Coach: Aaron Best, first season (0-0)
2016 record: 8-0 Big Sky / 12-2 overall
2017 preseason predictions: 2nd in Big Sky coaches' poll/2nd in Big Sky media poll
The big story: Seasons don't end much more cruelly than the Eagles' 2016 run, when a last-second touchdown by Youngstown State cost Eastern a trip to the Football Championship Subdivision national championship game. That 40-38 loss, combined with the graduation of all-everything receiver Cooper Kupp and his NFL-bound running mate Kendrick Bourne, as well as the departure of longtime head coach Beau Baldwin for an offensive coordinator gig at Cal, made this offseason the most eventful in Cheney in recent memory.
Here's the thing, though: The Eags aren't likely to miss a beat in 2017. All-American quarterback Gage Gubrud is back, and new head coach Aaron Best has been a presence at EWU for two decades, as a player and assistant coach, giving the squad some continuity in its leadership. The defense has improved steadily the past couple of years under defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding, and new offensive coordinator Bodie Reeder will no doubt keep the pass-first focus the team had under Baldwin as he arrives at Eastern from throw-happy Oklahoma State, where he worked as quarterbacks coach.
After bumping off Washington State in Pullman to open last season, the Eags have a chance to make a similar splash with a road trip to Lubbock, Texas, for a season-opening tilt against Texas Tech on Sept. 2. Throw in a trip to New York City a couple of weeks later, and these Eagles will be flying a lot early in the season. And their home opener, Sept. 9 against perpetual FCS powerhouse North Dakota State, means we'll know a lot about how the team is adjusting to the post-Baldwin era before the Big Sky season even starts.
The big game: Last year, EWU and North Dakota tied for the Big Sky championship with identical 8-0 conference records as the schedule kept them apart. That won't happen this year, as the Eagles travel to Grand Forks for a showdown that should make one of them the Big Sky champs.
2017 Eagles schedule
Sept. 2 at Texas Tech
Sept. 9 vs. North Dakota St.
Sept. 16 at Fordham
Sept. 23 at Montana
Sept. 30 vs. Sacramento St.
Oct. 7 at UC Davis
Oct. 14 vs. Montana St.
Oct. 21 at Southern Utah
Nov. 4 vs. Weber St.
Nov. 11 at North Dakota
Nov. 18 vs. Portland St.