||7.5||74.0|
|Tyreese Russell||TE||6'3, 242||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||75||44||594||58.7%||24.4%||51.0%||7.9||35||8.7||74.1|
|Jay Jones||WR||5'10, 181||Jr.||2 stars (5.0)||44||25||293||56.8%||14.3%||54.3%||6.7||-30||5.0||36.6|
|Bronson Hill||RB||5'10, 208||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||22||16||175||72.7%||7.2%||50.0%||8.0||-8||9.4||21.8|
|Duwhan Alford||TE||6'1, 250||So.||2 stars (5.2)||18||10||57||55.6%||5.9%||100.0%||3.2||-74||2.9||7.1|
|Quincy Jones||WR||6'3, 209||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||10||5||49||50.0%||3.3%||60.0%||4.9||-20||4.6||6.1|
|Ryan Brumfield||RB||5'10, 188||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||10||5||80||50.0%||3.3%||66.7%||8.0||11||10.6||10.0|
|Cole Gardner||TE||6'5, 250||So.||2 stars (5.2)||5||2||17||40.0%||1.6%||0.0%||3.4||-15||1.5||2.1|
|Darius Jackson||RB||6'0, 215||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||4||3||26||75.0%||1.3%||75.0%||6.5||-8||7.7||3.2|
|Kenny Jones||WR||6'2, 190||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Lincoln Hansen||RT||6'6, 301||Sr.||2 stars (5.1)||28|
|Campbell Allison||RG||6'6, 316||Sr.||NR||18|
|Andrew Wylie||LT||6'6, 310||So.||2 stars (5.2)||12|
|Jake Hurcombe||C||6'3, 302||So.||2 stars (5.4)||11|
|Robert McFadden||LT||6'7, 303||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||10|
|Kent Collins||LG||6'3, 288||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||6|
|Darien Terrell||LG||6'4, 332||So.||2 stars (5.2)||5|
|Matt Thornton||RT||6'4, 305||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0|
|Dwayne Brown||OL||6'3, 320||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0|
|Ka'John Armstrong||OL||6'5, 272||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Dakota Tallman||OL||6'4, 304||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)|
6. The line might come around first
EMU's line was built for English's run-first system, and the change to Creighton and offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer could result in square-peg-round-hole-itis for a little while.
But in terms of talent and experience, no unit might have as much of a mix of it as the EMU line, which bosts seven players with starting experience (90 career starts), three former three-star recruits (all freshmen or redshirt freshmen), and a high-two-star in Jake Hurcombe. EMU was good at keeping defenders out of the backfield on standard downs, rushing and passing, and that's a start, anyway.
DeBoer, by the way, is an interesting choice for O.C. He went 67-3 in five seasons as the head coach at the University of Sioux Falls (seriously, how many good-for-their-level programs do the Dakotas produce?), and his pass-first offense averaged almost 400 yards per game (407 against Illinois) in 2013. Like Creighton, he has proven a decent amount at lower levels; now we'll see what he can do in the MAC.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||49.7%||119||Succ. Rt. +||80.6||121|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||26.0||119||Def. FP+||92.6||118|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||5.2||121||Redzone S&P+||85.0||102|
|Q1 Rk||125||1st Down Rk||121|
|Q2 Rk||114||2nd Down Rk||125|
|Q3 Rk||124||3rd Down Rk||117|
7. Where do you even start?
There are rankings in 26 advanced defensive stats above. EMU ranked above 100th in none of them and worse than 115th in 20. Six of the top eight on the line, six of seven at linebacker, and eight of 11 at defensive back all return, which suggests that youth was at least one of last year's problems, but it's hard to even know where to look for positives or negatives. It was all negative.
Defensive coordinator Brad McCaslin comes with Creighton from Drake; his Bulldogs allowed just 4.7 yards per play in 2013 -- 6.2 per pass attempt (including sacks) and 3.7 per carry. McCaslin's Drake defense stopped the run, forced a ton of turnovers, and filtered the ball toward a strong middle linebacker. EMU's 2013 defense did none of those things.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Pat O'Connor||DE||6'4, 272||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||11||31.0||4.8%||5.0||4.0||0||3||0||0|
|Mike Steals||DT||6'5, 259||So.||2 stars (5.2)||10||18.0||2.8%||4.0||1.0||1||0||0||0|
|Travis Linser (2012)||NT||6'4, 280||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||11||13.5||1.9%||4.5||1.0||0||0||1||0|
|Arron Pipkins||NT||6'1, 280||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||5||8.5||1.3%||2.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Alex Jones||DE||6'2, 238||So.||NR||6||8.0||1.2%||2.5||2.0||0||0||0||0|
|Omar McFarlane||DE||6'1, 250||Jr.||NR||6||4.5||0.7%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Deshai Powell||DE||6'2, 245||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Derrick Dunlap||DT||6'2, 290||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Lion King Conaway||DE||6'4, 205||Fr.||2 stars (5.2)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Ike Spearman||WLB||6'1, 220||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||12||57.5||8.9%||3.5||0.5||2||0||0||0|
|Great Ibe||SLB||6'1, 225||Jr.||NR||9||45.0||7.0%||3.0||0.0||0||2||0||0|
|Hunter Matt||MLB||6'1, 225||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||12||37.5||5.8%||5.0||3.0||0||0||1||1|
|Derric Williams||SLB||6'2, 210||So.||2 stars (5.2)||7||26.5||4.1%||2.5||1.5||0||0||0||0|
|Anthony Zappone||WLB||6'1, 235||So.||2 stars (5.2)||5||6.0||0.9%||1.5||1.0||0||0||1||0|
|Mark Borland||LB||6'0, 225||Sr.||NR||2||2.0||0.3%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Lavonte Robinson||LB||5'10, 225||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Kyle Rachwal||LB||6'3, 225||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
8. There might be something to the pass rush
The run defense was Drake's calling card last year, but the Bulldogs certainly weren't bad against the pass, allowing just a 58 percent completion rate at 10.9 yards per completion with a 6.5 percent sack rate. With five of the top six cornerbacks returning (including Willie Creear, who showed a little bit of on-ball ability, and former star recruit Jaleel Canty), McCaslin's scheme might find some success.
But a lot of that will depend on the success of a pass rush that was downright solid last fall. EMU ranked 24th in Adj. Sack Rate, attacking from a lot of different angles; the Eagles had five players with at least two sacks and only one with more than four. That one (Kalonji Kashama) is gone, but end Pat O'Connor is back, as is a decent blitzing threat in Hunter Matt.
Granted, the fact that EMU ranked 113th in Passing S&P+ with a strong pass rush probably tells you more than you want to know about EMU's secondary, but there's perhaps some hope there, even if the run defense is still a couple of years away from meeting McCaslin's standards.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Willie Creear||CB||5'10, 193||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||12||46.0||7.1%||0||0||1||5||0||0|
|Pudge Cotton||SS||6'1, 218||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||9||29.0||4.5%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Quan Pace||CB||5'10, 165||So.||2 stars (5.3)||11||23.5||3.6%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jaleel Canty||CB||5'9, 191||So.||3 stars (5.5)||11||21.5||3.3%||0||0||0||2||1||0|
|Darius Scott||CB||5'8, 160||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||5||18.5||2.9%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Ray Tillman||CB||5'11, 183||Jr.||NR||6||10.0||1.5%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Kevin Johnson||FS||5'11, 200||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||4||7.5||1.2%||0.5||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jalen Williams||FS||5'11, 194||Jr.||NR||5||6.0||0.9%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Ross Williams||CB||5'11, 160||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Tim Gordon||DB||5'11, 158||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Austin Barnes||5'11, 205||So.||50||39.7||7||18||12||60.0%|
|Owen Dubiel||6'0, 205||Sr.||18||35.2||0||7||3||55.6%|
|Brendan Renius||6'2, 224||So.||11||58.9||3||1||27.3%|
|Dylan Mulder||6'0, 186||Jr.||24-26||5-6||83.3%||1-5||20.0%|
|Tyler Allen||KR||5'8, 171||Sr.||51||19.9||1|
|Jaleel Canty||KR||5'9, 191||So.||4||17.5||0|
|Special Teams F/+||125|
|Field Goal Efficiency||110|
|Punt Return Efficiency||33|
|Kick Return Efficiency||29|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||107|
9. No solace from special teams
Sometimes a bad team can stay close by making field goals and breaking even in the field position battle thanks to special teams. EMU was not one of those bad teams. The return game was in decent hands with Tyler Allen (who returned 51 kickoffs last year, easily the second-most in the country in a category in which "most" is not a good thing) and the late Demarius Reed, and Dylan Mulder was a decent place-kicker inside 40 yards, but kick and punt coverage was absolutely atrocious. This probably won't change in 2014.
2014 Schedule & Projection Factors
|13-Sep||at Old Dominion||NR|
|20-Sep||at Michigan State||13|
|TBD||at Ball State||81|
|TBD||at Western Michigan||113|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-28.0% (121)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||111|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||-12 / -10.1|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||17 (10, 7)|
10. Participation ribbons for a while
Losing is not something Chris Creighton has done much -- in four years at Ottawa, seven at Wabash, and six at Drake, he never suffered a losing season and only three times won fewer than seven games. But he's now taking on one of the three or four toughest jobs at the FBS level, and he's inheriting a demoralized roster that wasn't good at very much last fall. It is is not a roster devoid of talent, but it won't have enough to do much.
The schedule isn't particularly favorable, and even if things click for Roback, and Hill has a big year, and the offensive line holds up, and the pass rush is solid, and the defense improves to something nearing competence (lots of ifs there), there's still probably little chance for EMU to get too far beyond four wins without an upset. Then again, EMU has won only four games in the last two years combined; four in one would be progress.
Last year was no fun for EMU, either on the field or in real-life. Never mind the law of the price tag (insert "EMU fought the law, and the law won" joke here); never mind reaching six wins; never mind becoming any sort of immediate threat in the MAC. The goal for 2014 needs to be about relaxing, playing football, and finding pieces around which you can build.