Print and Go Back Penn State Nittany Lions [Print without images]

Friday, July 19, 2013
Early look at the Eastern Michigan Eagles

By Josh Moyer

Every weekday over the next three weeks, NittanyNation will take a closer look at a different game this season and how the matchup stacks up for PSU. Up today: Eastern Michigan.

Big Ten teams can no longer schedule FCS teams -- but this matchup's about as close as it can get.

Eastern Michigan last won a conference championship in 1987, back when Bill O'Brien was still playing ball in high school, and had its last winless season in 2009. Put simply, the Eagles are one of the worst programs in the FBS and are the closest thing to a sure win that PSU can get.

The question isn't whether PSU can win, but by how much, and just how soon the backups and the walk-ons can get some game experience. It's not going to be pretty.

When: Noon on Sept. 7 at Beaver Stadium. Big Ten Network telecast.

Last season: Eastern Michigan (2-10, 1-7 MAC); lost eight games by double digits

Series history: PSU 2-0-0

Biggest question marks: Oh boy, where to even begin? For starters, the entire defense is just miserable. Five starters return, but three of them played on a defensive line that might have been the worst in the country.

At the very least, their run defense -- and this is beyond argument -- was the worst in the nation. They allowed 267 rushing yards a game, a full 26 yards more than the second-worst team, and allowed the opposition to averaged 6.28 yards per carry. That's a full yard more a carry than about 115 other teams allowed. With new linebackers and a porous defensive line, it's difficult envisioning those numbers growing respectable come Week 2.

Obviously, the weaknesses extend to offense as well, but most question marks are on defense. The offensive line will also be the big concern because three starters -- who combined for exactly 100 career starts -- are now gone.

Biggest strengths: Yes, there is a bright spot on Eastern Michigan -- and that's running back. Junior Bronson Hill is an explosive, versatile athlete who can do a little bit of everything and will be the star of this team. He took over in the final seven games last season and, in just that span, gained 895 yards on 137 carries.

His backup might also be a name some PSU fans are familiar with: Ryan Brumfield, fifth on the PIAA's all-time career rushing list and an alum of Pottstown (Pa.) Owen J. Roberts. He saw limited time last year, but he'll be expected to take over when Hill needs a rest.

Who to watch: QB Tyler Benz. Some analysts believe EMU could rely more on the passing game this season, and that'll start with Benz. He took over in Week 3 last season when it became clear EMU was preparing for the future. He was inconsistent but still wound up with respectable numbers, throwing 14 touchdowns to eight picks. Hill is the definitely the star, but if Benz can turn it on against PSU, that'll be key.

What you might not know: Eastern Michigan obviously isn't one of the wealthier programs, so EMU has to get creative when it solicits donations. That's where this YouTube video comes in.

EMU's trying to raise $60,000 that'll do such things as help re-tile the bathroom. What's unique about this video? You and two others can skydive with the head coach and talk football for a $5,000 donation. There are other pitches, too, including helping create a "fan tunnel" and being present for the pregame speech.

Early prediction: PSU 41-3. The Nittany Lions control the clock, and the game is decided by halftime. A complete snoozefest.