An Ode to Eastern Michigan

No one studies, breaks down, and nerdifies college football the way Bill Connelly does. He's sort of a one-man sabermetrician of college football. So when he comes out with 1-128 rankings, you should pay attention, because he's far more likely to be accurate than the other guys.

I want to draw your attention to the last two teams on the list, the very worst of the worst in FBS college football, #127 and #128.

* Hawaii, less than 10 years removed from their Sugar Bowl appearance, and beloved of thrilling air attacks (before Norm Chow threw that system out) that gave us quarterbacks like Colt Brennan and Timmy Chang who challenged and often slayed Power 5 teams in late-night ESPN games in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, is now the second-worst team in the country. I feel like part of my childhood has been taken away.

* Eastern Michigan is the worst. While other programs, even in a lowly conference like the MAC, seem to see their fortunes ebb and flow, EMU seems to always be at the bottom of these rankings. They may have it harder than any team in FCS, and deserve our support.

How do they have it harder than any other team in FCS? While a lot of smaller FCS schools have to play in shadow of heavies and still somehow try to compete for fans and attention, Eastern Michigan is in the same county as the University of Michigan. Their football stadia are 6.2 miles apart. It's not like these campus locations are going to change. In this particular way, EMU is behind the eight-ball forever.

Eastern Michigan fans, if they were alive, can look back fondly at their relative successes of the late 80s, particularly 1987, when they won the MAC and the California Bowl over heavily-favored San Jose State. Since 1990, they have have had one winning season: 6-5 in 1995. Assuming no gap year or other outliers, the freshmen, sophomore, and junior students at EMU have never been alive for a winning EMU season.

In seven out of the last 10 seasons, they have lost 10 games or more. One notable exception to that was in 2011. That year, they finished 6-6. As a close follower of the MAC (Akron native and fan), I can tell you there was positively a buzz that year that they has ascended to that level of mediocrity. For this achievement, their coach, Ron English, was named MAC Coach of the Year.

But, the Eagles quickly regressed to their mean, and after a profanity-laced tirade that included homophobic slurs, English was let go. In two years under their current coach, Chris Creighton, EMU is 3-21. I should mention that, in this 21-year drought of losing seasons, apart from 2011, they haven't managed even 5 wins in a year. It's been 4-7, 4-8 or worse. Every. Single. Year.

So, what does Bill Connolly have to say? Well, he points out that there are fleeting reasons for optimism: lots of experience on both sides of the ball, a quarterback who had several good games last year, and a running back, Shaq Vann, who looks more-than-ready to have a break-though year.

Further, their S&P statistical ranking ("a college football ratings system derived from the play-by-play and drive data of all 800+ of a season's FBS college football games and 140,000+ plays") puts them at 121st, not 128th-and-last, and they actually project out to four wins thanks to a schedule of other MAC dregs, Charlotte, and Mississippi Valley State.

Four wins, regardless of who they come against, would clearly mean that EMU is not the worst team in the country. And in Ypsilanti these days, that's the best the fans can hope for.

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