With spring practice and the NFL Draft both over, we can get to talking about actual Syracuse Orange football opponents. For the next few months, we’ll be diving into each of the 12 (very difficult) teams SU faces, telling you all (or most of what) you’ll need to know about them in advance of this fall. Despite the challenges of the schedule, we’re going to be positive wherever possible. Today’s team:
School: Central Michigan University
#BRAND Slogan: “Fire Up Chips!”
Alternate #BRAND Slogan Suggestions: "Bon, amigo!” “Where dirty hits take... CENTRAL stage.”
Recommended Blog: Hustle Belt
Coach: John Bonamego, 3rd year. Bonamego played wide receiver and quarterback for CMU back in the 1980s, then stuck around Mount Pleasant for a year to be a high school assistant coach. He parlayed that into a gig with Maine, then Lehigh and Army before heading to the NFL in 1999.
In the NFL, Bonamego served on special teams staffs with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints, Miami Dolphins and Detroit Lions. He came back to his alma mater for his first head coaching job in 2015. He’s also a tonsil cancer survivor.
2016 Record: (6-7) (3-6)
Recapping Last Season:
CMU and the ageless Cooper Rush got off to a hot start on the year, pulling of a 30-27 upset of Oklahoma State in week two that never should’ve happened (literally). That earned the Chippewas some early love in the polls, before falling to lowly Virginia in late September.
Rush, for his part, threw for 3,540 yards and 23 touchdown passes (to 16 interceptions). Central had a pretty one-dimensional offense overall, however. Though they were a top-30 passing attack in terms of yards per game, they were among the 10 worst rushing teams in the country (115.92 yards per game). That’s a figure worse than Syracuse’s own paltry total, to put things into further perspective.
Defensively, CMU was a middle-of-the-road squad. They allowed just over 30 points per game and were 54th in the country in yards per game allowed. Central Michigan didn’t get to the quarterback much (just 20 sacks in 13 games), and failed to force too many turnovers, either. In particular, the defense seemed to come a bit undone against better competition, allowing 30 points or more in five different games (including a 55-10 bowl drubbing vs. Tulsa).
Central Michigan closed on a sour note overall, beyond just the blowout in the Miami Beach Bowl. The team lost five of six to end the year, and never topped 24 points in regulation time after September 24.
2017 Season Outlook:
CMU loses a lot of offensive production with Rush graduating, which could mean a step back there — a place where they could little afford to decline given the late season struggles. That said, leading receiver Corey Willis and leading rusher Devon Spalding do return. That should help whoever wins the quarterback job begin to settle in a bit. Spalding was actually a monster in his last game against Syracuse back in 2015, accounting for 185 total yards and a touchdown.
This year’s defense may be able to improve, with a reasonable amount of returning talent. That said, they’ll need better results in terms of turnovers and pressure than they generated last season. Again, this offense is hitting a bit of a reset without Rush, and seemed to scuttle a bit late last year. If the defense can find ways to flip the field a bit more, it can make up for some of that production loss.
Though the talent level may have taken a slight step back for the Chippewas, the schedule may be a bit simpler than last year’s. They’ll trade OK State, Baylor and Virginia away for Syracuse, Kansas and Boston College in the non-conference slate. The MAC schedule is the same, but they’ll get home dates against harder opponents like Toledo and Eastern Michigan (still feels weird to say). Bill Connelly sees about 5.5 wins here, which is definitely feasible even if they go 0-3 against those aforementioned power conference opponents.
Syracuse Game Date: Saturday, September 16
Location: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.
Odds of Orange Victory: 82 percent
Very Early Outlook:
Rush’s absence can’t just be ignored, and that’s why it’s worth being a little bearish on Central this year -- especially when there are a good collection of other MAC teams clearly above them in the pecking order. That doesn’t mean they’ll be terrible. But Syracuse’s experience on both sides of the football, along overall talent and speed advantages, should help win out in this one... barring another late hit (Mitch Stanitzek is still on the team, even if he doesn’t see the field much). Expect Syracuse to pull away in the second half as the tempo starts to get to CMU.