Northern Illinois has already clinched the Mid-American Conference West Division title, but the Huskies have a chance to go unbeaten in MAC play for the second time in three years when they take on Eastern Michigan Friday.
Thomas Bieszk covers the Eagles for the The Eastern Echo, Eastern Michigan's student newspaper. He took some time out of his schedule to answer some questions about Eastern Michigan from Daily Chronicle NIU beat writer Steve Nitz.
Here's what Bieszk had to say:
Nitz: After finishing 6-6 last season, the Eagles are in the MAC West basement once again. How disappointing has this season been for Eastern Michigan fans, relative to expectations?
Bieszk: It is very disappointing to see the team take a big step back after a 6-6 season. Expectations were high because of the successful season, the reports on the incoming recruiting class and higher confidence as a team and fanbase. There are some justifications as to why EMU is struggling because of the loss of many veterans, such as the defense began the season with only one returning starter on the defensive line and other losses in that sort that were key to the success last season. The season has been a disappointment, but there are signs that this team could be good in the future with young players such as QB Tyler Benz and RB Bronson Hill, who have made strides to become good players for the Eagles.
Nitz: The Eagles have struggled this season, but got a win over Western Michigan last week, and have put up 60 points the past two games combined. In what ways has this team taken steps forward at the end of the season?
Bieszk: I would say the strides the Eagles are taking are the young players are gaining more in-game experience and getting comfortable with a higher level of football competition taking that step from high school to college. As I mentioned before, Benz and Hill have been key. Benz has progressed very nicely since taking over in our fourth game of the season against Michigan State, and it shows on the stat sheet for every game. Hill has been a nice surprise taking over as the starting tailback over guys like Javonti Greene and Dominique Sherrer, whom I expected to be good this year, and Hill has overtaken them. I believe Bronson Hill does have the potential to be the best running back in the conference before he graduates.
Nitz: When MAC teams host games on Black Friday, getting fans to come out to the stadium can be a tad tough, especially to see a 2-9 team. Realistically, how many fans can we expect to see at Rynearson Stadium Friday?
Bieszk: I can't say for sure how many people will be in the stands Friday because I don't look at the ticket sales or attendance in any sort. I think the Eagles have had good turnouts, even through the struggles. I don't expect many to be at the game Friday though. EMU is on Thanksgiving break, so not many students will be there and with it being Black Friday, I doubt many people want to take three hours out of their time to watch a football game, even though it is the last EMU game for the season.
Nitz: NIU is a 21-point favorite. What do the Eagles have to do in order to stay with the Huskies?
Bieszk: This is a tall order for the Eastern Michigan defense against NIU, and only being a 21-point underdog is just being nice to be honest. The team has not had much consistency with the three phases of the game at all this season. There has been a couple times this season when the opponent has exposed the offense, defense and special teams in the same game. I have looked up the Huskies' stats and see that they are ranked 10th in the entire nation running the football and 12th in scoring. I have also seen that NIU has failed to score less than 30 points once this season, and that was in the first game of the season against Iowa. With all that said, the Eagles' defense has struggled all season. They have struggled to tackle, struggled in pass coverage and the youth in the front seven has shown up a lot. To stay with the Huskies is going to be tough, not impossible, but tough. It is mainly just a matter of finding consistency and holding onto a lead if they manage to gain one.