#28 Eastern Illinois FCS Football 2016 Preview

Eastern Illinois Panthers
Overall Rank: #28
#3 Ohio Valley
Following a disappointing 2014 campaign, Eastern Illinois went back to the playoffs yet again. It was their tenth playoff appearance since 2000. For a while though it did not look like the Panthers were going to be able to make the playoffs last season. They started the season 0-3 with blowout losses to Western Illinois and Northwestern and a tough overtime loss to Illinois State. But after that the Panthers lost just one more game during the regular season and that was to OVC champs Jacksonville State. The playoff appearance was short though as EIU fell 53-17 at Northern Iowa.
2015 Record: 7-5, 7-1
2015 Postseason: FCS Playoffs
Coach: Kim Dameron (12-12 at Eastern Illinois, 12-12 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Greg Stevens
Defensive Coordinator: Michael Hodges, DeMarcus Covington
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Devin Church, RB, 743 yards
Passing: Austin Green, QB, 74 yards
Receiving: Isaiah Nelson, WR, 347 yards
Tackles: Seth McDonald, LB, 109
Sacks: Nick Horne, LB, 2.5
Interceptions: Bradley Dewberry, DB, 4
Other Key Returnees: WR Anthony Taylor, WR Addison Bounds, DB Vince Speller
Key Losses: RB Shepard Little, QB Jalen Whitlow, OL Jimmy Lowery, DB Jourdan Wycliffe, LB Kamu Grugier-Hill, DL Dino Fanti, DB Dylan Chatman, DB Anthony Goodman
Last season it was the defense that propelled EIU into the playoffs, but it could be the offense that does it this year. Running back Devin Church returns after rushing for 743 yards and nine touchdowns last season. Shepard Little is a big loss at running back, but Church has already proven that he can take over much of the workload. Arkansas transfer Korliss Marshall, who redshirted last season, will at least be a very talented backup for Church. With four starters returning to the offensive line, led by tackle Evan Kanz, this should be one of the most productive ground games in the country. The skill players at wide receiver also have plenty of experience. Anthony Taylor and Isaiah Nelson were the top pass catchers on the team after Church and Addison Bounds turned into a very dangerous deep threat during his sophomore season.
The question is just who is going to get those guys the ball. Jalen Whitlow threw for 1,909 yards and ten touchdowns, while adding 512 yards and two more trips to the end zone, during his senior season. Whitlow may not have put up huge numbers, but he was a dangerous playmaker. The job will now fall to Florida International transfer Bud Martin or Syracuse transfer Mitch Kimble. Junior Austin Green was Whitlow’s backup last season, but he will have trouble beating out Martin and Kimble. The defense was very good last year, but they lose a lot, including defensive tackle Dino Fanti, the reigning OVC Defensive Player of the Year and linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill, who was drafted in the sixth round of the NFL Draft. That leaves lineman Jarvis Williams and linebacker Seth McDonald as the new leaders of the defense. The secondary is in a bit better shape with safeties Bradley Dewberry and Vince Speller returning, but replacing Antoine Johnson and Dylan Chatman at cornerback will not be easy.
The Bottom Line:
There are certainly some questions Coach Kim Dameron needs to answer, but this group has plenty of potential and talent to make it back to the playoffs. They need to find a quarterback, but with those transfers coming in, it could end up being an upgrade over Whitlow. The bigger issue will likely be on the defensive side of the ball. Last year the unit did a superb job stopping the pass and creating turnovers. That may not be so easy this year.
Projected Postseason: None
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 173.3 (47th in nation, 3rd in conference)
Passing Offense: 166.0 (93, 8)
Total Offense: 339.3 (83, 6)
Scoring Offense: 23.6 (75, 7)
Rushing Defense: 174.8 (70, 4)
Pass Defense: 188.8 (28, 2)
Total Defense: 363.5 (43, 3)
Scoring Defense: 26.6 (64, 3)
Turnover Margin: 0.58 (19, 2)
Sacks: 2.17 (52, 4)
Sacks Allowed: 0.75 (5, 1)
Madness 2016 Recruit Rankings:
#137 Scotty Ray Gilkey