New EIU AD Michael has plenty to chew on
Tom Michael’s public introduction as Eastern Illinois’ athletic director happens at 1 p.m. Tuesday inside Lantz Arena. But the Ohio Valley Conference already has weighed in on the football team Michael will spend time watching this fall. The Panthers — who will have first-year coach Kim Dameron guiding them this fall — were picked second in Monday’s OVC preseason poll. Here’s more, courtesy staff writer MATT DANIELS:
Bye-bye, Jimmy Football
A new quarterback will sling passes across O’Brien Stadium on Saturdays this fall. Jimmy Garoppolo is learning the finer points of quarterbacking from Tom Brady and Bill Belichick because he’s with the New England Patriots. Poised to replace the school’s all-time leader in passing yards and passing touchdowns are Kentucky transfer Jalen Whitlow, New Mexico State transfer Andrew Manley or Austin Green, Wes Lunt’s successor at Rochester.
Hello, FBS teams
Michael is leaving the Big Ten, but it may not feel like that while he watches EIU’s first game this season. The Panthers travel to TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis for a 6 p.m. kickoff against Minnesota on Aug. 28, the first of two FBS opponents the Panthers face this fall, with EIU playing Sept. 27 at Ohio. These games are necessary for FCS teams, but EIU may win one. Or both. Just ask San Diego State, which the Panthers walloped 40-19 in last year’s season opener.
Those forward-thinkers at the FCS level already have the playoff system figured out. EIU is a familiar name once the brackets are unveiled shortly before Thanksgiving. The Panthers will need to win the OVC — something they’ve done seven times since joining the league in 1996 — or earn an at-large berth to find a spot in the 24-team field. No problem. At least based on recent history, given the fact EIU has made the playoffs 15 times since 1982 and each of the last two seasons.
Michael will get inundated with talk of EIU alums like Sean Payton, Tony Romo, Mike Shanahan, Brad Childress and more leaving their mark on the NFL. Michael didn’t hire Dameron, who replaced Dino Babers once Babers left after two successful seasons to take the top job at Bowling Green. If Dameron continues the same success Babers was able to recreate after veteran Bob Spoo retired, he might have the chance to make his first big hire sooner rather than later.
Empty seats at Memorial Stadium have become a trademark of recent Illinois football games Michael has watched. He’ll see some open spaces among the bleachers at O’Brien Stadium, too. Family Weekend and homecoming are the two biggest draws at O’Brien, which holds 10,000. The Panthers averaged 8,012 fans last season, their best-attended season in the past decade, but the atmosphere for an EIU game doesn’t compare to one at the Big Ten level.