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Falcons determined to face tough opponents, play a winning season

A conference championship is something that will always be in an athlete’s memory, but with championships come expectations and pressure.

The Falcons have earned these expectations and excitement with their Mid-American Conference Championship season one year ago, but they are focusing on the task at hand.

“The biggest thing is that it’s always great to win your first championship, that’s fantastic, it’s super, it’s exciting especially when you haven’t done it in a very long time,” new head coach Dino Babers said. “But like all things in life, men and people are skeptical of things.”

No matter what the skeptics say, right now the expectations are high and the Falcons are the team to beat, according to the media; they were picked as the MAC favorites.

“The first time I saw a media poll, they picked us last and said we wouldn’t win a game,” Babers said, reflecting on his first season at Eastern Illinois. “We won the conference.”

That prediction doesn’t come as much of a shock as the team returns 16 starters and five All-MAC honorees from last season’s MAC Champions.

“Our number one goal is to go undefeated. We know we have tough opponents on our schedule but we know what this team is capable of,” quarterback Matt Johnson said. “We know if we come out each week with great intensity and great focus we should be able to handle anything that is thrown our way.”

The team’s schedule consists of games against Indiana University, the University of Toledo and the University of Wisconsin. The Toledo and Wisconsin games are both on the road for the Falcons.

There is a label and certain amount of respect that comes along with the Hoosiers and Badgers in the college football landscape, but Johnson believes it’s just another game.

“They can be from the SEC or the Big Ten but as soon as the ball is kicked it’s just football again,” he said. “Once you get over the fact that they have a big label and all that, it’s just football and you have to go out and execute.”

Although the Falcons have two games against Big Ten opponents on the schedule, the game that the players and many of the fans anticipate is the game on the road against the University of Toledo. The Falcons have not defeated the Rockets since 2009 but came very close this past season, losing 28-25.

“We have definitely circled that game on our schedule; we circle it every year,” Johnson said. “We got off to such a slow start last year but we were able to fight back. If we wouldn’t have started off so slow we think we would have been able to beat them. We try not to put a lot of pressure on ourselves because we know it’s a rivalry game and we know it’s a lot of expectations… we just want to go out there and play ball.”

For senior linebacker DJ Lynch, this game is even more special since he has never defeated the Rockets.

“That’s going to be a big game especially for us seniors. They have been getting the best of us the past four years,” Lynch said. “If we can get them at their place it would be even more special.”

The Falcons have some tough games on their schedule, but with those games comes the chance to exceed the expectations put upon them and the chance to prove the critics wrong.

“There’s a respect that goes along with doing something twice,” Babers said. “If you get into a battle and you whoop somebody, then you go back to that battle and you whoop them again. That closes the door on any chance of them beating you.”

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