With fall camp opening in early August, Eastern Illinois is predicted to finish fourth in the nine-team Ohio Valley Conference according to the league's preseason poll.
Head coach Kim Dameron's Panthers are ranked behind the three teams they lost to last season during a 5-3 OVC campaign last fall. The Panthers have been picked fourth or higher the last six seasons, including the last five under Dameron.
Jacksonville State was the preseason favorite followed by Austin Peay and UT Martin. JSU's last OVC loss was at Eastern Illinois on Nov. 16, 2013 when Jimmy Garoppolo led EIU to a 52-14 win. EIU opens OVC play this season hosting Tennessee State on Sept. 22 at O'Brien Field.
EIU had three players picked for the preseason All-OVC team: senior wide receiver Alexander Hollins, senior running back Isaiah Johnson and sophomore defensive back Mark Williams.
The Panthers have had 18 preseason All-OVC selections under Dameron.
Eastern announced the team will don new gun metal gray helmets this season via Instagram. The Panthers last changed their helmets in 2012 when they went from silver to black under head coach Dino Babers.
EIU has posted three straight winning seasons under Dameron, who finished 6-5 a year ago but missed the FCS playoffs.
The last time Eastern experienced four or more straight winning seasons was from 1994-98 under head coach Bob Spoo with five straight winning campaigns. EIU previously had three straight winning seasons from 2000-02 and from 2005-07 making the FCS playoffs all six of those seasons.
EIU has made 16 FCS playoff appearances with the last coming in 2015.
Opening at Arkansas
Eastern Illinois will open its regular season on Sept. 1 at SEC member Arkansas. This game marks the first time EIU has ever played at an SEC member school. The Panthers are 0-1 against current SEC member Missouri but played that game when the Tigers were members of the Big 12 Conference.
The opener will be a homecoming for Dameron, who played at Arkansas from 1979-82 and was a graduate assistant coach in 1983. The Razorbacks made four straight bowls during Dameron's playing days including an appearance in the Sugar Bowl.
The Panthers currently have seven players on their roster from The Natural State.