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2014 Central Michigan Chippewas football season recap: Hope, disappointment, and more hope?

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4th place in a stacked MAC West is not exactly how most fans in Mt. Pleasant wanted to finish the season. But there is still a lot to talk about in regards to moving forward in the next year.

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

To call this season a glass case of emotion would be vastly underestimating the severity of the Central Michigan Chippewas fan base when it came to the valuation of CMU's season overall. It seemed as if every single week, the Chippewas faced some new trial or tribulation, whether it be Titus Davis' freak injury or Thomas Rawls' freak arrest for larceny hours before the Syracuse game. Somehow, they muddled through it and came out with a winning record yet again, showing the potential that is there, as well as the resiliency of the 2014 version of Chippewas football.

The season could really be split into four segments: the non-con schedule, the opening part of the MAC season, the middle of the MAC season, and then whatever the hell happened after that. This is best demonstrated with a table with scores on it:

Date Opponent Result
Thu, Aug 28 vs Chattanooga W 20-16
Sat, Sept 6 @ Purdue W 38-17
Sat, Sept 13 vs Syracuse L 40-3
Sat, Sept 20 @ Kansas L 24-10
Sat, Sept 27 @ Toledo L 42-28
Sat, Oct 4 vs Ohio W 28-10
Sat, Oct 11 @ N Illinois W 34-17
Sat, Oct 18 vs Ball State L 32-29
Sat, Oct 25 @ Buffalo W 20-14
Sat, Nov 1 @ E Michigan W 38-7
Sat, Nov 15 vs Miami W 34-27
Sat, Nov 22 vs W Michigan L 32-20
Wed, Dec 24 vs W Kentucky L 49-48

First quarter of the season (2-2)

CMU played FCS national quarterfinalist Tennessee-Chattanooga to start the season, and after a slow start, shut out the Mocs on their way to an expected, though close victory. The next week brought B1G opponent Purdue, led by former Kent State coach Darrel Hazell. Thomas Rawls led a potent offensive attack as CMU picked up their second win of the season. The good feelings left Mt. Pleasant after the double whammy of the Davis injury and Rawls arrest led to Saylor Lavallii and the rest of the CMU rushing offense combining for 23 rushing yards in a blowout loss to Syracuse, and a questionable loss to an awful Kansas team after giving up less than 100 yards passing.

Second quarter of the season (2-2)

Whatever good feelings were left quickly eviscerated as Toledo blew out the Chips in the Glass Bowl, thanks in part to gaining 543 yards of offense on a lackluster defense and a limited performance by Rawls in his first game back.

Homecoming helped to quell the "Fire Enos" underpinnings a little bit as the Chippewas fully dominated the game in all three sectors in their first game home since the Syracuse blowout. The Chips defense held the Bobcats to 98 pass yards and 89 rush yards through the entire game, while the offense gained 467 yards, with all but 57 yards going to the indomitable Rawls.

Certainly the highlight of the season for CMU fans everywhere (and maybe even secret NIU haters) was breaking THE STREAK in DeKalb in front of a stunned Huskies fan base on Homecoming Night. Offensive fireworks once again ensued as COoper Rush passed for 269 yards and 2 TD, while Rawls rushed for 270 and 2 TD. The defense also figured out NIU's offense, holding them to 341 yards (110 yards rushing) and 4-14 on third down.

(Stop me if I said this before, but--) Just as CMU fans had hope, however, it was quickly dashed. Penalties and missed opportunities abounded as the Chips lost to the basement-dwelling Ball State Cardinals by 3 points, despite doubling the Cards in offensive yards and despite Titus Davis looking healthy as ever with a 10 reception, 128 yards, 2 TD performance.

Third quarter of the season (3-1)

A headscratchingly (yes, it's in the dictionary) close victory against the ailing Buffalo Bulls was followed by the expected blowout victory against Eastern Michigan at The Factory. After a much-needed BYE week, the Chippewas looked flat as they allowed MIami to stay close for most of the game, consistently committing dumb penalties. Only sparking performances form Davis (8 rec., 102 yards, 3 TD) and Devon Spalding (22 carries, 147 yards, 2 TD) and a last-second Hail Mary defense stopped Miami from gaining an upset victory.

Then, the heartbreaker. The Chippewas played from behind from the very start vs. Western Michigan, as PJ Fleck took the unprecedented step of going for two after the first touchdown. Ultimately, CMU could not contain Corey Davis, even despite stopping freshman/offensive POTY Jarvion Franklin., as the Broncos went on to win and dashed CMU's hopes for a chance at the MAC WEst, as well as a more prestigious MAC bowl.

Final quarter of the season (0-1)

The Popeye's Bahamas Bowl felt like a season unto itself, as the Chips came back from 49-14 to put up one of the greatest game performances I have ever seen in my lifetime, even despite a loss. Cooper Rush, known for being average at best, tied a bowl-game record with 7 TD and only 1 INT, while only being 7 yards away from a 500 yard performance. Titus Davis also caught 4 TD on 6 receptions. The Chips defense, slaughtered in the first half, only gave up 7 points in the secons, with none of those in the 4th quarter.

Offense

The Chippewa offense, despite individual talent, finished average at best, with the 53rd-best passing attack nationally and the 74th best rushing attack. The Chippewas averaged 26.9 PPG on offense, with a lot of their points coming form Davis and Rawls, who combined for over 50% of the Chips' offense. Rawls finished with 1103 yards and 10 TD in 8 games, missing two games due to suspension, one to injury, and one to "academic issues." Davis finished his stellar senior campaign with 60 receptions, 985 yards for a 16.5 average per catch, and 13 TD. Along the way, Davis became the only NCAA player to ever gain 8+ TD in 4 seasons.

The Legend of Cooper Rush continued to grow this season, as the redshirt sophomore improved this season in leaps and bounds over the previous year. Although aided by an astounding performance in Nassau, Rush still finished with 3157 yards, 27 TD, and 13 INT. Rush averaged 8.26 yards a pass with a QBR of 149.6. The raw QBR score also improved from last year, finishing at 69, a 16.7 point improvement over the previous season, while his adjusted QBR jumped 15.2 points to 60.4. These numbers place him above Blake Frohnapfel (first-team all-MAC QB,) Logan Woodside, Joe Licata (two of the MAC's best passers,) Devin Gardner (U-M QB,) Maty Mauk (led Mizzou to the SEC East Championship,) and even pre-season Heisman Trophy candidate Christian Hackenburg.

Rawls and Davis will sure be missed next season, while Kevin Henry and Nick Beamish will be leaving the offensive line. CMU does return their quarterback next season in Rush, Jesse Kroll, their second leading receiver, Devon Spalding, their second leading rusher, and three-fifths of the offensive line. Eric Cooper, Anthony Rice, and Martez Walker should also see extra playing time with key offensive departures.

Defense

The Chippewas defense was absolutely fierce this season, ending up as the MAC's best statistical defense, and it was no surprise why: a monster front six and a ball-hawking back five contributed to the Chippewas' success throughout the season.

Justin Cherocci once again amassed 100+ tackles this season at the star linebacker spot (117,) while also getting two forced fumbles with one recovery and four sacks. Joel Ostman was a revelation at the defensive end position this season, with 60 tackles, with 10 going for losses, and three sacks. Leterrius Walton gained the attention of NFL scouts as a run stopper, while Jabari Dean (2 blocked kicks,) and Blake Serpa (who also had an interception,) provided solid seasons, causing havoc in the backfield. Combined, the starting defensive line gained 167 tackles, 32 TFL, 10.5 sacks, and 12 quarterback hurries.

The defensive backs were nothing to sneeze at either, as seven different backs had at least one takeaway on the season, with Tony Annesse getting 3 INT along with 74 tackles. Jason Wilson had 2 INT and 51 tackles, and Kavon Fraizer had 58 tackles at the safety spot, while Brandon Greer (47 tackles, 3 INT,) and Kevin King (47 tackles, 2 INT) all contributed to the success of a defense that allowed only 25.2 PPG.

Cherocci, Walton, Wilson, and Cody Lopez (a key contributor in the linebacking rotation,) will all depart after the season. Serpa, Dean, Ostman, Annesse, Greer, King, and Frazier will all return next season. Expect more of the same performance next season from the Chips.

Special Teams

Brian Eavey finished as the kicker on the season, after Ron Coluzzi initially held the spot. Eavey finished 8-9, only missing one field goal that was beyond 50 yards, and made 40-42 XP, with one being blocked. Coluzzi was a disaster this season, going 0-2 on FG, and 2/3 on XP. Coluzzi was very key in the punting game, however, averaging 36.7 yards a punt, with 8 going over 50 yards. He will battle with Matt Mills and Cooper Mojsiejenko for the starting punter position next season.

Overall thoughts

Central Michigan faced a lot of adversity throughout the season, some of it unexpected. However, they found a way to persevere and prosper despite many key pieces being taken away. A few plays going differently, and this team could very well have been 8-4 or even 9-3 going into the Bahamas Bowl. That being said, considering the team had eight all-MAC selections, the 7-6 record they finished with was an extreme disappointment for all Chippewa fans.

Many will blame Dan Enos' poor coaching decisions for the season that unfolded, whether it be from a play calling standpoint or from a leadership one. However, the reality is this: players, as well as coaches, must be held responsible for their performance or their behavior off of the field. For every Andrew Flory, there is a Courtney Williams. For every Thomas Rawls, a Cooper Rush. The point is, is that asides from a four-year stretch, CMU has always been a program on the FBS level where this sort of record is the reality, and fans must wake up from this dream and realize that CMU does have a bright future ahead, even if instant gratification must be set aside. With that in mind, consider that CMU has made six bowls in the last nine years, with Coach Enos being the only non-interim coach to win their bowl. CMU had the potential to be selected last year and was not; otherwise, CMU would be looking at three straight bowls and the narrative regarding both CMU and Coach Enos would be vastly different.

Remember, consistency is the first key to winning, CMU returns many key contributors from the season, including Rush, Kroll, Spalding, Amari Coleman, Ostman, Serpa, King, Annesse, and Nick Beamish, and showed a fierce resiliency in the Bahamas Bowl that should not be discounted because of it being a loss. If there is any year for the doubters to come out, it is next year. Next year marks a roster filled with only Enos-era recruits, and that will be the true indicator of whether or not the Chippewas will be successful in the future. With a lot of returning starters, key underclassmen at skill positions getting a chance next season, and a consistent coaching voice, the Chippewas should look to improve on this season next year.