TEAM: Central Michigan Chippewas
2015 RECORD: 7-6, 6-2 MAC (Part of four-way tie atop MAC West)
HEAD COACH: John Bonamego (2nd year)
MAC MEDIA PRESEASON POLL RANK: (4TH in West)
Last year about this time, first year Central Michigan head coach John Bonamego was racking up mileage driving between cancer treatments and practices. The former Chippewas player battled his way through all of it and is feeling much better these days. His team should be feeling pretty good, as well, because while they are face another season of knock-down, drag-out MAC West competition, they are well-equipped to compete.
Really, with nine more point, CMU could have . . .
Fourteen starters return (seven per side) overall. With senior quarterback Cooper Rush at the helm and classmate Jesse Kroll anchoring the receiving corps, the Chippewas should at minimum be a tough date on opponent schedules. With even a little luck, they could be much more.
Scoring offense: 7th (25.8 ppg)
Scoring defense: 3rd (22.0 ppg)
Total offense: 5th (401.7 ypg)
Total defense: 2nd (332.2 ypg)
Turnover margin: 5th (+2/0.15 per game)
No doubt, the Chippewas should be both exciting and productive this year. Bonamego gives plenty of credit to offensive coordinator Morris Watts. “He does a great job of mixing things up (and) keeps things off balance,” Bonamego said. “More importantly, he (knows how to feature) the talents of the players that we have on our football team. It’s one thing to have talent, and another thing to be able to utilize it – knowing the capabilities and limitations that you have.”
Bonamego also acknowledges the need for a proficient quarterback in order to compete for a championship. He’s certainly got that in senior quarterback Cooper Rush. The All-MAC Second Team member trailed only Bowling Green’s Matt Johnson in 2015 passing yards per game. He was third behind Johnson and Zach Terrell (WMU) in pass efficieney. His talent, experience , maturity and competitive fire will serve CMU well in the 2016 MAC West dog-fight.
As for running the ball, CMU hopes to bounce back after a year in which the RB corps was rebuilding. Devon Spalding’s injury early in the MAC campaign didn’t help things. True freshman Romello Ross had some good moments down the stretch, including four TDs against Eastern Michigan’s struggling defense. However, he also had 100 yards in Central Michigan’s 21-14 bowl game loss to Minnesota.
With the weapons on offense, there is a tendency by some to overlook a very good defense. Ranking third in scoring defense and second in total defense is especially significant given the Chippewas face some good offenses in the MAC West.
All-MAC defensive back Kavon Frazier (Second Team) has left, but senior safety Tony Annese joins returning corners Amari Coleman and Josh Cox to anchor the secondary.
MAC second teamer Blake Serpa is gone from the unit up front, where Mitch Stanitrek and Joe Ostman return. The latter was hobbled by an ankle injury which eventually took him out of the lineup last season.
All three starters are back at linebacker. Sophomore Malik Fouintain is the youngster of the bunch, but notched 67 tackles (4.5 TFL) while showing some good potential during his freshmen action.
Brian Eavey converted 16 of 24 field goal attemps in 2015, when he earned Second Team All-MAC honors. This should give the Chippewas a seasoned vet for those close MAC West encounters. Punter Ron Coluzzi transferred, so CMU will likely go to Cooper Mojsiejenko. His father spent seven years kicking in the NFL.
With playmakers on both sides of the ball, the Chippewas are certainly built to compete. If CMU can stay relatively healthy and work out a few kinks in time for their MAC opener at home against Western Michigan, the Chips could build some valuable momentum. They’ll need it, because after home tilts against WMU and Ball State, Central Michigan faces road tests at Northern Illinois and Toledo the following two weeks. In any case, this should be an exciting team featuring some of the conference’s top talents in Rush and Kroll.