Hats off to the Eastern Michigan Eagles, who made it to a bowl for the first time in nearly 30 seasons as one of six MAC teams to make it to postseason play. The Eagles lost to Old Dominion in the Popeyes Bahama Bowl and with 16 returning starters, expectations are high for a repeat bowl season.
The Eagles have one of the top quarterbacks in the MAC, Brogan Roback, returning. Roback loves to air it out and finished with 2,694 yards passing and 18 touchdowns. Keep in mind, he did not play in the first three games of last season and had just 19 pass attempts combined in his next two games. He had 300 yards passing in six of his last seven games of the year, including a 37-71 performance for 468 yards against Ball State
The Eagles will have a three-headed attack at running back. Ian Eriksen emerged after an injury to Shaq Vann. Eriksen scored 9 touchdowns and rushed for 771 yards. Breck Turner averaged 5.4 yards a carry and scored 4 touchdowns. Vann was poised for a breakout season last year before going down after just one carry in the second game of the season. He averaged 7.9 yards a carry last year and is also a pretty good receiving threat.
Eastern Michigan returns a solid receiving corps led by Sergio Bailey (868 yards) and Dieuly Aristilde (492 yards). Bailey had 7 receiving touchdowns and Aristilde really emerged down the stretch as a favorite target of Brogan.
The key to the Eagles turnaround was the improvement of the offensive line over the last couple of seasons. The Eagles only gave up 13 sacks last year (down from 35 in 2014) but are now tasked with having to rebuild after three starters left. While the rest of the starters on offense return, the overall success will depend on those newcomers to the starting lineup.
The defense was a "bend but not break" unit that kept the Eagles in several close games last year. The entire secondary, as well as the top seven tacklers return.
With the return of injured safety Anthony Brown, the Eagles have a solid secondary. Vince Calhoun is a disruptive defender and JUCO CB Shaq Jones will add depth and versatility. Kyle Rachal was the heart of the defense with 109 tackles at linebacker and the Eagles also return Ike Spearman and Jaylen Pickett.
The question is on the defensive line as Pat O'Connor's 8.5 sacks are gone. Jeremiah Harris will be counted on to step up and produce. This was not a unit that was good at stopping the run the past few seasons and they will be severely outmanned by Kentucky's offensive line.
Coming off the Florida game, this could be a trap type of game, especially if Kentucky comes into the game at 4-0. The Eagles will be easy to overlook with a home SEC game versus Missouri looming. Regardless, this is still a game that even a flat Kentucky team should win easily. Look for the offensive line to be the hero as Kentucky should be able to run and score at will against their MAC opponent. Kentucky should roll with a 35-7 victory.