College Football Odds & Picks for Eastern Illinois vs. Indiana State: Can Sycamores Cover in FCS Showdown? (Saturday, Aug. 28)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images. Pictured: Ryan Boyle.
Eastern Illinois vs. Indiana State Odds
If you’re anything like me when you looked at the Saturday slate, it wasn’t the Big Ten matchup between Nebraska and Illinois that caught your eye. It wasn’t even the way-too-early-in-the-day Hawaii vs. UCLA game. It was the gift of a Week 0 FCS rivalry game between Eastern Illinois at Indiana State.
Or you’re not like me, and you just want some action until the UTEP vs. New Mexico State game tonight, and that’s OK too.
This game is one of two FCS matchups for Week 0. For Eastern Illinois, it will be its sixth game in a stretch of 18 games in nine months, while Indiana State will play its first football game in 644 days.
The Panthers hope to bounce back from a disappointing spring season in which they went 1-5 and failed to score 28 or more points in all but one game.
Head coach Adam Cushing enters his third season with an overall record of 2-16, and the players he initially brought in are now upperclassmen who hope to right the ship after a shortened COVID-19 season.
The biggest question for EIU will be at quarterback after the departure of Harry Woodberry, who played in 27-of-30 games over the last three seasons.
As of writing, Eastern Illinois still had not decided on a starter and has five potential QBs.
Second-year freshman Otto Kuhns is a slight favorite, having started three games during the shortened 2020 campaign. Kuhns completed 44-of-87 passes for 509 yards with five touchdowns and four interceptions.
Duke transfer Chris Katrenick, Colorado transfer Grant Ciccarone, and freshmen Zach Weir and Zach Trainor all have kept the competition close in camp.
Wide receiver Isaiah Hill missed all of last season due to injury but should be the primary target when he returns to the field. He led the team in receptions in 2019, and his 7.5 receptions per game ranked 31st in the FCS and sixth all-time in Eastern history.
DeWayne Cooks Jr., last season’s team leader in receiving yards, will also be back, along with Jay Vallie, who led the team in receptions and receiving touchdowns last season.
Rounding out the offense is sophomore running back Jaelin Benefield. He rushed for 258 yards last season and also caught nine passes for 60 yards out of the backfield.
On the other side of the ball, the Panthers have one of the best linebackers in the OVC in Jason Johnson, who was named first-team All-OVC last season after he leading the conference with 11 tackles per game to rank ninth in the conference.
Unfortunately for EIU, the Panthers’ defensive unit has struggled other than Johnson.
Last season, opponents averaged 33.5 points against the Panthers, and they come into this season ranked 96th out of 262 FCS teams.
After opting out of last season, the Sycamores come into this year with a chip on their shoulder; they were picked 10th out of the 11 Missouri Valley Conference teams in the preseason poll.
They also didn’t have any players listed on any preseason all-conference teams. It seems not playing during the spring season has made people forget about the team that went 5-7 overall and 3-5 in MVC in 2019.
While I can’t ignore the fact they do have legitimate question marks, like a new quarterback and both the offensive line and linebacker corps lacking experience, the 10th-place projection is an exaggeration.
The Sycamores have named Anthony Thompson the starting QB for Week 0 against EIU.
Thompson is an FBS graduate transfer from Northern Illinois. While at NIU, he played in only five games and completed 4-of-10 career passes. But Indiana State values mobility in its quarterbacks, and Thompson has demonstrated the ability to run, including when he earned All-Chicago Catholic League honors in part because of his running.
One of the most important players for the Sycamores will be Peterson Kerlegrand. Kerlegrand started nine of the 11 games in 2019 and rushed for 746 yards and three touchdowns.
His ability to make plays will depend on the offensive line. The Sycamores returns four seniors from the 2019 season to the offensive line, along with four transfers who will look to make an impact as well.
The team also returns 177 receptions, 2,199 receiving yards and 13 touchdown catches among the receivers and tight ends on its roster.
However, that doesn’t include Purdue transfer Noah Ellison, Minnesota transfer Harry Van Dyne, or the 41 catches, 677 yards and three touchdowns Phazione McClurge accounted for at Cornell.
The Sycamores return two of their four starters in the secondary from 2019 and another player who started the first three games before he got hurt.
They have five players on the roster who have played significantly and four transfers who have college playing time elsewhere.
In 2019, the Sycamores ranked second in the Missouri Valley in pass defense, giving up 162.9 yards per contest. Indiana State topped the MVC in completion percentage against at 55.5%.
Eastern Illinois vs. Indiana State Betting Pick
It can be easy to look at this game and say Indiana State hasn’t played a game in almost two years, while the Panthers are coming off a rough spring season looking to improve.
Doing that would put you in the same position as the pollers who placed Indiana state 10th overall out of 11 MVC teams — in for a rude awakening from a team that took time in the spring to prepare for this year rather than play a shortened schedule.
This Indiana State team is better offensively and defensively, returns more production, and knows who will start at quarterback with less than three days before its first game.
The only minor concern I have for the Sycamores is whether or not Thompson can perform in his first full college game. If he can’t, then I feel good about experienced junior Kurtis Wilderman’s ability to lead this team to a win and cover.
Indiana State is currently listed on FanDuel as a 13.5-point favorite over Eastern Illinois, and I would bet it up to -14 (-110).
Pick: Indiana State -13.5 (Play to -14)