Eastern Kentucky wants to close the gap on Ohio Valley Conference champion Eastern Illinois after finishing second in the conference last year.
The Colonels' prospects of chasing the favored Panthers largely depend on developing skill players on offense.
That remains the biggest challenge for Eastern Kentucky (8-3, 6-2 OVC), which finished tied for second and one-half game behind Eastern Illinois in the conference. The Colonels must replace All-American running back Matt Denham, all-time leading passer T.J. Pryor and their top two receivers.
Whoever wins those battles will at least have some blocking with the return of four starting offensive lineman and fullback Jeremy James. And Eastern Kentucky should still be able to compete with six defensive starters back including linebackers Anthony Brown and Ichiro Vance and lineman Shawn Shupperd.