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Way-Too-Early Preview: Central Michigan Chippewas

The Chippewas defied expectations last season. Can they live up to the hype they've created for themselves in 2016?

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Central Michigan had a tumultuous offseason in 2015, having to deal with a head coach and defensive coordinator leaving within days of National Signing Day, a cancer diagnosis for the new head coach John Bonamego, and the tragic death of Derrick Nash.

The Chippewas ended up finishing 7-6 (6-2 MAC), with a heartbreaking loss in the Quick Lane Bowl against 5-7 Minnesota, defying even the highest expectations that had been set out there, by fans or otherwise.

This season, Coach Bono and crew look to repeat the feat and build on 2015's success, and their schedule could be just the launching platform to competing for the MAC West Championship.

Thursday, Sept. 1st: vs. Presbyterian Blue Hose (FCS)

The opening game of the year for both the Chippewas and the Mid-American Conference, the Presbyterian Blue Hose will present a potential cupcake win for the Chippewas. However, let's not be remiss of the last time CMU faced an FCS team on a Thursday night opener. CMU narrowly beat Chattanooga after falling behind in the first half (thanks in part to a freak injury to Titus Davis.) That said, Presby is not nearly a team with the clout of Chattanooga, who went on to make a deep run in the FCS Playoffs that year. The Blue Hose finished 2-9 last season, including a loss to MAC cellar-dweller Miami, with their only wins coming against Campbell and Kennesaw State at home.

Prediction: CMU rolls.

Saturday, Sept. 9th: at Oklahoma State Cowboys

A rematch of the opening weekend game last season in Mt. Pleasant, where the Chippewas briefly took the lead midway through the game before succumbing to OSU's depth. It will be interesting to see if CMU can keep the game close and seal the deal in enemy territory this time around. The Chips return much of their offensive and defensive firepower from last season, and will certainly have familiarity with the other side. Ultimately, too much is working against CMU in this matchup. After all, OSU was a New Year's Six contender last season.

Prediction: CMU loses.

Saturday, Sept. 16th: vs. UNLV Rebels

UNLV, in their first year under Nevada HS legend Tony Sanchez, had a frighteningly bad record last season, going 3-9 on the year. Outside of a stat-padding 80-8 win against Idaho State, the Runnin' Rebels didn't really have that much luck, going 1-3 in games that were decided by less than 8 points, including a Week 1 game against NIU. 2016 for them has also been off to a rather shaky start, with the offensive coordinator ripping his own players in a press conference shortly after a spring practice. CMU should be able to take care of business.

Prediction: CMU wins.

Saturday, Sept. 24th: at Virginia Cavaliers

The Cavaliers finished 4-8 last season, and fired long-embroiled head coach Mike London. Their best win was against a ranked Duke squad towards the end of the season, with victories over Syracuse, Georgia Tech, and FCS William and Mary. Virginia was woefully average on both sides of the ball, finishing 85th in total offense and 75th in total defense, getting outscored by opponents by an average of a touchdown (25.6 to 32.2.) It's another road game, but CMU should have a fighter's chance with this one.

Prediction: Toss-up, lean CMU loss.

Saturday, October 1st : vs. Western Michigan Broncos

Although some people would prefer this to be the last game of the season, the Chips will start conference play this year with their bitter rivals Western Michigan. Cooper Rush is entering his senior season as a Chippewa, and has the chance to beat the Broncos in front of a home crowd. The shootout in Kalamazoo last year shows that anything can happen in this big rivalry game. However, unless the run game can help out Rush, the senior quarterback will have to use his arm and legs to get the Chips past the Broncos.

Prediction: Toss-up, lean CMU win.

Saturday, October 8th: vs. Ball State Cardinals (HC)

After everyone is done recovering from Western Weekend, the party will keep on going as the Chippewas will host the Cardinals for their Homecoming game. The Cardinals have been a thorn in the side of the Chips these past few years, as they shocked the Chips in Mount Pleasant two years ago with a late field goal. Coach Lembo is now gone, however, leaving a (Mike) Neu guy in his stead. It will be interesting to see what Neu brings to the table for a roster that must rebuild.

Prediction: CMU wins.

Saturday, October 15th: at Northern Illinois Huskies

This game last year was a quiet blowout, as the Chippewas' defense, combined with poor weather, proved to be the undoing of the Huskies. If the Chippewas can keep up the pace that their defense has set up over the past few years, they should be able to beat the Huskies in DeKalb again. It certainly helps that the secondary will return three of their four starters, including senior safety Tony Annese.

Prediction: CMU wins.

Saturday, October 22nd: at Toledo Rockets

Last year's game came down to the wire, as Toledo missed a field goal with about a minute left. The Chips were unable to pull off a furious comeback attempt during Tuesday night #MACtion, allowing what could have been a huge win towards the MAC Championship march to slip away. This year, the Chips will have to travel to Toledo and prove that they are MAC Champion material. Two great offenses will spar in this game, and it could come down to the last posession: #MACtion at its finest.

Prediction: Toss-up, lean CMU loss.

Saturday, October 29th: vs. Kent State Golden Flashes

Last season, the Chips dispatched of the Golden Flashes en route to their 6th win. The Golden Flashes have a stout defense, possibly one of the best out of all G5 teams, but Kent State’s offense is just not good enough to outscore a solid Chippewas unit. Kent State’s best chance is using defense to score the ball.

Prediction: CMU wins.

Friday, November 4th: at Miami RedHawks

This Miami team should be an improved version of last season’s squad. With that being said, the RedHawks haven’t improved a whole lot. Their front seven should be a strength for Miami, but just like rival Kent State, the RedHawks aren’t as strong on offense as Central Michigan. With this being on the road Miami will keep it close but flutter out in the end. They've been pesky at Kelly/Shorts before.

Prediction: CMU wins.

Tuesday, November 15: vs. Ohio Bobcats

The Chips return home for a tough test against the Ohio Bobcats. Frank Solich’s Bobcats should contend for the MAC title this season. Most of last year’s secondary is gone for Ohio though, which leaves CMU and their explosive passing game the room they need to push by the Bobcats. You never know though; both teams are unpredictable at the end of seasons in recent years.

Prediction: Toss-up, lean CMU win.

Tuesday, November 22: at Eastern Michigan Eagles

Just one short season ago, the Eagles had the worst run defense in the nation. EMU will be better than last year, but coming near a bowl berth seems highly unlikely. Maybe CMU will have their guard down, especially if they've secured a bowl-eligible record, but of course, EMU gave the CHips a scare at Kelly/Shorts last season, so you never know.

Prediction: CMU wins.