Here are 11 individuals that could pose the most trouble for EWU.
Roldan Alcobendas, the Eagles’ kickoff and place-kicker the last three seasons, hopes for similar results. He’ll be punting this fall, too.
For the last three years, Mitch Fettig, a 6-foot, 175-pound senior, has been a key cog in the Eagles’ 4-2-5 defense, leading the team in tackles last season (92) and being named the All-Big Sky Conference team.
The return of Jay-Tee Tiuli, a preseason All-American, along with five starters and 10 letterwinners has this group expecting a dramatic improvement.
Of Eastern Washington’s 16 scripted and situational drives Saturday at Roos Field, just two resulted in the offense – first-, second- and third-team units – reaching the end zone.
All-American quarterback Gage Gubrud has witnessed the growth of his top targets.
Increased carries coupled with the return of proven ballcarriers Antoine Custer and Sam McPherson could end the 1,000-yard-back drought this fall.
His coaching career in its genesis, 26-year-old Eastern Washington offensive line coach Jase Butorac has already lived a charmed life at the position.
Kurt Calhoun and Ketner Kupp, a pair of Yakima-area products, combined for 139 tackles a year ago, EWU’s second-and third-leading ballstoppers. They’ve been key cogs in the Eagles’ 4-2-5 scheme.
The Eagles are a spot ahead of Big Sky Conference rival Weber State, the poll’s eighth-ranked team. Montana is No. 25, and Northern Arizona, Idaho and Southern Utah received votes.
“Injuries are part of the game. You can’t control them. You can try to minimize them with a lot of different variables, but you can’t avoid them,” Best said. “There are collisions every play, so your body has to adapt.”
All but one of the 50 players on the Polynesian College Football Player Of The Year watch list are playing at the FBS level, the majority from Power 5 programs. Eastern Washington nose tackle Jay-Tee Tiuli is the lone FCS talent.