The Eagles' hopes of reaching the postseason quickly faded as they lost their first six games of the year. They fell to 0-1 with a 37-26 setback to MAC rival Ball State and suffered a humiliating, 31-14 loss to Illinois State of the FCS in their home opener at Rynearson Stadium the following week. EMU was then defeated by Purdue (54-16), Michigan State (23-7), Kent State (41-14) and Toledo (52-47). The Eagles started to get in an offensive rhythm against the Rockets and rode that momentum to a 48-38 victory over Army the following week.
EMU fell to 1-9 with a trio of losses to Bowling Green (24-3), Ohio (45-14) and Central Michigan (34-31). It knocked off Western Michigan (29-23), but was dismantled by Northern Illinois, 49-7, in the season finale. The loss to the Huskies dropped the Eagles to 2-10 on the year, including a 1-7 finish in league play, which put them in last place in the West Division.
English fell to 10-38 in his career with a 7-25 mark in conference games. He began his head coaching career at EMU in 2009 after serving as the defensive coordinator at Michigan and Louisville. English will assume the defensive coordinator responsibilities as well at EMU in 2013, which is the last guaranteed year he will be at the program with his contract expiring on New Year's Eve.
OFFENSE: EMU had a sporadic offense in 2012 that was only effective in games it managed to establish the run. Stan Parrish was hired to help guide the offense to a more consistent performance. The former Marshall, Kansas State and Ball State head coach has some talent to work with right away.
Junior QB Tyler Benz wrestled away the starting job in 2012 and produced back- to-back 300-yard passing games against Toledo and Army. He threw seven of his 14 touchdown passes during that span, but tossed eight interceptions in as many games to close out the season. Benz disappeared down the stretch as he was held under 140 yards passing in nine of the 11 games he saw action.
He should be able to do a little bit more as he gets more comfortable in the offense. The receiving corps also needed time to develop which made Benz's top target graduated tight end Garrett Hoskins last season. Aside from Donald Scott, who is the leading returner in receptions (19) and yards (255), the Eagles do not have a senior wideout on their roster. Sophomore Dustin Creel (6-2, 205) has great size that should help him as a possession receiver, while fellow sophomore Jay Jones (5-10, 181) has the speed to makes plays from the slot.
The rushing attack charged the offense at times thanks to the breakout of junior halfback Bronson Hill, who gained 910 yards and 12 TDs on 140 attempts. Hill had amassed just 10 yards and no scores through four games before exploding for 538 yards and three TDs over a three-game span.
The offensive line has great size with senior Orlando McCord (6-3, 310), redshirt freshman Darien Terrell (6-4, 332) and juniors Lincoln Hanson (6-6, 301) and Bobby McFadden (6-7, 303) set to battle in the trenches. Hansen was given some of the credit for Hill's eruption in 2012 by his head coach.
"Well he has played a lot and he is such a solid human being," said English on Hansen. "You can win with those type of guys. He'll play the right tackle for us. He brings stability and a lot of game experience. Our backs are dynamic but you have to be able to block up front and I think he will help us do that."
DEFENSE: English takes over a unit that went from having the 34th ranked total defense in the FBS in 2011 to 112th in 2012 with averages of 479.8 yards of total offense and 37.6 points allowed per contest. The hope is that the head coach can instill some life into a defense that intercepted only seven passes and recorded the same unimpressive total of sacks.
Senior end Kalonji Kashama is one of the leaders of the group after registering three of the seven sacks in 2012. He also made 30 total stops, four TFL and caused two fumbles. Junior nose tackle Cy Maughmer (6-2, 276) saw the field in every game last year en route to 31 total tackles, five QB hurries and two TFL. Others expected to contribute up front for the Eagles include senior Matt Price (6-3, 270), junior Travis Linser (6-4, 280) and sophomore Pat O'Connor (6-4, 272).
"You can expect to see a defense that plays fast, physical and gets to the ball," said Kashama. "One thing that excited me about coming to Eastern was coach English. I'm happy that I get to have him as the defensive coordinator before I graduate."
Kashama's excitement will not last too long if the inexperienced group of linebackers takes too long to get acclimated to expanded roles. Sophomore Ike Spearman, senior Sean Kurtz and junior Tim Brown all have potential and great speed for the position, but they are undersized and registered just 61 combined total stops in 2012, which is not very impressive considering the graduated combo of Blake Poole and Justin Cudworth finished with 89 and 85 tackles, respectively.
The secondary has some leadership in senior strong safety Donald Coleman, who was the 16th best tackler in the MAC with 87 total takedowns in his first eligible year with the team since transferring from NC State. He has some good company in the defensive backfield with junior corner Pudge Cotton coming off a two-interception campaign and senior Ja'Ron Gillespie available again after not participating in any games last season.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Sophomore kicker Dylan Mulder showed promise as a rookie, making 10-of-11 field goal attempts and 24-of-27 extra point tries. He accounted for 11 or more points on three occasions. Kickoff specialist Kody Fulkerson is also back after averaging 58.5 yards per attempts with three touchbacks a season ago.
Freshman Austin Barnes is the top candidate to handle the punting duties. He averaged 47.1 yards per punt during his high school career. Junior running back Tyler Allen is most likely going to be used as a return specialist again after posting an average of 22.5 yards per attempt on his 47 fielded kickoffs. Junior wideout Demarius Reed may be replaced as the punt returner after picking up only 72 yards on 13 tries.
OUTLOOK: English has the respect of his players and they are all aware of the implications of this season. The Eagles had a tough slate last year with nine losses coming to teams that participated in the bowl season. Their journey will not be any easier in 2013, but English is retaining his optimism.
"I think that if the fans give this team a chance then they will be pleasantly surprised," said English. "I know what everyone thinks based on last year, but this isn't my first rodeo. The teams that I have been a part of that have been building processes - they fluctuate. They have a year where they get to .500 and they have a year where they don't meet expectations and then they breakthrough. That's really what I expect from this team."
Although it lost to an FCS school last season, EMU will have an edge heading into its opener against Howard at Rynearson Stadium. That will not be the case for the following two-game road trip that includes visits to Penn State and Rutgers. The Eagles begin MAC play in week four at home versus Ball State and play their first league game away from home at Buffalo.
English's team will conclude its non-league schedule with Army in West Point and does not have a cakewalk the rest of the way with Ohio, Northern Illinois, Toledo, Western Michigan, Bowling Green and CMU lined up down the stretch.
The Eagles are not built to compete for the MAC Championship, but a breakout year by either Hill or Benz could keep them competitive with most of their league rivals. EMU's lackluster defense will most likely hold it back from a winning record unless some underclassmen makes unexpected strides.