Spoo: Schedule to test team

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Eastern’s football team will try and improve on last season in which it finished with an 8-4 record and a trip to the playoffs against a schedule that, on paper, appears weaker than last year’s.

The Panthers, who have a No. 10 preseason ranking in Division IAA, have 11 games on the 2001 schedule including home dates against Indiana State, Tennessee Tech, Southeast Missouri State, Tennessee State and Murray State.

Eastern has six road games at Illinois State, Eastern Kentucky, San Diego State, Southern Illinois, Tennessee-Martin and Florida Atlantic.

Although Eastern’s opponents had a combined 42-68 record last season, Eastern’s head football coach Bob Spoo says that there is no such thing as an easy schedule.

“I think our schedule will be one that has some very tough opponents and will test us each and every week,” Spoo said. “I’m concerned with each of our opponents. All of the teams we are playing have improved since last season.”

The Panthers will open the season on September 8 against Indiana State. The Sycamores, who were beaten by Eastern last season 42-24 in the season opener, were 1-10 last season with their only win coming against Southern Illinois.

“The one thing about Indiana State – even though they didn’t have a good record last season – is that they have a new offensive coordinator,” Spoo said. “So we don’t know what they are going to do on the offensive side of the ball. They have traditionally been an option team, and I think they will continue do that, but you never know.

“One advantage they will have against us will be that they will have already played a game before they get to us.”

After a game with in-state rival Illinois State, who went 7-4 last season including an 44-41 double overtime win over the Panthers, Eastern will embark on a three-game stretch that could make or break it’s season.

The Panthers will travel to Eastern Kentucky to take on the Colonels, who were 6-5 last season overall and 3-4 in the Ohio Valley Conference. EKU is expected to contend for the conference title under the guidance of 38-year head coach Roy Kidd.

After the game with Eastern Kentucky, Tennessee Tech will come to Charleston for an early season battle of conference favorites. The Golden Eagles were 8-3 overall last season, and finished third in the OVC with a 5-2 record.

After the pair of OVC bouts, the Panthers will take on their only Division IA opponent of the year. Eastern will travel to San Diego State October 6 to face the Aztecs, who finished tied for fifth in the Mountain West Conference last season with a 3-8 record.

“That stretch of games will be tough on us definitely,” Spoo said. “We are playing two of the tougher teams in the conference right away, and then we will play San Diego State.

“They are a Division IA team, and we know they are going to be a tough opponent, and hopefully we don’t get banged up against them like we did against Hawaii a few years ago.”