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2022 MAC Football Positional Previews: Central Michigan Chippewas offensive skill positions

The Chippewas lost a lot on the outsides, but still possess a backfield core which should sustain them to success in the MAC West in 2022.

NCAA Football: Sun Bowl-Washington State at Central Michigan Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports

The Central Michigan Chippewas were a Top 25 team on offense in 2022, totaling 443.4 yards per game, while also scoring, on average, 32.3 points per game.

They did so on the back of the nation’s leading rusher in Lew Nichols III, whose 1,818 yards on the ground in 2022 were over 400 yards more than the next-closest returning back (Syracuse’s Sean Tucker had 1,496 yards.)

Considering Nichols’ pedigree, it might surprise onlookers that CMU was just as, if not more explosive in the passing game. The Chips were the Mid-American Conference’s second-best aerial attack, coming in at 265.4 yards per game in 2022, good enough for 29th in the NCAA.

2022 will present a handful of challenges, but with the depth of options available to Jim McElwain as he enters his fourth season in Mt. Pleasant, CMU should still be considered a danger to make a dark horse run in the MAC West.


NCAA Football: Central Michigan at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Daniel Richardson returns as the unquestioned starter in 2022, after taking back the starting job from Washington transfer Jacob Sirmon (who is now at FCS Northern Colorado.) Richardson was the starter in the 2020 COVID year after David Moore was declared ineligible by the NCAA, and availed himself well, going 63-of-99 for 714 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions.

Richardson was pressed into duty after Sirmon struggled against FIU in Week 4, leading a double-digit comeback effort against his hometown program and never looking back, finishing 7-2 as a starter, with 191 completions on 316 attempts for 2,633 yards and 24 touchdowns to just six interceptions.

Richardson is a true pocket passer despite his diminutive size, listed at five-foot-ten, 205 lbs., and shows remarkable ability to get the ball downfield with an excellent arm capable of 60-yard passes in game situations. He is considered one of the better returning QBs in the MAC, and should have a chance to prove himself with a full year behind center.

Backup options are less heralded and experienced, as Sirmon’s departure leaves redshirt freshman Tyler Pape, true freshman Jase Bauer and former Army Ranger Bailey Smith.

Running backs

NCAA Football: Sun Bowl-Washington State at Central Michigan Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports

You can’t talk about the Chippewa offense without addressing Lew Nichols III, the nation’s leading rusher in 2022.

Nichols’ first season as the fully-fledged starter was one to remember, as he toted the rock 341 times for 1,848 yards and 16 touchdowns, while also picking up 40 receptions for 338 yards and two scores. His carries, total yards and yards per game (141.1) all led the NCAA last season.

Nichols, who stands at five-foot-ten, 220 lbs., would have had Power Five programs scrambling for his services had he entered the transfer portal in the offseason, and it would have been easy to understand why he would have left. But Nichols is gambling on himself, opting to stay in Mt. Pleasant to finish out his career.

Nichols should be one of the top NFL prospects in the country at the running back position in 2022, with all eyes on him every time CMU takes the weeknight stage in November.

Nichols will have to take up majority of the running mantle early until his backup is decided, as Kobe Lewis, his previous running mate, announced his departure via the transfer portal last month, landing at Purdue. Passing down specialist Darius Bailey also transferred to Middle Tennessee State after being asked to move back to his original position of cornerback during spring practices.

Marion Lukes (22 rushes, 94 yards) and Myles Bailey (30 rushes, 114 yards) will likely battle for the vacancy left by Lewis, with both players being former three-star prospects. De’Javion Stephney was moved to cornerback despite collecting 103 yards on 13 carries in 2022.

Wide receivers and tight ends

NCAA Football: Maryland at Ohio State Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

It’s never an easy job to replace two all-MAC contributors in one season, but the Chippewas will try their best in 2022.

CMU will be without their leading receiver in receptions (62) and yards (960) in Kalil Pimpleton, who was picked up as a UDFA by the hometown Detroit Lions in April, while also missing former first-team all-MAC receiver JaCorey Sullivan (49 receptions, 687 yards), who led the team in receiving touchdowns with 10.

Former Northern Michigan transfer Dallas Dixon will take up the mantle after being the second-leading receiver in 2022, with 45 receptions, 701 yards and eight touchdowns.

All eyes will be on Maryland transfer Carlos Carriere, who had 316 yards on 24 receptions for five touchdowns for the Terrapins in 2022. Standing at six-foot-five, 195 lbs., Carriere is an immediate Sullivan replacement on the outside, and will serve as a big-bodied presence with sideline speed.

Dixon and Carriere are about the only certain options for a Chippewa roster which has a lot of uncertainty at the receiver position. There will be several position battles for the slot receiver position and backup roles, as Lavar Gumms and Remi Simmons departed in the offseason.

Promising underclassmen Alec Ward, Irone Jackson and Finn Hogan are expected to compete for playing time, with 2021 transfer receiver Kenny Brewer III and Northwood University (D-II) transfer Noah Koenigschnekt (23 rec., 413 yards, three touchdowns in 2021) also in the mix.

Tight end is secure in single TE sets, with the six-foot-four, 250 lbs. junior Joel Wilson back in Maroon and Gold after picking up 31 receptions for 367 yards and four touchdowns. Wilson enjoyed a banner season in his first fully-healthy campaign, ranking third on the team in receiving touchdowns, fourth in receiving yards and fifth in receptions.

Northwood University (D-II) Bryant Kieft could have a role as the second tight end, after picking up 25 yards, 505 yards, and three touchdowns in two full seasons with the Timberwolves. Other names which could see time in the battle include Barlett, Illinois’ Alec Paellela, who saw four appearances in 2022— the most FBS reps of any of CMU’s current backup options.

There’s some intriguing names who could make hay in camps, including a pair of six-foot-six prospects in freshman Lucas Dailey of Holland, Michigan, and sophomore Jayden Evans of Eastvale, California.