#7 Eastern Washington FCS Football 2017 Preview


Eastern Washington Eagles


Overall Rank: #7

#2 Big Sky

Eastern Washington made another deep playoff run in 2016. The Eagles looked like one of the teams to beat after cruising past Central Arkansas and Richmond with ease to reach the semifinals. However, they lost in a thrilling 40-38 contest to Youngstown State with a trip to the title game on the line. EWU will have more deep playoff runs, but they will be with a new head coach. Aaron Best takes over for Beau Baldwin, who is now the offensive coordinator at California. Coach Best has been around the program for a long, long time. He played at Eastern Washington from 1996 to 1999 and immediately became part of the staff after that. Since 2008 he has been the offensive coordinator. 
2016 Record: 12-2, 8-0
2016 Postseason: FCS Playoffs
Coach: Aaron Best (0-0 at Eastern Washington, 0-0 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Bodie Reeder
Defensive Coordinator: Jeff Schmedding
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Gage Gubrud, QB, 606 yards
Passing: Gage Gubrud, QB, 5,160 yards
Receiving: Nic Sblendorio, WR, 401 yards
Tackles: Mitch Fettig, DB, 96
Sacks: Albert Havili, DL, 5.0
Interceptions: Mitch Fettig, DB, 4
Other Key Returnees: RB Antoine Custer, WR Stu Stiles, OL Spencer Blackburn, LB Ketner Kupp, DB Nzuzi Webster, DL Jay-Tee Tiuli
Key Losses: RB Jabari Wilson, WR Cooper Kupp, WR Kendrick Bourne, WR Shaq Hill, DB Zach Bruce, LB Miquiyah Zamora, DE Samson Ebukam
Quarterback Gage Gubrud should once again lead the most potent passing game in the FCS. He threw for 5,160 yards and 48 touchdowns as a sophomore. That is not a bad way to start off a collegiate career. Gubrud can make all of the throws and his decision making is only going to get better with time. That is bad news for the rest of the Big Sky. The good news for the rest of the Big Sky though is that three 1,000 yard receivers are gone. Cooper Kupp, Kendrick Bourne and Shaq Hill combined to catch 273 passes for 4,058 yards and 41 touchdowns. That is just a ridiculous amount of production. Nic Sblendorio and Stu Stiles are the most productive returning receivers, but keep an eye on junior Nsimba Webster. EWU will run the ball on occasion, but Gubrud was the team’s top rusher last year with 606 yards. Antoine Custer will handle a bulk of the carries after rushing for 416 yards and five touchdowns in 2016.
Like the offense, the defense returns seven starters too. The line features a superb nose tackle in Jay-Tee Tiuli as well as two other starters in Albert Havili and Andre Lino. Havili recorded 5.0 sacks and 61 tackles. With experienced depth across the line, EWU will spend plenty of time in the opposing backfield. There is plenty of talent and experience at linebacker too. Ketner Kupp and a healthy Kurt Calhoun could emerge as the units top playmakers. Safety Mitch Fettig and cornerback Nzuzi Webster highlight a secondary that ranked third in the Big Sky in pass defense last season. Fettig recorded 96 tackles with four interceptions, while Webster tallied 56 tackles and a team high seven pass breakups. Josh Lewis was also a starter last season and Victor Gamboa, D’londo Tucker and Jake Hoffman all have some starting experience too.
The Bottom Line:
Eastern Washington will be one of the teams to beat in the FCS, yet again. The Eagles have an extremely difficult schedule that begins with games against Texas Tech, North Dakota State and Fordham. That is a tough non-conference slate that will prepare the Eagles for a battle in the Big Sky. Cal Poly and Northern Arizona are not on the slate, which is nice, but a trip to Montana on September 23rd and a trip to North Dakota on November 11th will test EWU. That game against North Dakota could decide the Big Sky champion and be one of the best regular season conference games of the year in the FCS.
Projected Postseason: FCS Playoffs
2016 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 128.6 (89th in nation, 12th in conference)
Passing Offense: 401.0 (1, 1)
Total Offense: 529.6 (2, 1)
Scoring Offense: 42.4 (3, 1)
Rushing Defense: 193.6 (87, 7)
Pass Defense: 223.1 (68, 3)
Total Defense: 416.8 (88, 7)
Scoring Defense: 26.5 (51, 3)
Turnover Margin: 0.86 (10, 3)
Sacks: 2.50 (25, 2)
Sacks Allowed: 1.71 (46, 6)
HERO Sports 2017 Recruit Rankings:
#32 Johnny Edwards IV
#40 Andrew Boston
#71 Wyatt Musser
#122 Anthony Leiato
#123 Marques Hampton
#127 Darreon Moore
#228 Cale Lindsay