2016 Big Sky Preview: Eastern Washington

2015 Record: 6-5 (5-3)

Key Returners: Cooper Kupp, Gage Gubrud, Jordan West, Jabari Wilson, Kendrick Bourne

Key Losses: Tyler McNannay, Todd Raynes, the offensive line

The Eastern Washington Eagles are returning a good amount of talent on offense this year, but much like last year, will it translate to wins? The Eagles finished at 6-5 last year, which did not earn them a playoff berth. Four times last year the Eagles allowed more than 50 points to be scored on them. Their defense finished ranked 117th out of 123 teams. Folks, I don’t have to tell you that’s bad. Only one Big Sky school was worse than that. To add to the complexity of the Eastern Washington preseason is a quarterback battle brewing between Jordan West and Gage Gubrud, a sophomore from McMinnville, Oregon.

The Eagles gave up 476 yards per game last year and allowed 58 touchdowns against them. By comparison, as high powered as the Eagles offense was, they only scored 50 touchdowns. Those numbers, at the bare minimum, will need to reverse in order for the Eagles to reach the playoffs this coming season. The Eastern Washington defense finished 117th out of 123 FCS teams last season. At some point the Eagles will need to start playing some defense to become a legitimate playoff contender. Beau Baldwin needs to make that a priority if he wants his team to find the deeper levels of the playoffs, offense will only take you so far against teams who play very good defense every week.

For all the bad things that Eastern Washington does on defense they do some pretty good things on offense. The Eagles return an FCS player of the year candidate in Cooper Kupp and a quarterback to throw to him, Jordan West. As mentioned above, West could very well lose his starting job during the fall camp. Cupp finished with 1642 yards and 19 touchdowns last year. Eastern finished eighth in total offense last year, third in the Big Sky. The Eagles were the top passing attack in the country last year, averaging 353 yards per game through the air. The Eagles also return their leading rusher from last season, Jabari Wilson, who piled up nine touchdowns himself. Unfortunately for Wilson, because the Eagles are so efficient through the air only piled up 661 yards on the ground.

The Eagles may find themselves in a track meet right away to start the season as they travel to Pullman to take on Mike Leach’s Washington State Cougars. Eastern doesn’t want a track meet with Leach’s boys if they want to win. From there the buzz saw gets tougher as they travel to Fargo to take on the defending national champion North Dakota State. After that is a home contest with Northern Iowa, then an away date with Northern Arizona.

I feel pretty bad for Eastern in September, that’s an absolutely brutal schedule to start the season, and they could easily start 0-4. The schedule lightens up in October with UC-Davis and Northern Colorado at home. They’ll finish with Portland State on the road. This is not an easy schedule and Eastern will be literally clawing its way into the playoffs if it’s close. They need an upset or two in September to be a playoff team.

The Eagles are picked by the media to finish third in the Big Sky this coming season. Realistically there is three games in conference that they could lose and should win the rest on their schedule. In this year’s Big Sky I don’t think that three conference losses will be good enough for a third place finish. Considering that their start to the season could be pretty ugly I just don’t see the Eagles as a playoff team. Unfortunately if the Eagles are not a playoff team that could do some damage to Cooper Kupp’s campaign to be the FCS player of the year.

9/3/2016     at Washington State
9/10/2016     at North Dakota State
9/17/2016     Northern Iowa
9/24/2016     at Northern Arizona
10/1/2016     UC Davis
10/8/2016     Northern Colorado
10/22/2016    at Montana State
10/29/2016     Montana
11/5/2016     at Cal Poly
11/12/2016     Idaho State
11/18/2016    at Portland State

Written by 

I'm a Wyoming native living in Missoula, Montana. I'm the owner of, a fan site for the Wyoming Cowboys. Now that I live in the heart of the Big Sky Conference I write about things that focus on those teams. I watch and read a lot of college football, probably more than is healthy. Hit me up on the Twitters @MrTitleist or @WyoNationDotCom Go Pokes, Go Griz!

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