It's not football season yet, I know. But it's 106 days away, for those keeping track (me, for sure). And that means we're prepping for this all-important 2015 season at Syracuse. We start with our opponents, which "may" not be as tough as they've been in recent seasons. Each week, we'll preview another team on the 2015 slate, from week one through week 13. Today, we continue with the:
School: Central Michigan University
#BRAND Slogan: "Put Your Stamp on the World"
Alternate #BRAND Slogan Suggestions: "Find a Central Figure In Your Future." "(Central) Mich. U Were Here."
Recommended Blog: Hustle Belt
Conference: Mid-American Conference
Coach: John Bonamego (great name, bruh), first year. John played football for the Chippewas back in the 80s, and since then he's been coaching at various spots. Some of these include an Italian team (now imaging Scott Shafer in Italy), Army, the New Orleans Saints and for the past two seasons, the Detroit Lions. He was special teams coordinator there, so chances are CMU has us beat in that aspect of the game now.
2014 Record: (7-6) (5-3)
Recapping Last Season:
Previous head coach Dan Enos wrapped up his fifth season in Mount Pleasant, Mich. with a brutal one-point loss in the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl. After getting steamrolled by the Orange at home, CMU got most of its then-absent players back and actually played fairly well for the rest of the year. Instead of waiting to be fired eventually, Enos went ahead and left CMU this offseason. He'll be the offensive coordinator and QB coach at Arkansas instead.
When everyone was healthy/on the field, the Chippwas' offense was actually kind of fun to watch. QB Cooper Rush threw for 27 touchdowns and nearly 3,200 yards (note: would kill for these numbers at SU right now), while Titus Davis and Thomas Rawls led things in receiving and rushing, respectively. Other than a couple games where they crawled their way to 20 points or less, the team was able to put 30 or so a game pretty consistently. Total offense averaged nearly 400 yards per game... which again, I'd welcome at this point.
Defensively, CMU allowed 25.2 yards per game -- an average that would've been better if not for a few games allowing over 40. There weren't a ton of standout defenders on their own, but as a team they made a valiant effort to keep things respectable more often than not.
History with Syracuse: The Orange are 2-0 against the Chipps, outscoring them by a combined score of 87-10 in the two meetings. Last year's game was a one-sided affair that handed SU a 40-3 road win in SU's best performance of the season.
2015 Season Outlook:
The aforementioned Rush is back, but a lot of the pieces that helped him be so productive (Rawls and Davis, in particular) are now gone. CMU must replace two of five on the offensive line, but the other three returning players are seniors. Rush grew as a passer last season, though he is still a traditional drop-back guy and has shown little ability to throw on the run or under pressure. His challenge this fall will be overcoming the loss of four of his top six targets, and getting players beyond the experienced Jesse Kroll and Anthony Rice involved in the passing game. The remaining halfbacks on the team were able to get reps during Rawls' various absences last year, which should help ease that transition.
While the defense failed to have a true breakout performer, they return all but one player from that front -- something that could make this pass-rush a suddenly formidable force. They'll make up for a few losses at the linebacker spot in the short-term as that group gets up to speed and asserts itself more so than last year (when linebackers not named Justin Cherocci only tallied 56 tackles on the year). Three of four are back in the secondary -- a unit that was pretty hit or miss all last fall.
Coaching staff turnover and the departure of some key offensive skill players would seem to mean a slight regression for the stuck-in-neutral Chippewas. That doesn't mean they can't or won't get on the right track. But Rush can't do all the heavy lifting on his own and there's no other player that you can necessarily point to on either side of the ball and go "that's the guy that makes the difference." Next year, perhaps we think differently.
Syracuse Game Date: Saturday, September 19
Location: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.
Odds of Orange Victory: 90 percent
Very Early Outlook:
The Orange beat the daylights out of the Chipps on the road last year, though Rush was the only key offensive player to see the field that Saturday. This year, the same is true -- plus CMU now has to visit Syracuse at the Carrier Dome. While it may seem presumptuous (and I may regret this later on), a hopefully healthy SU squad should be able to handle Central Michigan with ease at home. With luck, the Orange wrap up a stress-free win with a 3-0 record and an encouraging outlook on the remainder of the season.