Six down and one to go!
Mid-American Conference teams have participated in six bowl games this year, winning three and losing three. That leaves Central Michigan with a chance to give the MAC a winning record for the bowls campaign. Standing in its way is a Big Ten conference foe – Minnesota. The two will meet in the Quick Lane Bowl at 5 p.m. Monday at Ford Field in Detroit. The game will air on ESPN2.
Central Michigan enters the contest with a 7-5 overall record. Its 6-2 conference mark, however, enabled the Chippewas to claim one of four pieces to the MAC West title.
Michigan on the other hand, technically failed to qualify for a bowl, posting a 5-7 mark overall and going 2-6 in the Big Ten. When there was a shortage of qualified/available teams, Minnesota moved into the picture with a high APR mark of 975.
Digging into the Gopher’s results proves interesting. Among . . .
Minnesota lost five of its last six, but it was, indeed, a tough road to travel. By the end of the regular season, Minnesota had played one of the toughest schedules in the nation. The Gophers have faced (AP rankings at time of contest) No. 1 Ohio State, No. 2 TCU, No. 8 Iowa, No. 15 Michigan and No. 16 Northwestern. They also played Wisconsin, which finished the regular season at No. 23.
Minnesota’s 2015 journey has been under two head coaches. The Gophers started the season under former Northern Illinois head coach Jerry Kill. However, he has battled seizures for several years and resigned due to health reasons Oct. 26. Tracy Claeys was then named interim head coach, a position he previously held in 2013.
By way of Trivia, Claeys is one of nine Division I FBS head coaches who did not play college football. Other coaching staff changes followed on Nov. 29 when the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coaches were non-renewed. Tight ends coach Rob Reeves, a former Northern Illinois offensive coordinator, steps into the OC role for Minnesota’s bowl game.
A number of injuries have hampered the Gophers this season. Among the units particularly hard hit were both lines and the secondary.
Here's a big picture look at the matchup:
>> Central Michigan and Minnesota previously met once. That was CMU’s first appearance against a Big Ten team, and the Gophers won 20-10. That 1987 game was played in the Metrodome. The Chippewas aer 6-23 all-time against the Big Ten, but have beaten a Big Ten team in two of the last three seasons – 32-31 over Iowa in 2012 and 38-17 over Purdue last year. Central Michigan is 5-3 all-time in games played at Ford Field.
>> CMU is bowl eligible for the eighth time in the last 10 years, including four straight seasons during that span.
>> Quarterback Cooper Rush needs four touchdowns to break CMU’s single-season TD passing record. Rush has 25, while Dan LeFebour holds the No. 1 spot with 28 TDs in 2009.
>> Rush needs 297 yards to become the eighth MAC player to throw for 4,000 yards in a season. His 3,703 yards ranks 10th nationally, and his is second in the MAC behind national leader Matt Johnson of Bowling Green. Rush is sixth in the country in completions per game (25.8) and is 12th in completion percentage (67.2%).
>> Jesse Kroll (6-3, 214, Sr.) leads CMU receivers with 59 catches for 856 yards with four TDs. Anthony Rice is next with 56 receptions, 584 yards and four touchdowns. Tight end Ben McCord and Corey Willis share team-high honors in TD catches with five apiece. McCord ranks 10th nationally among tight ends in receiving yards (570).
>> Junior Martez Walker (5-8, 185) has rushed 106 times for 373 yards with two TDs. Junior Jahray Hayes (5-11, 210) has picked up 323 yards on 93 trips and tallied four TDs.
>> The Chippewas defense has been somewhat under the radar, but it ranks 16th nationally in total defense (328.4 ypg). CMU is trying to become just the fourth MAC program in the last 31 seasons to lead the conference in total defense in back-to-back seasons.
>> Central Michigan has held seven opponents under 200 yards passing this year and beheld under 200 yards passing just once. It has allowed only one 300-yard passer and one 100-yard receiver.
>> Kavon Frazier leads CMU in tackles with 103 stops (69 unassisted, second in MAC) with 4.5 tfl. Tony Annese owns 73 tackles.
>> Kicker Brian Eavey converted all 36 PATs this season. He also put up points on 16 of 24 field goal attempts, with a perfect 11-for-11 inside 40 yards. He was 5-of-10 beyond the 40 and had a long of 48.
>> Junior QB Mitch Leidner has been climbing up the school record books. This year he completed 218-of-377 pass attempts (57.8%) for 2,478 yards with 13 Tds and 10 interceptions. He also is third on the team in rushing, logging 98 attempts for 251 yet yards with five touchdowns on the ground.
>> Shannon Brooks leads the Gophers in rushing yards (644 on 104 attempts) and has seven TDs. Rodney Smith tops the team in attempts (142), registering 620 yards with two TDs.
>> K.J. Maye (65 receptions, 706 yards, 4 TDs), Drew Wolitarsky (36 receptions, 472 yards, 3 TDs) and Brandon Lingen (28 receptions, 395 yards, 3 TDs are Minnesota’s top receivers.
>> Defensive leaders for UM include DB Antonio Johnson (99 tackles), LB Cody Poock (95 tackles, 4.5 tfl.) , LB DeVondre Campbell (89 tackles, 4.5 tfl.) and LB Jack Lynn 72 tackles, 9.5 tfl.)
>> Kicker Ryan Santoso has been perfect on PATs (30/30) and hit 15-of-19 field goal tries during the season. He was 9-of-9 inside 40 yards, 5-of-7 from 40-49 and 1 of from 50+ with a long of 50 yards.