To put it plainly, Central Michigan’s 2022 offensive skill positions were a bit of a transitory bunch.
It was a perfect storm, with expected graduations, early departures and transfers coinciding with an unexpected coaching change, resulting in a lot of inexperienced players having to be baptized by fire early on.
The regression was stark; CMU was one of the country’s top offenses in 2021 thanks to the emergence of Lew Nichols III and the twin dangers both on the outside (Kalil Pimpleton and JaCorey Sullivan) and inside (Luke Goedeke and Bernhard Raimann.) 2022 saw CMU become merely pedestrian, finishing 84th in total offense, including a paltry 95th in passing offense.
Bright spots were few and far-between; the majority of the campaign was spent more trying to survive possessions than mount scoring drives (CMU was 129th in turnover margin, with a mind-boggling -18.)
2023, then, serves as an important barometer.
What has a relatviely young offense learned from the failures of the prior season and applied to spring and fall camps? Can they get back to their prior productivity or will we see more of the same?
There’s plenty of upside in the skill positions, even if true game experience is still lacking in several places. Either way, CMU largely decided to dance with the roster they brought, doing minimal work in the transfer portal.
Whether that’s a vote of confidence in their current group, or an indictment of the player personnel staff is something we’ll have to wait and see when the action kicks off.
Let’s break down each position and how they project heading into 2023:
- Daniel Richardson (transfer to FAU)
- Bailey Smith (position change)
- Ethan Lane (incoming recruit)
- Tyler Jefferson (incoming recruit)
- Bert Emanual Jr.
- Jase Bauer
- Tyler Pape
There aren’t a lot of changes in the quarterbacks room for Central going into the 2023 season, so read that as you will. Other MAC schools who felt they were in need of an injection of talent at signalcaller were aggressive in finding a guy, most notably BGSU with Connor Bazalek, Ball State with Layne Hatcher and WMU with Hayden Wolff.
The defining battle of both spring and fall camps will be Bert Emanual Jr. and Jase Bauer, the two quarterbacks who saw the majority of playing time after Daniel Richardson was benched due to poor performance in the first half of the season.
Emanuel burst onto the scene with a prolific Tuesday night performance in his debut against Buffalo, but struggled to lead more conventional offenses. Jase Bauer eventually worked his way into the rotation, but exhibited similarly streaky performances.
Both Emanuel and Bauer are QBs who up to this point much prefer to run; Emanuel scored seven times on 67 rushes (compared to eight total pass attempts) over four games, while four of Bauer’s five scores were via the run. Bauer was the designated passing down QB in 2022, but was not very successful in that role, with just one score and five interceptions.
Suffice to say it was all less-than-ideal.
Spring scrimmages suggested Bauer had the upper edge; in the two contests, Bauer threw four touchdowns and an interception, with 267 yards in the second scrimmage on 16 completions. Emanuel, on the other hand, struggled. He was responsible for zero scores in his action, and credited with 22 yards rushing in the first scrimmage and 163 passing yards on 11 completions in the second scrimmage.
Of course, those are just the scrimmages. CMU’s 15 spring practices were closed to media, so perhaps the situation is different in those scenarios. Either way, we’re a long way from deciding who is QB1— though Emanuel seems to be the favorite to start based on his status in the second half of the 2022 campaign.
- Lew Nichols III (NFL Draft, Green Bay Packers)
- BJ Harris (transfer from Missouri)
- Sam Hicks (position change)
- Jakivion Calip (incoming recruit)
- Mekhi Jenkins (incoming recruit)
- Germanuel Tanelus (incoming recruit)
- Myles Bailey
- Marion Lukes
- Christian Brown
- Jake Tafelski
- Taylor DeWitt
Part of Central’s running woes from last season were because of a reduced offensive line, which resulted in a massive drop-off from a Top 25 rushing attack to a more pedestrian 60th (159.2 yards per game.) One of the main hopes is that a year of rebuilding and a position coach change improves the gaps for the backs to run through.
The loss of Lew Nichols III is an undeniable one from multiple standpoints; he offered a unique running style and talent level which was a matchup nightmare for most defenses, and was a known locker room leader, opting to stay at CMU after his record-breaking season in 2021.
That said, running back is still the strength of the Central Michigan offense in 2023, with Nichols’ main substitutes from last season returning in Marion Lukes and Myles Bailey.
Both Lukes (323 yards, three touchdowns) and Bailey (176 yards, two touchdowns) are explosive runners who are good at accelerating in open space, especially on outside runs. They will be fighting for the starting carries, but both will absolutely have a role to play, as CMU has traditionally rotated between two and three backs by default.
As for that third back, there’s intrigue to be had there. Sam Hicks impressed in spring camps after converting from receiver to running back, with multiple long runs in scrimmages. Christian Brown does have more experience at the position and saw some run in 2022 when injuries ravaged the backfield, but is largely considered a special teamer. One can also never count out starting safety De’Javion Stepney from re-appearing in a power back role, something he did with surprising aplomb in 2022.
Of interest is the late commitment of Missouri transfer BJ Harris, who committed to the team in early July a handful of weeks after the conclusion of spring practices. The five-foot-nine, 203 lb. back did not get a lot of time on-field at Mizzou (32 yards, one touchdown in two seasons), but had three-star caliber as a recruit, and was deemed the 34th-best running back in the country, per ESPN rankings, including the best back in the state of Tennessee.
Primarily a kick returner for the Tigers, he’ll seek a chance to compete for a starting position agaisnt the two incumbents.
The majority of CMU’s success will come down to their ability to run the ball if the passing game doesn’t develop to plan, so getting it right from Week 1 on is important.
- Carlos Carriere (UDFA; currently with Hamilton [CFL])
- Dallas Dixon (graduation)
- Finn Hogan (transfer to Bowling Green)
- Sam Hicks (position change)
- Alec Ward (not listed in 2023 roster)
- Noah Koenigsnecht (graduation)
- Jack Trembley (not listed in 2023 roster)
- Chase Peddie (not listed on 2023 roster)
- Alex Arch (not listed on 2023 roster)
- Stephan Bracey Jr. (transfer from Wisconsin)
- Thomas Pannunzio (transfer from Colorado State)
- Evan Boyd (incoming recruit)
- Javorian Wimberly (incoming recruit)
- Shatavious Hogan (incoming recruit)
- Kyren Ware (incoming recruit)
- Tyler Wertman (incoming recruit)
- Jalen McGaughy
- Langston Lewis
- Jordyn Williams
- Irone Jackson
- Tyson Davis
- Jessie Prewitt III
- Jordan Kelly
- Tyson Davis
- Matteo Carriere
- Kenny Brewer III
- Javon Gantt
Whew boy, where do we begin here?
CMU’s passing attack was a major point of regression from the prior season, finishing 95th in the country with 221.9 yards per game, totaling 16 receiving touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 12 contests.
Of those 16 scores, six were credited to tight end Joel Wilson, leaving seven of the remaining 10 caught by natural receivers. (Tight end Cade Conley and running backs Lukes and Bailey each had one apiece.)
Jalen McGaughy, a transfer from Ball State, caught two of those last season— both in one contest vs. Oklahoma State in garbage time in a Week 1 contest. He’s the Chippewas’ leading returnee after a campaign which saw him catch 20 passes for 313 yards.
It’s fairly dire from there for other on-roster returnees; the next two on-roster options to return are Tyson Davis (three catches, 54 yards, one score) and Langston Lewis (two receptions, 52 yards, one score.)
It’s going to be hard to replace seven of your top eight passcatchers in one offseason, but CMU will try their damnedest.
To that end, the coaching staff identified two transfers they feel could have potential major upside in Wisconsin’s Stephan Bracey Jr. and Colorado State’s Thomas Pannunzio.
Bracey, a Grand Rapids, Michigan native who originally committed to Western Michigan before getting offered by Wisconsin, was primarily a kick returner for the Badgers, scoring once against Nebraska in 2021. A former three-star prospect, Bracey could have an impact at receiver with his speed and ball vision at the outside or slot receiver spot.
Pannunzio is the name which is especially interesting, however. Pannunzio, who stands at five-foot-nine, 170 lbs., was primarily a defensive back and special teams ace at Colorado State, but did also get reps at wide receiver in 2019. The staff hopes his chops as a punt returner translate reasonably well at receiver, as one of CMU’s issues in 2022 was the inability to get separation from coverage.
It’s honestly hard to know who has the edge on a starting spot outside of McGaughy at this point. A total of 15 different receivers all caught at least one pass in spring scrimmages, with Chris Parker leading the way with two touchdowns in the second scrimmage (10 yards and 30 yards.)
It’s largely assumed Pannunzio and Bracey will be the starters aside McGaughy when the season kicks off, but considering the situation, it wouldn’t be a shock to see someone else among the incumbents jump up and steal a role for themselves.
- Joel Wilson (graduation)
- Bryant Kieft (graduation)
- Cade Conley (transfer to Marshall)
- Jayden Evans (position change)
- Jeremy Pilch (not listed on 2023 roster)
- Mason Knippen (not listed on 2023 roster)
- Nathan VanTimmeren (incoming recruit)
- Jesiah Stevens-Silva (incoming recruit)
- Rory Callahan (incoming recruit)
- Bailey Smith
- Decorion Temple
- Marcus Young
- Alec Pallela
- Mitchell Collier
Central loves using multiple tight ends in their formations, so having a deep bench is important here.
Alas, this unit suffers some major losses heading into 2023, with the team’s second-leading passcatcher Joel Wilson graduating. Wilson, who signed with the Buffalo Bills in May, led the team in touchdown receptions (six) and was second in both receptions (44) and yards (445) despite missing four games due to injury. His presence will be missed, as he was a vertical tight end who also showed off some run block polish in the back half of his career.
Cade Conley, the main H-back in CMU’s schemes, transferred this offseason to Marshall, while Bryant Kieft, who had starting experience at Northwood University [D-II] and served as a third tight end in 2022, exhausted his eligibility and Jayden Evans was converted to defensive end in the offseason as well, which leaves a lot of unknowns at the position.
Marcus Young is the favorite to occupy the staring role after having started the final four games of the 2022 season in place of Joel Wilson. Young had three receptions for 16 yards in those four starts, primarily playing on special teams. He’s a six-foot-four, 251 lb. tight end, which suggests he has the edge due to his balance.
Redshirt freshman Decorion Temple (six-foot-five, 230 lbs.) and redshirt sophomore Mitchell Collier (six-foot-three, 227 lbs.) will likely compete for a role as a move tight end, given their frames, while Alec Pallela (six-foot-four, 245 lbs.) is likely the main back-up for Young, given he was the listed player backing up Wilson all of 2022.
All three will have a lot to prove over fall camps in order to earn playing time; the position is important to CMU’s offensive flexibility so they’ll have to impress in order to remain relevant.
This is the second in a series of CMU football previews, with our next piece addressing the offensive line. Please look forward to that! If you missed our first part, you can read that here.
CMU’s season kicks off Saturday, Sept. 2 at 7 p.m. Eastern time in East Lansing, Michigan, where they are set to play the Michigan State Spartans.