by Howie Stalwick & r & NATIONAL RANKING: Sports Illustrated ranks EWU second out of 119 teams in NCAA Division I-AA.
PRESEASON POLL: Media pick the Eagles to win the Big Sky Conference.
GOOD NEWS: Quarterback Erik Meyer and wide receiver Eric Kimble are as good as it gets in I-AA (and one heck of a lot better than anyone at their positions at I-A Washington). The Eagles have loads of running backs who would star at other schools, but Oregon State transfer Ryan Cole is a special one. Joey Cwik plays like a crazed man -- an admirable quality in any linebacker -- and tiny-but-mighty cornerback Isaiah Trufant is part of a deep and talented secondary. Sophomore Rocky Hanni makes the move from guard to tackle after becoming the first offensive lineman to win the Big Sky Newcomer of the Year award.
BAD NEWS: Eastern's kickers kick footballs as if the balls are filled with sand. Botched field goals kill momentum and lead to fourth-down gambles that can prove disastrous. A dominant figure has yet to emerge on the defensive line. Talented tight end Tim Calhoun hasn't played in two years due to injuries, and he's hurting again this fall. Hanni, a third-team All-American last year, must deal with the pressure that comes with replacing Michael Roos, considered the greatest offensive lineman in Eastern history. Eastern's only preconference game after the season opener is a gimme two weeks later at home against Division II Western Oregon, so the Eagles might not be all that sharp when they open the Big Sky season the following week at Idaho State.
2004 RECORD: 9-4 overall, 6-1 Big Sky (tied for first)
2005 OPENER: At San Jose State on Saturday, Sept. 3, at 3 pm. (No TV; KSBN 1230, KEWU 89.5 radio and other Eagle network affiliates) Home opener: Saturday, Sept. 17, at 6 pm vs. Western Oregon.
HOME FIELD: Woodward Field (8,600 capacity)
TICKETS: (866) 4GO-EAGS
HEAD COACH: Paul Wulff (sixth season; 34-23 career record, all at EWU)
COACH SEZ: "There's more maturity on this year's team than last year. There's a realization that we can line up with anybody in the nation."
HOWIE PREDIX: The Eagles win the Big Sky despite losing at Montana on Oct. 15, then make it all the way to the national title game before bowing to Furman (S.C.) to finish 13-2.