#22 Eastern Kentucky FCS Football 2016 Preview

Eastern Kentucky Colonels
Overall Rank: #22
#2 Ohio Valley
The expectations were very high for Eastern Kentucky last season. All went as it should have though until the last four games of the season. The Colonels understandably lost at Jacksonville State, but the 34-0 final score was an indicator of what was to come. EKU lost the following weekend at home to Tennessee-Martin. Following an overtime win over Murray State, the Colonels fell to Eastern Illinois to finish up the season at 5-3 in conference play. In an effort to change the losing ways, EKU brought in Coach Mark Elder to lead the way. The former Tennessee assistant has enough talent on the roster to get this team back to the playoffs.
2015 Record: 6-5, 5-3
2015 Postseason: None
Coach: Mark Elder (0-0 at Eastern Kentucky, 0-0 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Angelo Mirando
Defensive Coordinator: Kurt Mattix
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Ethan Thomas, RB, 498 yards
Passing: Bennie Coney, QB, 2,471 yards
Receiving: Devin Borders, WR, 376 yards
Tackles: Kobie Grace, DB, 61
Sacks: Sheldon Fleming, DL, 2.0
Interceptions: Kiante Northington, DB, 3
Other Key Returnees: WR Bryan Green, LB Thomas Owens, LB Jeff Canady, DL Avery Pitt, K Lucas Williams, P Keith Wrzuszczak
Key Losses: RB Dy’Shawn Mobley, TE Ben Madon, WR Joel Brown, WR Jeff Glover, OL Brett Eyckmans, CB Stanley Absanon, LB Trey Thomas, DL Noah Spence, LB Marquise Piton, LB Chris Kelly, DL Bryce Krebs
Eastern Kentucky’s offense has potential thanks to Bennie Coney. The senior signal caller threw for 2,471 yards and 23 touchdowns, while completing 61.3 percent of his passes. Coney has been extremely efficient under center, but he will need to find some new receiving targets. Devin Borders led the team with 37 receptions, but Joel Brown, Jeff Glover and tight end Ben Madon need to be replaced. Sophomore Arien Beasley had a very promising freshman campaign and should emerge as a consistent receiving threat for Coney. The ground game must improve though if EKU wants to get to the playoffs. Leading rusher Ethan Thomas returns, but he totaled just 498 yards on the ground. Juinor Kentayvus Hopkins and Western Kentucky transfer Raynaldy Gustave will need to help out. With a strong offensive line, led by Justin Adeokoya and Z Stephenson, the ground game should be better. And if that is the case, this will be a pretty good offense.
The defense was very good last season, but there are a lot of players to replace. The front four must replace Noah Spence, who had a monster season, tallying 11.5 sacks, 22.5 tackles-for-loss, 15 quarterback hurries and 63 total tackles. Bryce Krebs was a regular starter in the front line too. That leaves Avery Pitt as the most experienced lineman and players like Pitt and Sheldon Fleming need to step up and help replace the pass rushing lost with Spence. At linebacker, Trey Thomas must be replaced after leading the team with 73 tackles. Thomas Owens and Jeff Canady will have to step up if Eastern Kentucky wants to have the best rush defense in the OVC again. The pass defense struggled last season, but Kobie Grace and Kiante Northington are a solid duo to build around.
The Bottom Line:
The OVC title race should be very interesting this year and Eastern Kentucky will be right in the mix. What gives Eastern Kentucky hope for an OVC title is the fact that they get Jacksonville State and Eastern Illinois at home. That season finale against EIU could again have playoff implications, but this time around with the game at Eastern Kentucky, the Colonels could have the upper hand for a shot at the playoffs.
Projected Postseason: FCS Playoffs
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 132.0 (85th in nation, 5th in conference)
Passing Offense: 256.0 (30, 3)
Total Offense: 388.0 (55, 4)
Scoring Offense: 30.3 (35, 4)
Rushing Defense: 111.8 (14, 1)
Pass Defense: 223.6 (78, 5)
Total Defense: 335.5 (27, 2)
Scoring Defense: 24.6 (53, 2)
Turnover Margin: -0.18 (75, 8)
Sacks: 2.27 (38, 3)
Sacks Allowed: 1.45 (34, 4)
Madness 2016 Recruit Rankings:
#133 Nathan Murray
#134 Austin Scott