Season Opener: At Nicholls State (Thibodeaux, La.), Thursday, Sept. 2, 4:30 pm PDT (no TV, KEWU 89.5 FM radio).
Home Opener: Central Washington, Sept. 18, 6:05 pm, Woodward Field (no TV; KEWU 89.5 FM radio).
Tickets: (866) 4GO-EAGS or 359-4339
2003 Record: 6-5 overall, 3-4 Big Sky Conference (6th).
2004 Predictions: 2nd of eight teams in the Big Sky (league coaches' poll), 33rd of 121 teams in NCAA Division I-AA (ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll).
Key Players (2003 statistics): QB Erik Meyer (passed for 2,301 yards, 20 touchdowns and just three interceptions), CB Isaiah Trufant (returned 4 interceptions for 113 yards and 2 TDs), DT Brandon Myers (55 tackles, 6 sacks), TE Chris Cwik (All-Big Sky first-teamer had 35 catches for 389 yards and 3 TDs), RB Reggie Witherspoon (766 rushing yards, 9 TDs), MLB Joey Cwik (94 tackles, including 11 for losses), WR-KR Eric Kimble (38 catches for 417 yards and 6 TDs), OG Jeff Christiansen (second-team All-Big Sky pick goes 6-foot-5 and 290 pounds).
Coach: Paul Wulff (25-19 career record; 25-19 at EWU; 5th season at EWU).
The Good News: Meyer completed 63 percent of his passes last season, and he's added 15 pounds of muscle. An excellent athlete, he rushed for 200 yards (376 without negative yards subtracted) and four touchdowns last season. He's run the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds, and his fastball has been clocked at 96 mph, which explains why he was drafted this year by the San Francisco Giants -- three years after he last played baseball. Myers, a second-year team captain, satisfied NCAA rules for earning a "second" senior season by earning a degree in four years (he had to sit out his freshman year due to academics). Kimble can flat-out fly, as can Trufant, a Sports Network second-team preseason All-American. The 5-foot-6, 155-pound Trufant, the brother of Seattle Seahawks (and former Washington State) cornerback Marcus Trufant, has a 40-inch vertical jump and runs the 40 in 4.3 seconds. Freshman running back Toke Kefu, a California prep sensation who was coached by former Eagle T.J. Ewing, has big-time potential.
The Bad News: The Eagles have made much-needed improvements in size and strength, but there's still plenty of li'l dudes in the secondary, and that can be hazardous in the pass-happy Big Sky. Nine of Eastern's 16 returning starters are on defense, but the Eagles gave up 410 yards per game last season. Eastern's kicking game is suspect, and the Eagles failed to produce a 1,000-yard rusher for the first time in nine years last season. The Eagles have posted five straight winning seasons for the first time since moving up to Division I-AA in 1984, but it's been seven years since their last Big Sky title or I-AA playoff game. Perennial Big Sky and I-AA power Montana is ranked third in the ESPN/USA Today preseason poll.
Coach's Quote: "Erik (Meyer) had a very successful year, but he also struggled in some games. So he has some improvement to make, and he's done a great job in the off-season in making himself bigger and stronger. We're going to add some things offensively, and that should make him a better player."
Big Game: Big Sky favorite Montana comes to Cheney on Oct. 16. The Eagles have lost five of their last six meetings with the Grizzlies and are 0-6 at home against Montana (counting the last three "home" games at Spokane's Albi Stadium) since a 1991 win.
Betcha Didn't Know: This marks the first time since 1997 that Eastern has not opened the season against a Division I-A opponent (the Eagles do visit I-A Air Force next week). Coincidentally or not, 1997 was the last season Eastern won the Big Sky or played in the I-AA playoffs.