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A too-early look at Eastern Kentucky

Eastern Kentucky University
Location: Richmond, Ky.
Founded: 1874
Enrollment: 16,031
NCAA Classification: I-AA (No, I do not use FBS/FCS)
Conference: Ohio Valley
Coach: Dean Hood (second season, 8-4)

IU begins its season on Thursday night, September 3, against the Colonels of Eastern Kentucky.  Before he was found to have sufficient mustache gravitas to fill Joe Tiller’s shoes, current Purdue coach Danny Hope led the Colonels from 2003-2007.  EKU has a strong small-school history.  Hope replaced Roy Kidd, who coached EKU from 1964-2002 and won over 70 percent of his games.  Kidd led WKU to four consecutive I-AA championship games from 1979-1982, and the Colonels won the title in 1979 and 1982.  Hope led EKU to an Ohio Valley Conference championship in his final season, and new coach Dean Hood followed suit in 2008.  EKU qualified for the I-AA playoffs all but twice from 1979-1997, but the last two seasons are EKU's first playoff years since 1997, so the program is on a bit of an upswing.

The Colonels have never defeated a "sitting" member of a BCS conference.  Here are the Colonels' results against current members of BCS conferences:

Cincinnati: 0-2 (losses in 2006 and 2008)

Kentucky: 0-2 (losses in 1998 and 2007)

Louisville: 8-16-1 (last win in 1985, all games played before Louisville joined the big East)

NC State: 0-1 (loss in 2005)

Oregon State: 0-1 (2002)

Vanderbilt: 0-1 (lost 19-7 in 2004)

Other than the aforementioned competitive loss to Vandy, EKU has lost all of its games against the big six conferences by 33 or more points.

On offense, the Colonels return leading rusher CJ Walker.  Walker ran for 706 yards and averaged 4.8 yards per carry last season.  Last year's starting quarterback, Alan Holland, is gone, and part-time QB Cody Watts, who was 11-13 passing last season, is listed as a wide receiver.  As best I can tell, redshirt freshman TJ Pryor seems likely to get the nod at QB this season (there isn't much information available on I-AA teams at this time of the season).  EKU returns most of its offensive line, including preseason all-American Derek Hardman.  The Colonels didn't have an overwhelming passing attack last year--only ten TDs in the air all season--and Shannon Davis and Watts, who caught five of those touchdowns, are the top returning receivers.

On the defensive side, defensive lineman Chris Hall, an honorable mention all-American, had 13 sacks last season.  Linebacker Jordan Dalrymple returns, but the defense appears to have been hit hard by graduation. 

I'll dig a bit deeper as the season progresses, but EKU was an odd team last year. EKU went 8-4, won its conference, and qualified for the playoffs despite ranking #96 of 118 in total offense and #72 of 118 in total defense. On the season, the Colonels were outscored by a total of 9 points and outgained by 708 yards.  EKU's main advantage seems to be its +14 turnover margin, including 21 interceptions. 

Again, more on the Colonels as the season approaches.