Western Michigan is rightfully getting the majority of the headlines out of the MAC West in 2016, but the undefeated Broncos aren’t the only directional school in the Great Lakes State — or in the division — in the midst of a breakout season.
About 100 miles down Interstate 94 from Kalamazoo, Eastern Michigan is headed to its first bowl game in nearly three decades after going 7-5 on the year. Initially, the team didn’t know who or where it would be playing, so when the Eagles players learned Tuesday that they’d be facing Old Dominion in the Popeye’s Bahamas Bowl, they were understandably pumped:
“We are absolutely thrilled to be chosen to participate in the 2016 Popeyes Bahamas Bowl,” coach Chris Creighton said in a statement.
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“Nearly a year ago, our seniors set our season goal, to go to a bowl game for the first time in 29 years. We could not be more excited to accept this invitation. What an awesome experience this is going to be for everyone associated with our program.”
Eastern Michigan’s last postseason appearance came in the 1987 California Bowl, when the team was still called the Hurons. In that game, played in Fresno, Eastern Michigan knocked of San Jose State, 30-27, despite being 17-point underdogs. The program subsequently had winning records in 1988, 1989 and 1995, as well, but did not earn a bowl bid in any of those seasons.
Since ‘95, however, the Eagles have fallen on some seriously hard times, and have only finished .500 or better once, when they went 6-6 under Ron English in 2011. That team was not bowl eligible because two of those six wins had come against FCS competition, and overall, the program went a combined 15-69 between 2009 and 2015, including a 1-11 mark last year.
Amid calls to cut the football program altogether, the Eagles started off this year 4-1 under third-year coach Creighton and eventually reached bowl eligibility with a wild come-from-behind win over Ball State on Election Day. Now they’re being rewarded with a Dec. 23 trip to the Bahamas, where the average temperature in mid-December is about 40 degrees warmer than it is in Ypsilanti.