#10 Eastern Washington FCS Football 2016 Preview

Eastern Washington Eagles
Overall Rank: #10
#1 Big Sky
Not often does Eastern Washington miss the playoffs, but that is what happened in 2015. The Eagles lost their first two games against Oregon and Northern Iowa, but then reeled off six Big Sky wins in a row. At that point, EWU looked like a solid bet to make the playoffs, but their last three games were not easy and Eastern Washington lost to Northern Arizona, Montana and Portland State to finish 6-5 on the year.
2015 Record: 6-5, 5-3
2015 Postseason: None
Coach: Beau Baldwin (73-30 at Eastern Washington, 83-33 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Aaron Best, Troy Taylor
Defensive Coordinator: Jeff Schmedding
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Jabari Wilson, RB, 661 yards
Passing: Jordan West, QB, 3,002 yards
Receiving: Cooper Kupp, WR, 1,642 yards
Tackles: Miquiyah Zamora, LB, 101
Sacks: Jay-Tee Tiuli, LB, 4.5
Interceptions: Alek Kacmarcik, LB, 1; Nzuzi Webster, DB, 1; Mitch Fettig, DB, 1; Ketner Kupp, LB, 1; D’londo Tucker, DB, 1
Other Key Returnees: QB Reilly Hennessey, WR Kendrick Bourne, WR Nic Sblendorio, DB Zach Bruce, DL Samson Ebukam, DL Matthew Sommer
Key Losses: RB Jalen Moore, RB Malcom Williams, OL Clay DeBord, OL Aaron Neary, S Todd Raynes, LB Jake Gall, DB Miles Weatheroy
Eastern Washington led the FCS with 353.3 passing yards per game. Quarterback Jordan West returns after throwing for 3,002 yards and 30 touchdowns. He is an experienced senior who will again be among the best passers in the FCS. It helps that Cooper Kupp is back. The wide receiver caught an amazing 114 passes for 1,642 yards and 19 touchdowns. Kupp is the best receiver at this level, but he will get plenty of help from Kendrick Bourne and Nic Sblendorio. Bourne was the obvious secondary option to Kupp, catching 73 passes for 998 yards and eight touchdowns. Sblendorio is often overlooked, and understandably so, but he is a talented receiver who can make big plays. Jabari Wilson was the team’s leading rusher last season with 661 yards and nine touchdowns. He will not get too many carries since EWU wants to look to the air as much as possible, but he is a capable rusher who will make the most of his opportunities.
The EWU defense was one of the worst in the nation last season. With such an explosive offense, the team is bound to give up a lot of points too, but the Eagles were atrocious against the run. They allowed the opposition to run for 258.0 yards per game last season, ranking 120th in the FCS. With nine starters returning on defense, there are hopes for improvement though. The front four returns plenty of depth, but the unit must be more effective. Keenan Williams has the potential to be a very disruptive end following a promising freshman campaign. At linebacker, Miquiyah Zamora, Jay-Tee Tiuli and Alek Kacmarcik are all capable of helping improve the porous run defense. The secondary was alright last season, but that was in part due to the fact that many teams did not need to pass against EWU. The secondary was very young and should be improved now that the group has more experience.
The Bottom Line:
Eastern Washington will not have any time to ease into the 2016 season. The season begins with trips to Washington State and North Dakota State and then Northern Iowa comes to town the following week. And Big Sky play begins the next week with perhaps the toughest game of the year, a trip to Northern Arizona. With Montana and road games at Cal Poly and Portland State coming up later in the campaign, this will not be an easy season for Eastern Washington. However, this is a very talented team that should be considered the favorites in a wide open Big Sky.
Projected Postseason: FCS Playoffs
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 125.2 (96th in nation, 10th in conference)
Passing Offense: 353.3 (1, 1)
Total Offense: 478.5 (8, 2)
Scoring Offense: 34.6 (18, 4)
Rushing Defense: 258.0 (120, 12)
Pass Defense: 218.4 (67, 7)
Total Defense: 476.4 (117, 12)
Scoring Defense: 39.5 (116, 12)
Turnover Margin: -0.64 (99, 12)
Sacks: 2.18 (46, 6)
Sacks Allowed: 2.09 (64, 8)
Madness 2016 Recruit Rankings:
#75 Xavier James
#170 Conner Crist
#184 Eric Barriere Jr.