2016 MAC: 3-5 (5th MAC West)
2017 MAC Media Prediction: 5th, MAC West
(Cooper)Rush-less Chippewas hope to surprise
Not really. In fact, there are a number of reasons why the Chippewas just might be something of a surprise in 2017. Five of their six All-MAC selections return, including some gems for a new spread offense that may remind some of the Dan LeFevour era.
There’s a . . .
● New offensive coordinator Chris Ostrowsky will be bringing in the spread offense. A plus for that is fielding a quality group of receivers.
The top three Chippewa receivers all return, led by All-MAC Second Teamer Corey Willis. The senior caught 72 balls for 1,091 yards and tallied nine TDs last year.
● Mark Chapman (WR, Sr.) and senior tight end Tyler Conklin combined for 82 receptions, 1,152 yards and 10 scores. However, Conklin underwent foot surgery after the start of fall camp and his return is undetermined.
● A pair of candidates came to fall camp in the mix to replace Cooper Rush at the quarterback position. Shane Morris, a fifth-year senior transfer from Michigan is one option. The other is Redshirt freshman Tony Poljan.
● Only two teams threw the ball more often than CMU last year, and with Cooper Rush slingin’ the pigskin, the Chippewas were third in passing yardage (275.5 ypg). The problem was, Central Michigan could not compliment that with its ground game. It finished last in the conference with 116.5 ypg and gained just 3.7 ypc.
● If the run game is going to click, a veteran line (nearly all seniors) will need to create some opportunities. Just how this works out with a spread offense remains to be seen.
● Central Michigan ranked eight in scoring defense, allowing 30.3 ppg. The Chippewas were fifth in total defense (391.9 ypg).
They were sixth in both rush defense (169 ypg) and pass defense (222.9 ypg), although CMU was 10th in pass defense efficiency.
● Five starters return on defense. Among them, three garnered All-MAC honors in 2016.
Fifth-year senior Joe Ostman (13.5 TFL, 7.5 sacks) was a Second Team All-MAC selection and joins Chris Kantzavelos as a returning starter up front. That group will be trying to improve its sack totals. CMU ranked 10th with 19 take-downs.
● Junior Malik Fountain led all Central defenders with 92 tackles on the way to First Team All-MAC honors. His total included 10.0 TFL. His mates in the starting linebacking slots will be sorted out in fall camp.
● Senior corners Amari Coleman (4 INTs, 2 TDs) and Josh Cox return with a wealth of starting experience. However, the Chips are replacing both safeties. Otis Kearney should figure into that mix.
● Good news and bad news on the CMU kicking game in 2016. The Chippewas converted all 42 PATs. They also ranked last in field goals, converting just 8 of 17. Owning more misses than makes isn’t a particularly good sign.
Sophomore Kanden Keon could step into the placekicking spot after handling kickoffs as a freshman. Australian Jack Sheldon averaged 40.2 yards per punt in 2016. He registered eight boots of at least 50 yards and totaled 18 inside the 20 on the campaign.
● Head coach Jim Bonamego is in his third year at the helm. Overall, his teams are 13-13. They went 6-2 in MAC play the first year and 3-5 in 2016. The Chippewas went to bowl games in both seasons and lost to Tulsa last year, 55-20, in the Miami Beach Bowl.
● CMU was eighth among MAC teams in turnover margin (minus-6).
● Central ranked third in time of possession, just five seconds behind Miami at No. 2.
● The Chippewas were third in red zone defense but last in red zone offense and 5 of 11 on red zone field goal attempts.
● CMU opens the season Aug. 31 when it hosts Rhode Island. Other non-conference games are at Kansas, at Syracuse and at Boston College.
The Chips will be challenged early in conference play, hosting Miami (OH) in week three, before matchups at Ohio and at home versus Toledo in weeks six and seven. Central did knock off MAC East winner Ohio in Mt. Pleasant last year.
CMU has some solid playmakers on both sides of the ball, but there are questions about how it can all come together. Certainly, finding a replacement for Cooper Rush at quarterback is a key piece of the puzzle. Getting more consistent production from the run game would help, as well.
Improving the defensive numbers is certainly possible with 2017 ingredients, while improvement in the kicking game is a bigger question.