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           ***** NCAA Football Preview - Eastern Michigan Eagles *****
 
 By Lucas Gulotta, Associate College Football Editor
 
 Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
 2011 SEASON IN REVIEW: Eastern Michigan gave its fans a reason to be
 optimistic last year by finishing 6-6 overall and 4-4 in the Mid-American
 Conference with a young offensive unit.
 
 Coach Ron English guided his team to back-to-back victories over FCS opponents
 Howard (41-9) and Alabama State (14-7). EMU then dropped back down to .500
 after unsuccessful visits to Michigan (31-3) and Penn State (34-6). The Eagles
 flew past Akron (31-24) in their MAC opener, but were unsuccessful their next
 time out as the Toledo Rockets (54-16) dismantled them. EMU bounced back with
 two straight wins over Central Michigan (35-28) and Western Michigan (14-10),
 but it lost three of its last four games to close out the year.
 
 The Eagles did not qualify for bowl game consideration with six wins because
 two of their victories came over FCS opponents.
 
 2012 ANALYSIS:
 
 OFFENSE: English challenged Alex Gillett this spring by declaring the
 quarterback position open. The three-year starter got the message and improved
 his footwork and passing accuracy enough to impress his coach. Gillett's
 ability to scramble helped him dash for a team-best 736 yards last year.
 
 EMU had the 14th best rushing attack in the nation in 2011. The offensive line
 that did the work in the trenches to give the Eagles such a successful running
 game returns all five starters. To further enhance the offense, six of the
 team's top seven rushers are back as well.
 
 The success in the running game desperately needs to be balanced out by a more
 efficient passing attack. Gillett has a pair of adequate targets in Nick Olds
 and Demarius Reed to help make that possible. Tight end Garrett Hoskins is
 also a valuable asset. Hoskins was second on the team with 328 receiving yards
 last season.
 
 DEFENSE: EMU had one of the better defenses in the MAC last season, allowing
 just 350.3 yards per game. The Eagles lose key players from 2011's successful
 unit though. The defensive line and secondary are both areas of concern.
 
 Defensive end Andy Malumba is the only returning player from the front four.
 The linebacking corps is led by leading returning tackler Justin Cudworth.
 Bryan Pali and Colin Weingrad will both play significant roles alongside the
 leader.
 
 "I embrace the (leader) role in every drill, every film session, every
 practice, and every game." said Cudworth. "I conduct myself as best I can and
 not only lead by example but also talk to the younger guys and show them
 things here and there."
 
 The Eagles have a pair of talented cornerbacks in Marlon Pollard (54 tackles,
 one INT) and Marcell Rose (56 tackles, one INT). Sean Cotton and Kevin
 Johnson, the projected starting safeties, are both sophomores with a long way
 to go.
 
 SPECIAL TEAMS: The Eagles return both their kicker Kody Fulkerson and punter
 Jay Karutz from last season. Fulkerson struggles with accuracy on longer tries
 and made 14-of-21 field goal attempts last season. Karutz did not have a punt
 blocked all of last season and averaged 38.8 yards per punt. Tyler Allen
 impressed the coaching staff in the spring with his electrifying speed, enough
 so to be made the team's return man.
 
 OUTLOOK: EMU will need Gillett and the offense to carry the burden for the
 early part of the season as the seven new defensive starters get their feet
 wet. The Eagles will need to improve their ability to hang on to the ball for
 that to be possible, as they were 91st in the NCAA in turnover margin per game
 (-0.42) last season.
 
 "Every year is different. I don't know what kind of team we have," said
 English. "I know we have some talented players but I don't know until they are
 challenged if they are tough people. But we'll find out."
 
 English's team will not have an easy road to start its quest for the school's
 first bowl bid since 1987. EMU begins its 2012 season with a bout with MAC
 rival Ball State on the road. The Eagles then have their home opener versus
 Illinois State before back-to-back road games versus Purdue and Michigan
 State. The team will then have 5 of its last 8 games at Rynearson Stadium.
 The Eagles will host Army to end their non-conference slate and have the luxury
 of facing Toledo and Northern Illinois at home.
 
 The Eagles are a very tough team to predict this season. Their defense is a
 question mark with all of the departures. The non-conference action for the
 inexperienced players on the defense will be vital as they need to be on the
 field for as many snaps as possible before EMU enters the heart of its MAC
 schedule.
 
 
 
 08/20 10:45:12 ET

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