Eagle Totem 2012 superlatives: what we saw
As we prepare for the end of 2012, I thought I’d take some time to review the year that was. In part 1 we looked at our internal Eagle Totem superlatives for 2012, now in part 2 we’ll take a minute to remember the best and worst of what we saw from the players, teams, and coaches at EMU.
The EMU men’s basketball team had a 4-9 record against Division I opponents at the end of 2011, after losing 8 of 9 games from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve. But in that stretch of non-conference play, they learned to run Rob Murphy’s defense, and run it well. In 12 of their remaining 18 games they held the opponent below 60 points, including an unforgettable game in which they held Toledo to 14 first-half points and just 38 for the game. In the end, they managed a 9-7 record, which was just enough to make them the MAC West Division champions.
There are really only two possibilities here, but I think it’s an easy choice. The runner up is the EMU football team, who dropped from 6-6 in 2011 to 2-10 in 2012.
In the first half of 2012, the EMU women’s basketball team went 16-4, winning the MAC West Division championship and the MAC tournament championship. Then Tavelyn James and Paige Reddit graduated, AnnMarie Gilbert resigned in disgrace, and the NCAA sanctions got worse. Under new head coach Tory Verdi, the Eagles are just 2-10 this year. A team that would have been on the bubble as an at-large selection for the NCAA tournament last year is on the verge of dropping out of the top 200 in RPI. The one bright spot is that they’ve faced one of the toughest schedules in the country (#21; of MAC teams only Central Michigan has had a more difficult schedule), so things should be somewhat easier once they hit conference play.
Game with the best student section
Several long-time alumni in attendance commented that the student section at Rynearson Stadium for the home football opener on September 8 against Illinois State was the biggest they’d seen in at least 15 years (going back to the last winning season). Well done, students! Now, if only the on-field product had lived up to it…
When a senior quarterback with more than 30 career starts gets benched three games into the season in favor of a sophomore, the aforementioned senior quarterback might be excused for not being happy about the change, and might also be excused for showing his displeasure. Particularly when the aforementioned senior quarterback is one of the best athletes on the team, and is being used by the coaches in a manner that plays to his weaknesses rather than his strengths.
Not Alex Gillett.
Rather than complain, rather than sulk, rather than divide the locker room, Gillett did what a true leader does. He supported the new starter, and he asked, “What can I do now?” Late in the season, we discovered that not only is Gillett a good option quarterback (if only he’d been used that way…), he’s also an outstanding receiver who’s got great hands and is tough to tackle.
Most surprising player
This has got to be Bronson Hill. After carrying just three times for 10 yards in the first four games, Hill carried four times for 70 yards and a touchdown in EMU’s homecoming game, against Kent State. The next week, going against Toledo, he exploded for 283 yards and four touchdowns in 28 carries.
EMU fans have seen two fairly satisfying wins in 2012, and I’m going to name this a tie between them.
On November 17, the EMU football team accomplished something they’ve failed at more often than not: they beat a team in consecutive seasons. With the 29-23 win over Western Michigan, the Eagles also started a current winning streak against an FBS team. They only have one other current winning streak, which is a five-game streak against Buffalo.
On December 8, the EMU men’s basketball team accomplished something they hadn’t done in nearly 15 years. After trailing for the entire first half, briefly by as many as nine points, the Eagles harrassed the Purdue Boilermakers into 18 turnovers, scored 12 points off those turnovers, and won the game 47-44, for their first win over a B1G team since 1997.
There were so many bad losses in football that it’s hard to pick just one. So I’m not going to. Honorable mention in this category goes to the football games against Purdue (54-16 to a 6-6 team), Illinois State (31-14 to an FCS team), Central Michigan (34-31 to a 7-6 team), and Northern Illinois (49-7, the worst margin of loss for the year). The reason none of these “win” this category is that all four losses — in fact, all 10 of the football team’s losses — were to teams that played in the post-season: 9 bowl-bound teams, and one FCS quarterfinalist.
I think the worst loss of the year was on March 5, when, as the #5 seed in the MAC tournament, the EMU men’s basketball team lost at home to #12 Northern Illinois, a team they’d previously defeated twice. To add insult to injury, Northern Illinois lost their next game, to Western Michigan, who lost their next game, to Kent State, who lost their next game, to Akron, who lost their next game, to Ohio. In other words, EMU was farther removed from the championship than any other team.