Eastern Kentucky Colonels
2008 record: 8-4, 7-1 (Ohio Valley champions, lost to Richmond in first round of I-AA playoffs)
Series: first meeting
NCAA Classification: I-AA (No, I do not use FBS/FCS)
Conference: Ohio Valley
Coach: Dean Hood (second season, 8-4)
For the seventh time in the last eight years, IU's non-conference schedule includes a game against a Division I-AA opponent. Frankly, it hasn't gone all that well for the Hoosiers. While IU blew out Indiana State in 2003 and 2007 and Murray State last year, the other three games have been too close: in 2002, in Gerry Dinardo's first game as IU's coach, the Hoosiers beat William & Mary 25-17. In 2005, Terry Hoeppner's first year, IU barely got by Nicholls State, 35-31. That game was particularly embarrassing, because Nicholls State is located in southern Louisiana. The game was played just days after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf coast, and the Nicholls program was in such disarray that there was talk that they might have to play the game in IU's practice jerseys. In 2006, Hoeppner missed two games for brain surgery, and under acting coach Bill Lynch lost to Southern Illinois 35-28.
The I-A teams that IU has struggled to beat generally have been decent teams: William & Mary finished 6-5 in 2002; Nicholls finished 6-4 and won the Southern Conference in 2005; Southern Illinois was 9-4 and made the I-AA playoffs in 2006. Still, it's hard to explain why IU, until last year, was very successful against the MAC but has been poor against all but the worst of the I-AA teams.
The bad news, as I outlined in an earlier preview, is that Eastern Kentucky was an elite I-AA program in the 1980s and 1990s and won the Ohio Valley Conference last year. EKU never has defeated a sitting member of a BCS conference, but based on IU's recent pattern, this might be a too-close-for-comfort game. Hopefully IU can break that pattern.
Here's what I said about EKU's offense a couple of months ago:
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 and Watts, who caught five of those touchdowns, are the top returning receivers.
My prediction was wrong, of course. EKU will start Cody Watts at quarterback.
As I said in my earlier preview, Eastern Kentucky had a strange season in 2008: the Colonels went 8-4 and qualified for the I-AA playoffs even though they were below average offensively and defensively and were outscored by 9 points on the season. Still, as the EKU link above notes, the Colonels have had 32 winning seasons in a row.
Just 48 hours from now, we will have at least some sense of how the 2009 Hoosiers will be.