If you ask those “in the know” about hot teams in college football, they’ll likely regale you with the Miami-Florida Hurricanes or the UCF Knights. Sure, those two Sunshine State squads are undefeated, but a case could be made that currently one of the hottest teams in the country is here in our neck of the chilly woods in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. For those woefully unfamiliar with geography, we’re talking about the Central Michigan Chippewas, who take their show on the road to face the Kent State Golden Flashes in a weeknight MACtion matchup on Tuesday at 7PM.
For the 6-4 (4-2) Chips, who still have a shot at the divisional crown pending some help, it has been a season of shifting expectations as time has progressed. Behind a shift in philosophy to an up-tempo spread offense this offseason, fans expected the MACtastic usual of high power, high points, and big wins. It was a struggle, though, this new system, that saw the Chips lose three of their first five. Enter a new wrinkle: a power running game.
It has been the Chippewas’ run game that has shined lately, leading to a three-game win streak and victories in four of their last five games, including last week’s 42-30 win over Eastern Michigan that earned the Chips the Michigan MAC trophy. It’s no coincidence that the run game has been a critical component in the Chippewas’ recent surge. In their last three games, the Chippewas are averaging a shade under 200 yards per on the ground, and they have scored an average of 44.3 points. CMU has averaged 398.6 yards in offense over that three-game stretch.
For Kent State, 2017 has been a struggle to say the least. A killer schedule and some killer injuries have all combined to land the Flashes at 2-8 (1-5 MAC) in the midst of a season that is painful to watch and even more painful to live through as a Flashes fan.
Within the first four weeks of the season Kent State traveled to two top-20 programs (Louisville and Clemson) and the season forward was more of the same. Complicated by injuries, Kent State lost starting quarterback Nick Holley in its third game of the season, a 21-0 loss to Marshall. Holley rushed for 144 yards and threw for 102 in the Golden Flashes’ 27-24 win over the Chippewas last season at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.
Junior George Bollas has stepped in at quarterback and has thrown for 779 yards and two touchdowns. Freshman Dustin Crum has also seen time under center. Last week in a 48-20 loss at Western Michigan, he scored on a 58-yard run. Bright spot alert: Kent State punter Derek Adams leads the MAC with an average of 44.4 yards per punt. He has punted a league-high 68 times this season, and 17 of his punts have gone for at least 50 yards. So there’s that.
Suffice to say, on paper this matchup is reflective of the records, with CMU dominating across the board. Points per game (28.3 vs. 11.6), points allowed (27.4 vs. 35.5), total yards (386 vs 252), and yards allowed (378 vs 425) all favor the Chips. Having said that, it is a midweek MACtion game, so anything is possible. Vegas has installed the Chips as 17-point favorites and that feels right, if not a little low. Gametime is 7PM and the game is televised on ESPNU.