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The big 2015 Eastern Michigan football guide: Searching for sunshine in the Factory

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The countdown begins its second conference: the MAC.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. One day EMU will be good at football

"Good luck, Coach Creighton. You seem pretty good at your job. You need to be great."

We have kind of a running joke within the SB Nation college football team. I like basically every program in FBS and can find good in them, while recruiting chief Bud Elliott dislikes every program and can find the bad in them. We're both mostly right in the facts we use, but we tend to have differing interpretations and standards.

I tend to live up/down to my reputation. In my now-complete Sun Belt previews, I was able to tell you, completely straight-faced, that both Idaho and Georgia State were better than you thought last year and that Idaho might be only a couple of breaks from a run at bowl eligibility. I am proud of my ability to look at sunshine.

But sometimes it's easier. Forty years into FBS life, Eastern Michigan is still waiting for the sun to come out. Last winning record: 1995, a couple years before current recruiting targets were born. Last bowl: 1987. Crowds since 1992 within 5,000 fans of a sellout: two. EMU has won more than six games three times in four decades. It hasn't done so since the Jim Harkema era, which ended almost 23 years ago.

The Eagles have come close to modest breakthroughs, most recently in 2005 (lost four games by a combined 12 points and finished 4-7) and 2011 (needing just one more win for bowl eligibility, the Eagles lost to Ball State, Kent, and NIU in November by a combined 14). But following the disappointment of 2011, head coach Ron English went hurtling off the cliffs.

The fact that Chris Creighton accepted the job shows he's a daring soul, a man willing to go BASE jumping off a cliff without knowing for sure that his parachute will work. Creighton took on this job after impressive engineering campaigns at NAIA's Ottawa University, Division III's Wabash College, and FCS' Drake University. He won seven conference titles, including two at Drake, which is in no way an FCS power, and a jump to an FBS mid-major seemed like the logical step.

Creighton has grown used to making something out of nothing, and he won his first offseason on the job. In the name of #branding, he spear-headed the laying of gray turf and establishment of The Factory theme. And it actually looked pretty good!

But then the games started. A narrow, season-opening win over Morgan State, a sub-200 team according to the Sagarin ratings, was both exciting and terrifying, and the Eagles lost their next four games by a combined 186-23. Following an out-of-nowhere thumping of Buffalo, six more losses followed, four by margins of at least 22 points. Barring a slight peak in the middle of the year, EMU was easily the worst team in FBS, too young on offense and too thin on defense.

One day, someone will take EMU back to the postseason. It might even be Creighton, given enough time to build a foundation for the factory. But 2014 was a merciless reminder of how far below EMU is. Creighton will have to win a few more offseasons before his work pays off.

2014 Schedule & Results

Record: 2-10 | Adj. Record: 1-11 | Final F/+ Rk: 128
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Adj. Scoring
Margin
Win
Expectancy
30-Aug Morgan State N/A 31-28 W 7% -34.2 47%
6-Sep at Florida 32 0-65 L 2% -47.5 0%
13-Sep at Old Dominion 108 3-17 L 15% -24.2 4%
20-Sep at Michigan State 11 14-73 L 3% -45.8 0%
4-Oct at Akron 105 6-31 L 3% -42.5 0%
11-Oct Buffalo 114 37-27 W 81% 20.8 97%
18-Oct at Massachusetts 120 14-36 L 18% -21.6 10%
25-Oct Northern Illinois 69 17-28 L 23% -17.0 4%
1-Nov Central Michigan 85 7-38 L 2% -49.7 0%
15-Nov at Western Michigan 56 7-51 L 1% -54.6 0%
22-Nov at Ball State 91 30-45 L 14% -24.8 3%
28-Nov Toledo 59 16-52 L 2% -46.3 0%

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 16.0 122 40.6 126
Points Per Game 15.2 126 40.9 125

2. A fleeting glimpse

In essence, EMU pulled a sneak attack mid-season.

  • Average percentile performance (first 5 games): 6%
  • Average percentile performance (next 3 games): 41%
  • Average percentile performance (last 4 games): 5%

The Eagles cycled through quarterbacks early; redshirt freshman Reggie Bell started the opener against Morgan State but left with a foot injury, then one-time ace recruit Brogram Roback started against Florida and ODU before also leaving with injury. Former Penn State quarterback (and LSU receiver) Rob Bolden took over but couldn't produce a passer rating better than 106.1 in a game, even against Akron.

So after the Eagles scored 23 points in four games against FBS opponents, Bell returned and torched Buffalo. He rushed 17 times for 202 yards against the Bulls and completed eight of 13 passes for 144 yards. EMU put up 484 yards, its best total in nearly two years.

It took a couple more games for MAC opponents to cope with Bell's potential. Against UMass and NIU, he rushed for 173 yards and threw for 271, but an inability to finish drives and/or play defense doomed the Eagles. Bell suffered a concussion early in November and returned to the lineup to put up enormous numbers against Ball State -- 18 carries for 101 yards, 36-for-49 passing for 409 and three touchdowns -- but EMU managed to outgain the Cardinals by 63 yards and still lose by 15. And then Toledo more than doubled EMU's yardage in the season finale.

In theory, we saw what a good EMU team might look like. The goal for 2015 probably isn't to make a bowl or anything like that -- it's to expand that three-game bubble of potential to five or six or seven games.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.69 127 IsoPPP+ 64.7 127
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 36.1% 116 Succ. Rt. + 81.7 123
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 32.7 117 Def. FP+ 96.0 108
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 3.9 106 Redzone S&P+ 81.5 120
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 23.3 ACTUAL 30 +6.7
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 124 127 121 127
RUSHING 99 98 92 104
PASSING 117 128 128 128
Standard Downs 124 121 127
Passing Downs 125 123 125
Q1 Rk 124 1st Down Rk 123
Q2 Rk 127 2nd Down Rk 116
Q3 Rk 100 3rd Down Rk 127
Q4 Rk 104

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Reginald Bell 6'3, 184 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7882 105 184 1297 9 6 57.1% 22 10.7% 7.1
Rob Bolden
41 95 399 4 5 43.2% 11 10.4% 3.1
Brogan Roback 6'3, 202 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8663 21 41 125 0 0 51.2% 2 4.7% 2.5

3. All that's fun and horrifying

When I said that EMU was "too young on offense" above, that was a bit misleading. The Eagles were young at quarterback, but that's about it. EMU has quite a few experienced pieces to replace now. But in Bell, they have a young guy who can craft an identity for an entire offense.

For the season, Bell's numbers were quite good: 7.1 yards per pass attempt (including sacks), 6.5 yards per carry. As a dual-threat in a run-first offense, you can work with that. But full-season averages don't reflect how good the good games were, and they especially don't reflect the long droughts between the good games.

As is customary for a young dual-threat quarterback, a guy who has the ball in his hands a lot, the negative plays were frequent. Bell was sacked 22 times, fumbled 11 times, and threw six interceptions. He was 8-for-13 against Buffalo but 26-for-55 against UMass and NIU, 36-for-49 against Ball State but 8-for-23 against Toledo. The key for Bell's maturation is going to be evening out.

Roback remains on the roster as well. An incredibly rare four-star signee, he was thrust into action late in his true freshman campaign and predictably struggled. If you believe recruiting rankings at all, he has as much potential as anybody on the team, but he got Wally Pipp'd by Bell.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Reginald Bell QB 6'3, 184 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7882 111 723 4 6.5 7.1 43.2% 11 6
Ryan Brumfield RB
95 348 4 3.7 3.7 28.4% 2 1
Bronson Hill RB
85 351 0 4.1 3.9 31.8% 1 0
Darius Jackson RB/WR 6'0, 219 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7300 61 295 1 4.8 5.4 32.8% 2 2
Rob Bolden QB
46 158 0 3.4 2.0 37.0% 3 2
Tyler Allen WR
11 34 0 3.1 3.8 36.4% 2 2
Brogan Roback QB 6'3, 202 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8663 6 34 0 5.7 23.5 16.7% 2 1
Shaq Vann RB 5'10, 195 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8059
Breck Turner RB 6'0, 190 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8299







Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Tyreese Russell TE
60 39 523 65.0% 19.7% 48.3% 8.7 53 8.6 40.1
Dustin Creel WR-X 6'2, 203 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 42 24 228 57.1% 13.8% 57.1% 5.4 -69 5.4 17.5
Tyler Allen WR-H
36 16 170 44.4% 11.8% 50.0% 4.7 -40 4.9 13.0
Darius Jackson RB/WR 6'0, 219 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7300 28 20 148 71.4% 9.2% 67.9% 5.3 -89 5.7 11.4
Kris Strange WR-Z 5'11, 186 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7000 27 14 179 51.9% 8.9% 48.1% 6.6 2 6.9 13.7
David Gibson WR-Z
25 9 140 36.0% 8.2% 48.0% 5.6 15 5.9 10.7
Cole Gardner TE 6'5, 257 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7678 23 8 78 34.8% 7.6% 69.6% 3.4 -34 3.3 6.0
Ryan Brumfield RB
21 12 76 57.1% 6.9% 61.9% 3.6 -72 3.6 5.8
Bronson Hill RB
15 9 143 60.0% 4.9% 46.7% 9.5 33 10.5 11.0
Kray'shawn Brewer WR-X
13 9 71 69.2% 4.3% 61.5% 5.5 -36 5.5 5.4
Kenny Jones WR-X
8 4 51 50.0% 2.6% 62.5% 6.4 0 6.1 3.9
Austin Stone WR-Z 5'11, 199 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7444 3 1 8 33.3% 1.0% 100.0% 2.7 -6 N/A 0.6
Lemar Harris WR 6'2, 185 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8203
Kevin Davis (Indiana) WR 5'11, 190 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8650
Cody Tuttle TE 6'4, 230 Jr. NR 0.7400
Kezio Snelling WR 6'1, 175 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8248
Isaac Holder WR 5'11, 175 Fr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8000
Braylin Collins WR 6'1, 175 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7900

4. Early playing time available

Running backs Ryan Brumfield and Bronson Hill combined for 180 carries. Tight end Tyreese Russell was targeted by 60 passes, easily the most on the team. Receivers Tyler Allen and David Gibson were targeted by 61 passes. All are gone.

Losing your leading anything (rusher, receiver, whatever) isn't a good thing, but it's hard to worry much about EMU's losses. Hill was once a potential star but was mostly ineffective in 2014; he and Brumfield combined to average just 3.9 yards per carry. Russell was an exciting option in a TE/H-back role; he caught 12 for 211 yards against WMU and Ball State. Still, he only caught about three passes per game on average. Allen and Gibson caught just 25 of those 61 passes for just 310 yards. Those are replaceable numbers.

Creighton was able to offer early playing time in his first full recruiting cycle, and a few interesting prospects listened to that pitch.

Breck Turner, a three-star recruit via the Composite and an insanely productive high school running back (5,682 yards and 79 touchdowns in three seasons) signed in February, as did two more 247Sports three-stars at receiver: Kezio Snelling and Isaac Holder. JUCO transfer Cody Tuttle should get an early shot at the void left by Russell, and Indiana transfer Kevin Davis has plenty of athletic potential. Add a couple of high-ceiling redshirt freshmen (receiver Lemar Harris, running back Shaq Vann), and there's a level of upside that we haven't seen in Ypsilanti in recent memory.

There's also almost no experience whatsoever. Seniors Darius Jackson (who lined up both in the backfield and out wide last year), Dustin Creel, and Kris Strange are back to play leadership roles (and produce marginal numbers) while we wait for these young options to develop.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 99.0 2.93 3.37 34.8% 62.2% 22.6% 48.7 8.2% 13.2%
Rank 80 65 57 106 103 110 126 118 124
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Career Starts Honors/Notes
Lincoln Hansen RT 39
Campbell Allison C
28
Robert McFadden LT
22
Andrew Wylie LG 6'6, 320 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7818 21
Darien Terrell RG 6'4, 325 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7696 14
Matt Thornton RT 6'4, 313 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7878 4
Dwayne Brown C
2
Darian Miles LG 6'2, 290 Sr. NR N/A 0
Jordan Erbes RG
0
Ka'John Armstrong LT 6'4, 270 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8078
Dakota Tallman OL 6'5, 300 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7867

5. What was a relative strength...

...is now starting over a bit. Compared to the rest of the offensive stats, EMU's line numbers were pretty good: 80th in Adj. Line Yards, 65th in standard downs line yards per carry. Some of that is due to the sudden midseason impact of Reggie Bell, but hey, Bell was partially responsible for the awful sack rates, too. Regardless, the line wasn't completely awful, and it must now replace a three-year starter and two two-year starters, not to mention two other pieces from a thin two-deep.

The Eagles do return three juniors who have combined for 39 career starts, so all is not lost, but three-star redshirt freshmen Ka'John Armstrong and Dakota Tallman (who is indeed tall!) better be ready to contribute quickly, otherwise there might not be enough bodies to fill in a second string. Injuries could wreck this unit in short order.

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.05 125 IsoPPP+ 72.7 127
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 45.6% 107 Succ. Rt. + 90.3 107
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 28.0 113 Off. FP+ 94.0 123
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.8 109 Redzone S&P+ 87.0 117
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 16.0 ACTUAL 12.0 -4.0
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 121 121 113 127
RUSHING 116 127 118 128
PASSING 119 110 96 115
Standard Downs 122 113 127
Passing Downs 116 116 118
Q1 Rk 128 1st Down Rk 124
Q2 Rk 119 2nd Down Rk 125
Q3 Rk 55 3rd Down Rk 97
Q4 Rk 71

6. Depth will take time

You have to give Creighton a little bit of credit for playing the long game. He redshirted Armstrong and Tallman, two rare jewels in the 2014 class. He also redshirted some defenders who may have been able to contribute: linebacker Kyle Rachwal, defensive backs Ross Williams and Tim Gordon, etc. Knowing these true freshmen could contribute more to a good EMU team in 2018 than a doomed 2014 squad, he stuck them in the weight room and in the scout team. Makes sense.

It also made a thin defense thinner. Defensive coordinator Brad McCaslin had basically three linemen and four linebackers for a 3-3-5 defense, and the reserves were only a little bit deeper in the secondary.

McCaslin will have a few more options this time. All three starters return on the line, and two three-star freshman tackles might join the rotation. (Or they might redshirt.) Every linebacker returns and will be joined by Rachwal and JUCO transfer Anthony Brown. And in the secondary, where three starters must be replaced, four returnees played decent roles last year, and the competition should be strong with the addition of Williams and Gordon, JUCO transfers Ikie Calderon and Juan Giraldo, and three-star freshman Brody Hoying.

Options are good; EMU had almost none but might have a few this fall. That doesn't guarantee defensive improvement, but it offers promise.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 88.9 3.12 3.77 41.5% 75.9% 19.2% 67.9 1.9% 5.1%
Rank 109 90 109 95 112 67 110 122 108
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Pat O'Connor DT 6'4, 274 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7478 12 45.5 6.6% 14.0 7.5 0 2 2 0
Jeremiah Harris DE 6'5, 235 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7511 11 20.5 3.0% 1.5 1.0 0 1 1 0
Mike Brown NT 6'2, 290 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 11 20.0 2.9% 2.5 1.5 0 1 0 0
Travis Linser DT
6 8.5 1.2% 1.5 0.5 0 0 0 0
Mike Steals DE
8 6.5 0.9% 1.0 0.0 0 2 0 0
Arron Pipkins NT 6'1, 270 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 5 5.0 0.7% 1.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Derrick Dunlap NT 6'0, 291 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7533 3 2.5 0.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Deshai Powell DT 6'2, 272 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7533 1 1.5 0.2% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Clay Dawson DE 6'4, 225 Sr. NR N/A
Lion King DE 6'4, 205 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000
Kwanii Figueroa DT 6'2, 277 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8100
Nick Dillon DT 6'2, 283 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8215








Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Great Ibe BUCK 6'0, 230 Sr. NR N/A 12 100.0 14.5% 11.0 0.5 0 2 1 0
Anthony Zappone MIKE 6'2, 250 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7718 11 66.0 9.6% 9.0 1.0 0 3 1 0
Hunter Matt STUD 6'0, 241 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7757 11 38.5 5.6% 3.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Amos Houston MIKE 6'0, 216 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7200 9 17.0 2.5% 2.5 0.0 0 1 2 0
Nathan Adams MIKE 6'1, 215 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7333 8 9.0 1.3% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Gabriel Guilbee-Rodriguez STUD 6'0, 240 Jr. NR N/A 2 5.0 0.7% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Lavonte Robinson BUCK 5'8, 242 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8056 2 2.5 0.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Kyle Rachwal LB 6'3, 215 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8000
Anthony Brown LB 5'11, 205 Jr. NR 0.7633








7. Attacking the run

EMU's defense basically did one thing well last year: stuff the run (sometimes). The Eagles' Stuff Rate (run stops in the backfield) of 19.2 percent was perfectly decent, and opponents' high run rates on passing downs suggest EMU had a pass rush worth minding. Tackle Pat O'Connor had 14 tackles for loss (7.5 of which were sacks), and linebackers Great Ibe and Anthony Zappone combined for 18.5 non-sack tackles for loss. It appears they can attack the line of scrimmage.

Of course, any play that didn't go really well went really poorly. As decent as the Eagles may have been at stuffing the run, they also allowed the biggest big run plays in the country. They allowed 79 rushes of at least 10 yards (98th in the country), 27 of at least 20 (115th), and 16 of at least 30 (123rd). Adjusting for opponent, those are wretched figures.

So yeah, down-to-down consistency needs some work. But if improved depth means an improved baseline, McCaslin might be able to push some fun buttons in attacking situations.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Kevin Johnson WHIP
11 78.5 11.4% 4 0 2 4 1 0
Jason Beck S 6'1, 195 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7833 12 64.0 9.3% 1 0 1 3 0 0
Willie Creear CB
12 46.0 6.7% 1.5 0 1 7 0 0
Pudge Cotton ROV
12 40.0 5.8% 3.5 0 1 0 0 1
DaQuan Pace CB 5'10, 175 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7552 10 37.0 5.4% 1.5 0 1 9 0 0
Jalen Williams WHIP 5'10, 200 Sr. NR N/A 8 21.0 3.1% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Ray Tillman CB 5'11, 193 Sr. NR N/A 6 14.0 2.0% 0.5 0 0 0 0 0
Gary White Jr. ROV
5 10.5 1.5% 2 0 0 0 0 0
Tyrie Mack CB 5'11, 180 Jr. NR N/A 3 3.0 0.4% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Brandon Bossard S 6'2, 210 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7917
Ross Williams DB 5'11, 160 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7000
Tim Gordon DB 5'11, 175 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7000
Ikie Calderon S 5'9, 188 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7300
Juan Giraldo S 5'11, 195 So. NR 0.7300
Brody Hoying S 5'11, 185 Fr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8031








8. A new secondary

You don't find many double-digit rankings in the defense numbers above. EMU was 100th or worse in just about everything. But the Eagles ranked only ("only") 96th in Passing Success Rate+, defensing a decent number of passes. This is pretty much a requirement of a 3-3-5 scheme, and players like WHIP Kevin Johnson and corners Willie Creear and DaQuan Pace were effective at times.

Johnson and Creear are gone, but Pace and sophomore safety Jason Beck do return. So that's something. But they fill only two spots in a five-man secondary. Seniors Jalen Williams and Ray Tillman will have to play larger roles, but newcomers will determine whether EMU's secondary is able to build off of last year's not-completely-awful numbers or whether an improved front six will simply be matched by a lesser back five.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Owen Dubiel 61 40.0 4 8 20 45.9%
Austin Barnes 5'11, 218 Jr. 22 44.6 0 3 4 31.8%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Brendan Renius 6'1, 239 Jr. 38 61.8 22 1 57.9%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Dylan Mulder 6'0, 186 Sr. 20-22 5-6 83.3% 3-6 50.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Tyler Allen KR 34 18.1 0
Kenny Jones KR 6'2, 190 So. 5 18.6 0
Jaleel Canty PR

5 9.4 0
Dustin Creel PR 6'2, 203 Sr. 4 5.5 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 120
Field Goal Efficiency 64
Punt Return Efficiency 128
Kick Return Efficiency 110
Punt Efficiency 110
Kickoff Efficiency 100
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 41

9. Reverse order

A good place-kicker is the final piece of a good special teams unit. You need a good punter, someone who can add five to 10 yards to a bad offense's gains on each possession, first. Then you need a good return man, someone who can either set up decent field position after scores or give your offense an extra few yards of field position after punts. Then you need a sure-footed kickoffs guy to make sure your opponents are starting inside the 30 after you do score.

Then you need a guy who can make field goals. The three-pointers only matter in close games, and you have to create close games first.

So EMU's special teams unit was backwards last year: iffy punting, awful returns, iffy kickoffs, good place-kicking. Dylan Mulder was 3-for-6 on field goals longer than 40 yards, but EMU was only close enough to scoring to attempt 12 field goals (and the low number of attempts wasn't a product of fourth-down conversion attempts -- only six teams attempted fewer fourth-down conversions than EMU).

2015 Schedule & Projection Factors

2015 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
5-Sep Old Dominion 108
12-Sep at Wyoming 113
26-Sep Army 121
3-Oct at LSU 22
? Akron 105
? Ball State 91
? Massachusetts 120
? Western Michigan 56
? at Central Michigan 85
? at Miami (Ohio) 103
? at Northern Illinois 69
? at Toledo 59
Five-Year F/+ Rk -46.6% (125)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 123 / 119
2014 TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* -18 / -7.3
2014 TO Luck/Game -4.5
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 13 (5, 8)
2014 Second-order wins (difference) 1.7 (0.3)

10. The Knope principle

The Parks and Recreation series finale airs tonight; though it developed far beyond the main character, the optimism of Amy Poehler's Leslie Knope was the sun around which it revolved. In season one, it was something worth mocking; in season seven, its survival is worth celebrating.

There is optimism within every fan base. There is a pocket of fans looking for reasons to celebrate, however brief. There is a pocket that cares loudly. They are why this preview series has become an annual labor of love for me, and they are why I hope EMU has success under Chris Creighton. For 40 years, they have come to Rynearson Stadium with almost no realistic hope of payoff. And to be sure, they do still come: 11,886 for the Buffalo game, 19,654 for NIU, 19,613 for CMU, 15,226 for Toledo (and yes, 8,748 for Morgan State). Though those numbers include visiting contingents of whatever size, there is a core.

Fans got a short glimpse of what a good EMU might look like in a few years, and the goal for 2015 is a longer glimpse. This isn't going to be a very good team, but it could be a bad team that plays like it did against Buffalo a few times instead of only once. The Eagles host four teams that ranked 105th or worse in F/+ last year, so if the good performances are well-timed, the win total could trump last year's.

Get Reggie Bell some more experience, and give him some high-upside weapons, be they freshmen, redshirt freshmen, or veterans in larger roles. Figure out a core for the offensive line. Prep replacements for a front six that will probably be starting four seniors. Find weapons for Brad McCaslin. Build, build, build. That's what you do in a Factory, right?