Q: How will the quarterback competition impact the Colonels?
A: No coach in the state had a more interesting quarterback scenario than first-year EKU head man Mark Elder. Returning Eastern starter Bennie Coney had a quality season last year as a junior, throwing for 2,471 yards and 23 touchdowns. However, this offseason, Elder brought in former Missouri QB Maty Mauk as a transfer. Before sabotaging his Missouri career with off-the-field problems, the fiery Mauk threw for 4,373 yards and 42 TDs and led Mizzou to a 17-5 record in games he started.
Q: How will the Colonels adapt to the coaching transition?
A: The ouster of veteran EKU coach Dean Hood after last season’s 6-5 season led to the hiring of Elder, 38. The Butch Jones disciple had been coaching tight ends and special teams at Tennessee after also being on staff with Jones at Cincinnati and Central Michigan. In his first head coaching job, Elder has, by all accounts, brought an infusion of energy to Eastern football. As with all first-time head coaches, it will be interesting to watch Elder as he acclimates to being a program’s final decision maker.
Q: Will Eastern be able to successfully integrate a bevy of power-five conference transfers?
A: Mauk’s move from Missouri has captured the headlines, but he is one of many refugees from major-conference football who will debut for EKU in 2016. Running back Henry Enyenihi (Illinois); wideouts Neiko Creamer (Tennessee), Jacky Marcellus (West Virginia) and Cameron Fogle (Kentucky); tight end Dan Crimmins (Boston College); linebacker Dwight Williams (UCLA); and defensive backs Nigel Bethel II (Texas Tech) and Jared Tucker (Kentucky) are some of the newcomers EKU must try to blend into a cohesive force.
Q: Can special teams be an X-factor for EKU?
A: Against Kentucky last season, Elder’s Tennessee special teams returned both a kickoff (100 yards) and a punt (84) for TDs. If Elder can produce similar return excellence, the speical teams could become Eastern’s X factor. In the kicking part of the kicking game, EKU should be terrific. Place-kicker Lucas Williams is back after making 11-of-14 field goal tries (long of 45) last year. Punter Keith Wrzuszczak is one of the best in the country at any level. On 62 punts last season, the Australian booted 20 for 50-yards or more. He averaged 43.7 yards and pinned 20 kicks inside an opponent’s 20-yard-line.
Q: Will Elder be the coach who gets EKU back to winning playoff games?
A: For those who recall Roy Kidd’s championship heyday at EKU, it is always jarring to realize Eastern has not won an FCS playoff game since 1994. A school that won eight of its first 10 FCS (formerly 1-AA) playoff games — including the 1979 and ‘82 national championships — is 8-17 since and has dropped seven post-season contests in a row. Of course, to win in the playoffs, you have to get there. It should be advantageous to the Colonels’ 2016 playoff aspirations that the two games with the OVC’s other two projected top teams, Jacksonville State (Oct. 22) and Eastern Illinois (Nov. 19), will be played in Richmond.
2016 College Football Preview