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An Early Look at Central Michigan

Finally, we can see the light at the end of the football offseason tunnel. This tunnel, stretching from the National Championship game on January 1st January 3rd January 8th all the way to sometime on the last Thursday in August, is the most agonizing for any sports fan as it is the longest. By. Far. Compared to the four month or so offseasons in all of the other sports, football's nearly 8 month layoff is depressing, boring and L-O-N-G. Yet here we stand, 83 short days away from seeing the Jayhawks kick off. So, I am going to take an extensive look at each of our opponents starting with the Chippewas of Central Michigan. Today we will go over their team in general, tomorrow/Monday the offense and on Tuesday the defense.

Last Season's Schedule
They opened last season against the Boston College Eagles, losing a tight one 31-24 in front of a national television audience on opening day. Yet they still yearned for more of the spotlight, then traveling to the Big House and getting trounced 41-17 by the Wolverines of the Michigan variety. They then began conference play, beating both Akron and Eastern Michigan before going back on the road to face a power conference school, this time Kentucky. The defenses forgot to show up, an occurance that happened all too often under ex-Kentucky defensive coordinator Mike Archer, and the Chippewas lost 45-36. After getting turned away yet again in non-conference play, they came back into conference with a record of 2-3 but a conference mark of 2-0. The defense no doubt inspired by their lack of effort in Lexington, they went on to win their next 6 games giving up more than 20 points only once (and only then to non-conference foe Temple). After a little blip on the screen, the only one of the conference variety, against Northern Illinois and the 5'9" sensation Garrett Wolfe, they demolished the Buffalo Buffaloes (Bulls really but doesn't it look like one? Kind of?) setting up a battle to the death against Frank Solich's Ohio Bobcats. Yet again on the ESPN family of networks, where their record was a paltry 2-3 coming into it (including an 0-1 mark on ESPN), they were victorious in what would turn out to be Coach Brian Kelly's last game coaching the Chippewas (more on that situation later) by the score of 31-10. They then were called upon (by the bowl committee of course) to make a return trip to Detroit and the Silverdome Ford Field, this time to take on the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders. CMU killed the Blue Raiders by nearly the same exact score as the MAC Championship game, 31-14.

Offseason Activity
As I mentioned, their head coach Brian Kelly left them before their December 20th bowl game, leaving for the (supposedly) greener pastures of Cincinnati. In what was a bizarre twist beyond bizzare, part of Kelly's former staff at Central Michigan stayed at CMU to prepare for MTSU and then joined the other part of his staff that had already joined Kelly in Cincinnati preparing for their January 6th International Bowl tussle against Western Michigan. Yes, the same Western Michigan that he had earlier beat while head coach of Central Michigan. That makes him, according to Wikipedia, as the first coach ever to beat the same team twice in one year while coaching two different teams. That's something to tell your grandkids, huh? Anyways, in regards to the upcoming year's Chippewas, the team we will be facing on the field, they did hire a replacement as most teams do. Their selection was former West Virginia assistant coach Butch Jones. Seems like a nice guy, has a wife and 3 kids, hope he wouldn't mind a loss in his first game as a head coach.

Enough about last year, let's take a look at this year's product, you know, the team we will be facing off against in September. I will look position-by-position at the Chippewas in my offense/defense breakdowns, but let's just take an overview of the roster changeover.

Departing Talent
First things first, three Chippewas were selected in the 2007 version of the NFL Draft. Left tackle prospect Joe Staley, a former walk-on tight end at CMU, was taken in the first round by the San Fransisco 49ers, defensive end Dan Bazuin by the Chicago Bears in the second and the Miami Dolphins took center Drew Mormino in the 6th round. Whether last year's export of NFL-caliber talent is the beginning of a trend or an abberation is yet to be seen, although I would put my money on an abberation. Don't get me wrong, they are a program on the rise and should be a player in the MAC year-in and year-out for a long time but having three players taken in the NFL Draft, two of them on the first day and one in the first round is a hard feat for anyone to accomplish this side of Miami, USC and LSU. Incoming Recruiting Class
Not helping matters is their lack of recruiting class with only 16 recruits coming in and only one 3 star recruit (DT Josh Allison) according to Rivals. This was good enough for 88th in the country, not exactly a mark to be shooting for. I'll give them a pass because of the coaching change and the vast amount of assistant coaches that followed Kelly to Cincinnati. So, with the massive amounts of talent on their way out of Kalamazoo (I can't believe I had gotten through the article without mentioning the coolest part of Central Michigan, their town name) and the small influx of talent to replace it, they figure to see a slide off of the 10 wins they had last year.

Next Year's Schedule
How much of a slide is the question to be answered next year and their opening game against Kansas has a lot of say in that question. After their trip down to Lawrence they go back home for a battle against Toledo (who then travles to us on September 15th but we won't get into that yet). They then go out head-hunting the power conference programs paying Joe Tiller and the Purdue Boilermakers a visit. They then come back home to take on North Dakota State (who?) before starting conference play. After a couple of conference games they take a two week hiatus to play Army at home and travel yet again to a power conference school, this time Tommy Bowden and Clemson. This is the ultimate make-or-break season for Tommy Bowden (although it seems like at least his third make-or-break season, doesn't it?) and a loss to the Chippewas at home in October won't go over well with the Tiger faithful. Anyways, assuming they can go 4-2 in conference play which is very reasonable assuming last season's 8-1 mark including the conference championship mark, that would leave them a likely 3 games away from a bowl berth. A win at either Clemson or Purdue is unlikely, so while they would likely pick up wins against Army, North Dakota State and Toledo a win in Lawrence would cement a bowl game. So, this September 1st life-changing series of battles is turning into a game that both teams may end up needing at the end of the season to gain access to one of the 398 precious bowl games out there.

More on each position tomorrow/Monday and Tuesday, for now I'm going to watch the epic end of the Arizona State - Mississippi college baseball Super Regional game 1 out of 3. With such an opening to a game, you know it has to be good.