The Central Michigan Chippewas boast one of the toughest schedules in the MAC this season, and are likely to undergo a few growing pains with the arrival of a new head coach in John Bonamego. The Chippewas will look to capitalize on their week two match up with the Monmouth Hawks of the Big South Conference and pick up a win. The Hawks are coming off a 6-5 season (1-4 Big South) in 2014, after back-to-back .500 seasons.
Monmouth head coach Kevin Callahan will be entering his twenty-third season as the only head coach in program history, with a record of 126-102. The team played its first season in the Big South in 2014, even though, geographically, their membership in the conference makes no sense, as Monmouth is located in West Long Branch, New Jersey. This match up against Central Michigan is the first ever game against an FBS opponent for the Hawks. Although he is regarded as more of defensive-minded coach, his offense totaled 380 yards per game last season. Defensively, last season was inconsistent, but the Hawks are returning eight starters on that side of the ball, hopeful to turn some heads in the Big South.
Last season, the Hawks were led by quarterback Brandon Hill. He transferred from UMass after three seasons (redshirtted for one) in Amherst. He came to Monmouth looking to start for his last two years of eligibility, and did, throwing for over 2300 yards in both seasons. He tossed 19 touchdowns in each season as a Hawk. His backup, Greg DePugh, was a fifth-year senior who threw for nearly 300 yards in limited playing time. Both Brandon Hill and Greg DePugh have graduated, meaning the Hawks will have to rely on a new arm this season. With its top two quarterbacks gone, Monmouth will most likely turn to junior Devin Ray to take over the reigns of the offense. Having only attempted one pass in his career at Monmouth, the former Rutgers player will have lots to learn in his first season as a starter. Unfortunately, he will not have four of the top five wide receivers from last season, including the Jacksonville Jaguars' seventh-round draft pick Neal Sterling, who caught 55 passes for 905 yards and 6 TD's. Fifth-year senior tight end Hakeem Valles will have to be a security blanket for Ray this season, with the help of returning junior receivers Darren Ambush and Matt Choi.
Second Team All-Big South running back Lavon Chaney led the team in all-purpose yards last season with 1486 yards. He is back this year looking to build off of an impressive sophomore season, where he rushed for 835 yards and 8 TD's and caught 49 passes for 359 yards and 2 TD's. However, where the Hawks' offense excels, the Chippewa defense has an excellent counter. Central Michigan's run defense should be stellar with the return of Joe Ostman and Blake Serpa on the defensive line. It will be interesting to see if the Monmouth rushing attack can be productive against the perceived strength of Central Michigan's defense.
The defensive side of the ball is where Monmouth will have the most success. As a unit, the team is returning eight starters on defense. The defensive line will be losing key pass rushers in Patrick O'Hara (7.5 tackles-for-loss, 3.5 sacks) and Erick Macik (6 tackles-for-loss, 3.5 sacks). However, Second Team All-Big South selection Darnell Leslie (45 tackles, 12.5 for loss, 4.5 sacks) will be the cog for the Hawk defensive front.
Monmouth's line-backing core is led by senior John Sieczkowski (don't ask me how you pronounce that), who led the team with 85 tackles last season. Junior linebacker Payton Minnich added 53 tackles last season, along with 3 interceptions.
Arguably the strongest unit of the entire team, the defensive backfield is returning all of its starters from last season. This includes First Team All-Big South and Big South Freshman of the Year Mike Basile, who racked up 78 tackles and 4 interceptions in 2014. The scary part is that the kid will only be a sophomore, so all-conference honors are to be expected for the remainder of his career. Senior defensive back Joe Johnson is also a major player on defense, as he came up with 45 tackles and 4 interceptions last season. Not only is he a great player for the Hawks, but he also gets it done in the classroom, earning a spot on the Big South All-Academic team in 2014.
In its first game against an FBS opponent, Monmouth will have its hands full on September 12. Kickoff is schedule for 3 p.m. in Mount Pleasant, so be sure to tune in!