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2021 football opponent preview: Eastern Michigan Eagles

Let’s talk about EMU heading into the 2021 football season.

NCAA Football: Eastern Michigan at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

It is August now, which means that it is time to seriously turn our attention to college football. The Wisconsin Badgers open up fall practice on Friday and the rest of the country will be joining them shortly. For the rest of the month, we will be posting two articles about each opponent on Wisconsin’s schedule.

The first post will be written by one of our staffers and will give you a basic overview of each team the Badgers are playing. The second post will be written by a variety of fans and writers of each team, giving us a more in-depth look at the team from those who follow it closely. We’ve got other SB Nation site contributors, newsletter writers, podcast hosts, and other Twitter sports shouters on deck. It should be a lot of fun.

Up next in our preview series we take a look at Eastern Michigan.

NCAA Football: Quick Lane Bowl-Pittsburgh vs Eastern Michigan Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Team name: Eastern Michigan Eagles
2020 record: 2-4, No. 5 MAC West
Date/location of 2021 game: Saturday, Sept. 11, Camp Randall Stadium
Last time vs. Wisconsin: 1996, Wisconsin 24 - Eastern Michigan 3, Camp Randall Stadium

Returning leaders:

Passing: Preston Hutchinson (JR), 126-198 (63.64%), 1662 yards, 12 touchdowns, six interceptions, 206 rushing yards, eight touchdowns in six games played
Rushing: Darius Boone (RS FR), 44 carries, 254 yards (5.8 ypc), two touchdowns in three games
Receiving: Hassan Beydoun (JR), 40 receptions, 508 yards (12.7 average) in five games
Tackles: Terry Myrick (SR), 67 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss
Sacks: Turan Rush (SR), 4.5 sacks
Interceptions: Alvinoski LaFleur (SR), two interceptions

Key offensive player: Last season Eastern Michigan’s offense was a relative strength. A big reason for that was the strong connection between quarterback Preston Hutchinson and wide receiver Hassan Beydoun.

Beydoun is not overly imposing at 5-foot-8 and 174 pounds, but there is a reason he is receiving preseason all-conference recognition by many outlets. The former walk-on is quick and sure-handed, giving the offense a consistent outlet. For an offense that has some question marks along the offensive line and in the quarterback room, Beydoun provides a reliable presence for the offense to build around after he broke out last season.

Key defensive player: Defensively, Eastern Michigan has taken a considerable step back since putting together a strong unit in 2018. One of the top playmakers for the Eagles the past two seasons on that side of the ball has been linebacker Terry Myrick.

Like Beydoun, Myrick does not possess ideal measurements but at 6-foot and around 220 pounds he can move well and racks up tackles. Myrick is a first-team all-conference pick by Phil Steele and some other major publications, and he will be extremely active for the Eagles this season.

For his career, he has amassed 175 tackles, four sacks, and two forced fumbles.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 27 Central Michigan at Eastern Michigan Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

2021 season preview: Last season did not go as planned for Eastern Michigan, as they finished second to last in the MAC West with an abbreviated schedule. The good news is that this is still a program that has been to a bowl three times since 2016 under head coach Chris Creighton after a nearly 30-year bowl drought.

Defensively the Eagles will need to be better to reach that goal. Their top tackler (Myrick), pass rusher (Rush), and cover-man (LaFleur) are all back, but the defense gave up an average of 36 points per game a year ago, which was a six-points worse than 2019.

Brandon Benson, a former first-team Patriot League performer and former Rutgers starting safety (in 2019) Jarret Paul could help bolster the secondary after joining the program this off-season via the transfer portal.

On offense, the wide receiver room is solid and running back Darius Boone played well as a true freshman in three games, but the offensive line and quarterback positions are question marks. Preston Hutchinson played decent last season as a dual-threat option, but Cincinnati transfer Ben Bryant (yes, THAT Ben Bryant) could push him for that starting role.

The battle between Hutchinson and Bryant will play a major role in how Eastern Michigan’s offense looks, and it will be fascinating to see if the Badgers will get a shot against the one-time UW commit or if Hutchinson will maintain his spot.

Overall, their side of the conference looks strong this season with multiple teams that could realistically represent the conference in the championship game. I think the Eagles will finish just outside of that group, but as things stand, I would once again predict that Eastern Michigan will be a team vying for a bowl come postseason play.

I doubt they will have the talent to knock off the Badgers this season, but Chris Creighton has turned that program around majorly since taking them over in 2013.