If the 2015 season had a tagline for the Central Michigan Chippewas, it would be something like "New Look, Same Expectations."
The Chippewas were extremely close to attaining the MAC West Championship, but a loss to hated rival Western Michigan Broncos at home in their final game all but assured that would not happen. It was another up-and-down season under then-coach Dan Enos, as CMU started slow in the out-of-conference schedule and caught fire in the conference season. Central finished 7-5 on the season, and won a berth in the Popeye's Bahamas Bowl, which they famously lost, 49-48.
A month after that, Dan Enos left for the OC job at Arkansas. Now, Jon Bonamego, the former Chippewa footballer and Detroit Lions special teams coordinator, takes the reins of the program. Coach Bono wants to spread the field and play aggressively on both sides of the ball, and he certainly has the personnel to run such a gameplan. That being said, no one knows how that will look on the field, which makes 2015 a very interesting season for Chippewa fans.
Let's take a look at the schedule:
Sept. 3rd: vs. Oklahoma State
The Cowboys lost to the defending champion Florida State on a neutral site before catching fire and winning five straight games (four of those being in Stillwater,) The rest of the season was a different story, as OSU sort of meandered through the rest of the season and fell into the Cactus Bowl, where they won against the Washington Huskies. The 'Pokes seem to struggle on the road, and the Chips will definitely be looking to make a statement, but at the end of the day, it's likely that the pressure to perform will get to CMU. 0-1
Sept. 12th: vs. Monmouth (FCS)
CMU seems to find a way to sweat the easy games out. Last season, they barely beat Chattanooga 20-16. The season before that, true freshman Ron Coluzzi had to kick a game-winning field goal against New Hampshire after fellow freshman Cooper Rush brought the Chips back from a double digit deficit. However, Monmouth is not near the same caliber as the previous schools mentioned; the Chips should be able to take this one. 1-1
Sept. 19th: at Syracuse
The Orange made a Chip smoothie of last year's group, as Thomas Rawls' 11th hour arrest for larceny combined with a poor run defense. However, Syracuse football would only experience that feeling once more that season (they narrowly beat FCS foe Villanova the week before CMU) and finish an apathetic 3-9. The Chippewas will be on the road for the first time and it will be interesting to see if Cooper Rush can lead his team on the road without his two main security blankets in Titus Davis and Thomas Rawls. I have confidence that the Chippewas can pull off the upset; Syracuse is a shambles currently. 2-1
Sept. 26th: at Michigan State
The last meeting between these two teams in Mt. Pleasant was a slaughter. I remember because I was there. Until the end. It was so bad Sparty started cheering for us. At least I had a nice view. While Le'Veon Bell and Kirk Cousins won't be suiting up this time around, it's going to be extremely difficult to accomplish much of anything against a stout defense playing at home. 2-2
Oct. 2nd: vs. Northern Illinois
The #MACtion opens at home for the Chippewas, who face a Huskie team that is coming off a shellacking vs. Marhsall last season. With Cameron Stingly, Tommylee Lewis, and many other playmakers gone, the team will have to lean on youngsters Drew Hare and Joel Bouagnon to lead the team. I want to believe that they can, but if last year's game was an indication. the Chippewas will play hard and play to prove that The Win That Busted The Streak wasn't a fluke. 3-2 (1-0 MAC)
Oct. 10th: at Western Michigan
Two seasons ago, I would have told you that this game was in the bag for CMU. Now? Western has established themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the MAC. Jarvion Franklin is sure to mature next season, and Zac Terrel was frighteningly accurate as a passer last season. It certainly helps that Corey Davis was only one of the best receivers in college football last season. It will be close, but Western has the talent and utilizes home field advantage to keep the Victory Cannon. 3-3 (1-1 MAC)
Oct. 17th: vs. Buffalo
It will be extremely hard to predict how this game will go, as both teams are introducing new head coaches this season (Lance Leipold, formerly of UW-Whitewater, was named UB coach in December.) Last year's matchup was all sorts of silly, with injuries ton both sides and a titanic struggle to get to double-digits. CMU won that match on the road, and I am confident they will do the same at home. 4-3 (2-1 MAC)
Oct. 24: at Ball State
For whatever reason, Pete Lembo always has an answer for whatever Central Michigan throws his way. It'll be a little more difficult this season, as State having lost their primary rusher in Jahwan Edwards and has to give the keys of the offense to either Jack Milas or Ozzie Mann, creating a lot of question marks for the Cardinals. That being said, expect Lembo to outcoach Coach Bono in Muncie and drink you annual "oh my god we lost to Ball State again,.." pint of beer. 4-4 (2-2 MAC)
Oct. 31st: at Akron
The road trip continues as the Chips face the Zips for the first time in three years. As my fellow contributor Matt said in his way-too-early Akron preview, it's tough to call the game because there is no real history between these teams and with CMU's regime change, it is hard to gauge how successful the Chips can be. That being said, the Zips usually suffere some sort of meltdown at this point in the season, and I am in agreement with Jesse that Kyle Pohl isn't really that great a QB. Cooper Rush's arm seizes the day. 5-4 (3-2 MAC)
Nov. 10th: vs. Toledo
After a BYE week, the Chippewas face the Toledo Rockets, a foe that lambasted Central for a couple million yards in the Glass Bowl last season. However, expect the story to be a little different this season. CMU played pretty well at home last season, and returns a rush defense with plenty of potential to stop Kareem Hunt (aka "The Dream".) It will be close, but expect CMU to exact revenge. 6-4 (4-2 MAC)
Nov. 18th: at Kent State
Kent State might be a shambles of a team, but they are a tough match on the field. Colin Reardon is toughness personified and has led the Golden Flashes through thick and thin, even winning the Wagon Wheel over Akron last season for the second and final victory, ensuring Akron's bowl bid goodbye. For Kent to win, however, they will have to improve all phases of the game, especially with Reardon's security blanket Casey Pearce gone to the NFL. 7-4 (5-2 MAC)
Nov. 27th: vs. Eastern Michigan
Last year, EMU clocked out of The Factory early, as CMU dominated the line of scrimmage and ran ramshackle over the defensive backfield. EMU still needs to figure out their QB situation, and everyone knows that having two QB's (or three, or four, or five.......) means there is no QB, and with football becoming more and more about that position, it's going to be very tough for EMU to do much of anything, especially with a defense as porous as it was last year. 8-4 (6-2 MAC)
Overall: CMU goes 8-4, (6-2 MAC) and plays for a bowl bid.
It might be a bit of optimism on my side of things, but the Chippewas were going in a good direction to end the season, and I can very well see that carrying over to 2015. The real wild card will be Coach Bono. Will his effort to increase tempo work? Can he inject a spark that has been missing in Mt. Pleasant since the days of Dan LeFevour? We'll just have to tune in and find out, won't we?