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2017 Way-Too-Early Predictions: Central Michigan Chippewas

The Chips face key questions at skill positions that could make or break the 2017 season.

NCAA Football: Central Michigan at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

To say that last year did not go as expected would be an understatement.

CMU finished 6-7 (3-5 MAC) in a season full of highs and lows for John Bonamego and company.

The Chippewas scored a program-defining win over Oklahoma State on the road one year after a heartbreaking loss at home in one of the wildest fashions you’ll ever see and rode a 3-0 record going into the Virginia game before getting wallopped by the previously-winless Cavaliers.

The wheels seemed to fall off from there, as Cooper Rush never looked all that confident after the Virginia game. CMU had a loss to WMU at home on national TV to start the season and wound up losing three-straight games to Toledo, Kent State and Miami at a pivotal time in the season.

CMU reclaimed a win vs. eventual MAC East champion Ohio at home before collecting two straight losses to EMU and Tulsa at the end of the season.

So what does 2017 have in store? Let’s find out together.

Aug. 31 vs. Rhode Island Rams (FCS)

NCAA Football: Rhode Island at Kansas John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

CMU seems to have a nervy time with FCS-caliber teams most seasons. New Hampshire in 2013 and Chattanooga in 2014 immediately come to mind here. Even last season’s tune-up with Presbyterian was closer than many were comfortable with.

That being said, Rhode Island simply isn’t that good. The Rams went 2-9 (1-7) in the Colonial Athletic Association last season and lost to Kansas. Which, while expected, isn’t that great.

Prediction: CMU should have a win here, if all goes well.

Sept. 9 at Kansas Jayhawks

NCAA Football: Kansas at Kansas State Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of Kansas, that’s the next opponent on CMU’s schedule.

The Jayhawks are known for being a hapless group of fellows, but they’re starting to show signs of a turnaround out there in Lawrence under the guidance of David Beaty. Last season was defined by a win over Texas in the pouring rain, spoiling the Longhorn’s chances of a bowl game. And that was about it.

Kansas will be losing plenty of offensive talent, especially dual-threat quarterback Montell Cozart (grad transfer.) But Kansas has owned the recent series between the two schools and CMU is a chemistry set that will still be trying to formulate itself.

Prediction: These teams are honestly about even. Toss-up.

Sept. 16 at Syracuse Orange

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a lot of bad blood between these two teams and it will be interesting to see what happens when CMU returns to the Carrier Dome for the first time since an incident involving a targeting call on Mitch Stantizek that injured then-QB Eric Dungey.

There were death threats sent to Stantizek and his family after the game and it was a source of anger which ruined an otherwise fantastic, back-and-forth game that went in to overtime and scored a lot of points.

Syracuse is under the direction of Dino Babers, who faced CMU exactly zero times while coach of Bowling Green, so it should be interesting to see what sort of gameplan both teams walk in with.

The Orange underwhelmed in a stacked ACC last season, going 4-8 (2-6) in 2016, finishing last in the Atlantic Division. However, it’s more than likely that the Orange’s athletes will be too much for CMU to handle, especially on the offensive side of the ball.

Prediction: CMU loses.

Sept. 23 at Miami RedHawks

NCAA Football: Central Michigan at Miami (Ohio) Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

We know the story behind the Miami RedHawks.

Backs against the wall after an 0-6 start, the RedHawks would go on to win six games in a row to attain bowl eligibility, taking Mississippi State all the way to a missed field goal befre finishing the season at 6-7.

Chuck Martin engineered a great turnaround at the right time with his team, which features a lot of young talent that blossomed last year, including Gus Ragland and Kenny Young.

The more I reflect on this matchup from the last season, the more I realize that the better team won that matchup. Miami has a lot of momentum going and they’ll look to get off to a fast start in conference play after a favorable OOC schedule.

Prediction: CMU loses.

Sept. 30 at Boston College Eagles

NCAA Football: Quick Lane Bowl-Boston College vs Maryland Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Boston College managed to rally to a 7-6 record and a bowl victory in the Quick Lane Bowl on the strength of a gargantuan defense, which was ranked in the top five in nearly every major statistical category last season.

That looks to largely still be the case coming into 2017, while the offense will still be formulating. BC looked pretty upsettable in a game with NIU two years ago that went down to the wire in Chestnut Hill and handed Buffalo a spanking in a game played last year.

CMU is going to be young at a lot of positions against a veteran defense, but it could be a winnable game. BC should have the home edge.

Prediction: Toss-up.

Sat. Oct. 7 vs. Ohio Bobcats

NCAA Football: MAC Championship-Western Michigan at Ohio Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

CMU has owned the recent series with Ohio, both at home and away over the last few seasons, so it should be fun to use this game as a measuring stick.

The last game between these squads went don to the wire on national TV, with Cooper Rush and Tyler Conklin connecting on one of the best catches of the year in college football to seal a last-minute victory over the plucky Bobcats.

Ohio loses a lot of defensive studs, including Tarrell Basham, and that will certainly have an impact on the ‘Cats, as they have relied on that defense to levy an offense that could best be described as inconsistent.

For all its inconsistency, Ohio’s offense can show signs of life, especially with Quinton Maxwell at QB. Papi White also returns as a speed threat and there will be a deep bench of young playmakers at receiver.

I’m gonna go with history and gut instinct here.

Prediction: CMU wins.

Sat. Sept. 14 vs. Toledo Rockets

NCAA Football: Toledo at Northern Illinois Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Toledo will once again be a big favorite to win the MAC West and there’s no doubt as to why.

The Rockets return a ton of offensive weapons, including Art Thompkins, Terry Swanson and potential Heisman candidate Logan Woodside in the backfield. The line is also mostly intact and if there’s anything the Rockets are on this side of the ball, it is consistent.

There will be some reshuffling to be done in the defense, as the staff is currently trying to figure out who will be on the first-string during their spring practices, but the roster is extremely deep and that alone should help the Rockets.

Toledo has completely owned CMU in the series and currently rides a six-year winning streak against the Chippewas. I don’t see that changing anytime soon, even with home-field advantage.

Prediction: CMU loses.

Oct. 21 at Ball State Cardinals

Western Michigan v Ball State Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

In one of the most interesting and underrated rivalries in the Mid-American Conference, Ball State and CMU meet up for a pivotal game that could turn the season around for either of the teams involved.

Throw out the paper here with these teams. The series has been extremely back and forth over the last four years, with lots of intense drives and heartbreaking endings. (curse you, Scott Secor,) and this game looks to be more of the same.

Ball State is in a similar situation to CMU in that they’re a team attempting to figure themselves out. The Cards were scrappy on offense last season, leaning on true sophomore James Gilbert to carry the load. The carousel of QB’s rotated last season but finally settled on Riley Neal.

The defense struggled against the pass but was decent on the run. IN a recent article, Bill Connolly called Ball State the MAC’s most MAC team due to their volatility in just about every phase of the game. This game will definitely be marked on the calendar.

Prediction: CMU wins.

Wed. Nov. 1 at Western Michigan Broncos

Toledo v Western Michigan Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Good news, everyone! Western Weekend is back in November where it belongs. Bad news, everyone! It’s on a Wednesday.

Hey, at least it’ll be on national TV.

Western Michigan were the darlings of national media last year, much to CMU fans’ chagrin. WMU’s throttling of CMU at Kelly/Short Stadium to open the conference season last year helped the Broncos secure their first-ever ranking and would eventually get WMU to the Cotton Bowl.

Gone are the transcendent talents of Zach Terrell, Corey Davis and Robert Spillane (amongst others) but WMU still has a lot of talent in the stockpile left-over from the Fleck regime that first-year coach Tim Lester should be able to cobble together.

I’d normally say throw out the paper in these traditional rivalries, but WMU is just the better football team at the moment. That isn’t to say CMU can’t figure it all out and win the game. I’m just saying they have a lot going against them.

Prediction: CMU loses.

Wed. Nov 8 vs. Eastern Michigan Eagles

Miami Redhawks at Eastern Michigan Eagles in Pictures Kenneth Bailey

EMU was one of the most resurgent teams in the country last year, proving everyone wrong along the way that said EMU shouldn’t be at a Division I level.

The team posted its first winning record since 2011 (which featured two FCS wins) and made its first bowl game in 29 years, losing to Middle Tennessee State in the Popeye’s Bahamas Bowl.

Chris Creighton has a history of turning nothing into something at all his coaching stops in Divisions II and III and it looks to be more of the same here. EMU appeared competent and ready to face FBS competition last season and even played in some of the more memorable games of the college football season. (The game vs. Wyoming immediately comes to mind.)

Time is yet to tell, however, if that was a blip on the radar or a permanent pivot. EMU won in a closely-contested weeknight #MACtion game last season at home. I could see a similar story in Mt. Pleasant.

Prediction: Toss up.

Tues. Nov. 14 at Kent State Golden Flashes

OHIO V. KENT STATE IN PICTURES Scott Warren / Bald Monkey Photo

There’s no sugarcoating it, folks. CMU should not have lost to Kent State last season.

Especially not with the unit that made the trip to Mt. Pleasant last season, missing many key cogs, including Nate Holley, Mylik Mitchell, Antwan Dixon and a bevy of others.

Nick Holley, a second-string running back, was converted to quarterback last season due to injuries and lead the Golden Flashes to a last-minute upset of the Chippewas, one of three wins Kent State collected on the season.

Mitchell and Dixon should be back for this season and the defense will once again be the major factor in whether or not the Flashes will be successful. In limited moments, Myles Washington and Raekwon James showed themselves to be versatile offensive weapons that could give Kent some big play ability when matched with a healthy Mitchell at QB and Dixon at RB.

I think CMU will be just a step above Kent State at this point.

Prediction: CMU wins.

Fri. Nov 24 vs. Northern Illinois Huskies

NCAA Football: Western Illinois at Northern Illinois Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Last season’s game between these two teams was a triple-overtime thriller that ended in, what else, a Tyler Conklin TD to secure a much-needed victory for CMU to stay bowl-eligible.

This season, the game is in Mt. Pleasant and it’s going to be rather interesting to see if NIU can remain healthy o not. The Huskies do not have the best history when it comes to quarterbacks getting injured at inopportune times, especially over the last two years. Last season saw four different quarterbacks take snaps, and with Anthony Maddie and Drew Hare out of eligibility, it’ll be a battle between Bryan Santacanterina and Ryan Graham for QB1.

The defense also has a lot of question marks surrounding it, as much of the tackle productivity has graduated for NIU. But the Huskies will rely on Jordan Huff and a stable of talented running backs to take charge of the offense and carry the day.

CMU has been a thorn in NIU’s side since I started following CMU football back in 2011, and I’ll venture that story largely continues here.

Prediction: CMU wins.

I realize my projections aren’t very sunshine and rainbows for this season, but that’s for good reason: we don’t really know a lot about this CMU team yet.

This will be the first time in four years Cooper Rush isn’t at quarterback and there’s a lot of senior leadership leaving the team on both sides of the ball (Tony Annese immediately comes to mind.)

There’s a lot of new pieces that will shuffle in and out. Shane Morris and Tony Poljan will battle for QB1 and Romello Ross, who looked promising in 2015, should return after an ACL sidelined him to join a stable of running backs that could finally provide a running game CMU has long been searching for.

Receiving talent returns in bunches, including big play threat Corey Willis and star tight end Tyler Conklin. ON defense, a young secondary that took its lumps last season will return as seasoned veterans, with Josh Cox, Amari Coleman and Otis Kearney highlighting the defensive backfield.

There will be questions along the line and in the linebacking corps, but Joe Ostman should prove a reliable anchor.

It’s just going to be hard to see how this team looks until we see them on the field, whether that’s in spring game or during the out-of-conference schedule. CMU is going to be in a rebuild, and with Rush gone, we’ll finally see what Coach Bonamego has in store for an offense ran mostly by his recruits.

With that in mind, I think it’s fair to be extremely conservative in terms of “winnable” and “loseable” games. There’s a lot of promise here. It just has to come to fruition.

OHIO V. KENT STATE IN PICTURES Scott Warren / Bald Monkey Photo