Now that summer is winding down, football season winds up. While NFLers were negotiating, college programs have been practicing and filing down their depth charts in preparation for Labor Day weekend when the season begins. The weather outside is heating up and that must mean it's time for us to begin previewing the MAC, one team at a time...
After four of the greatest seasons in CMU, and MAC history, the Chippewas started the post Dan LeFevour era with a new head coach, and a new offensive system. Needless to say, the Dan Enos era did not start in the way that Chippewa fans had hoped. But despite their poor overall record, there were some signs that the team was building for the future.
Last Season: As previously mentioned, the Chippewas and Dan Enos were in recently unfamiliar territory, after 3 MAC titles in 4 seasons, the Chippewas stumbled to a 3-9 overall record, 2-6 in the MAC. But that record can be slightly misleading, as the Chippewas were close in a number of games last season. Of their 9 overall loses 5 were by a touchdown or less, and of those 5 losses, 4 were to teams that went to a bowl game last season. Much of that could be attributed to this being a young CMU team, who was breaking in a new quarterback, and the fact that through the first half the the season, CMU's field goal kickers (they used 3!) were under 50%, including multiple misses from inside 35 yards.
Returning Players: The Chippewas return much of their talent on offense this season with 8 starters back, which could have the team back to how fans want it; fast paced, and high scoring. Most notably the team returns quarterback Ryan Radcliff, and wide receiver Cody Wilson. Radcliff finished last season with 3,358 total passing yards, an impressive mark for a quarterback making his first full season as a starter. But turnovers marred him, as he finished with 17 interceptions to go with his 17 touchdown passes. His main weapon last season was Cody Wilson, who caught 83 passes for 1,137 yards and 5 touchdowns. The Chippewas also return their two leading rushers from last season, Paris Cotton who average 4.6 yards per carry, and also caught 25 passes; as well as Zurlon Tipton who had 5 rushing touchdowns.
Defensively, the Chippewas return 6 starters, but the problem is that 3 of the 5 players they lost were among the best players the Chippewas had. Sean Murnane, Nick Bellore, and Matt Berning, all gone. Jahleel Addai is CMU's leading tackler returning from last season, with 80. Senior Armond Staten will be expected to fill the void at LB, after his 78 tackle season a year ago. Avery Cunningham, who started 6 games as a true freshman last season also returns, he had 51 tackles, and returned one interception for a touchdown. The Chippewas were 39th in the nation against the pass last season, and with 4 players with starting experience returning, they should be solid once again.
New Faces: It is really hard to say who among CMU's incoming freshman might make an impact, as Dan Enos has more than once said he tries to keep them out of action early in their careers. If one position was to have incoming freshman make an impact, it might be wide receiver, because after Cody Wilson, Jerry Harris is the only other wide receiver/tight end to have caught more than 25 passes last season. Some players that Enos has said could contribute to CMU this season are defensive back/wide receivers's Dennis Nalor, Courtney Williams, Stefon Armstead, Josh Carter, and Anthony Garland at running back.
Games to Circle: The Chippewas face a brutal schedule this year, but luckily for them, the top 3 teams in the MAC (NIU, Toledo, OHIO) all visit Kelly/Shorts Stadium, rather than the daunting task of facing them on the road. CMU is one of only 4 teams in FBS that play all 12 of their games on consecutive weeks.
Their first big test will be September 17th as the Chippewas kick-off their MAC schedule with a trip to Kalamazoo for their annual rivalry showdown with Western Michigan. CMU has won 5 in a row in the series.
Things don't get any easier as the next week CMU travels an hour south to East Lansing to take on Michigan State. You may remember the last time CMU was there, they forged a miracle comeback, and came away with a 29-27 victory in 2009. Michigan State will have a few players from that game remaining, and will be looking to avenge that loss.
CMU closes out it's regular season with back to back home games against the MAC favorite for each division, Ohio on Thursday, November 10th, and Toledo on Friday November 18th.
Did You Know? CMU kicker David Harman is the younger brother for former Chippewa point guard, and shortstop Robbie Harman. Harman last year gave the kicking game stability, finishing the year at 9 of 12 on field goal attempts.
Prediction: Looking at CMU's first 10 games, it is a combination of brutally tough road games, and winnable conference games. If CMU plays as well as they did in their final few games last season, they could realistically be looking at 5-5 overall heading into the final 2 game home stand previously mentioned. When I look at their schedule, I have a hard time seeing any games that they have a real chance at stealing, but if they can, it will be one of the home games against NIU, OHIO, or Toledo. With a strong offense returning, and a solid group of defensive backs returning, I think CMU will finish up the year at 5-7 overall, with a 4-4 conference record, even if all goes well, with their schedule, I have a hard time seeing them finishing better than 6-6 overall, and 5-3 in the conference.