Some may remember Central Michigan as the last non-conference FBS opponent that Kansas actually beat. Sadly, that was three years ago. The Jayhawks look to take another one from the Chippewas Saturday afternoon in Lawrence.
What do we know about Central Michigan this year, though? Frankly, not much. They played Rhode Island last week (yes, the Rhode Island team that Kansas destroyed last year), and needed overtime to come up with a 30-27 win at home. Between that and low expectations for this season, CMU finds themselves ranked just 101st by S&P+, and 122nd by Sagarin. Fortunately for the Chippewas, their opponent is ranked just 112th and 103rd by those measures, so this could be a close game. As of writing, the line sits at Kansas -5.5, but the Jayhawks are just 5-9 against the spread at home under David Beaty, so that may not mean much.
When Central Michigan has the ball
CMU was abysmal running the ball last year at just 3.7 ypc despite MAC level competition. Their 4.8 against URI last week would suggest there's been no magic turnaround in that part of their game. Still, they ran the ball 46% of the time last year and 48% last week, so don't expect an all out air attack. This could be a chance for Joe Dineen to rack up tackle numbers in the teens once again. It should be noted that though the team numbers weren't great, sophomore running back Jonathan Ward had a field day, picking up 147 yards on 19 carries, balanced out by a poor spring from senior back Devon Spradling (70 yards on 20 tries).
The passing game isn't anything to write home about, either. Senior QB Shane Morris competed just 25 of 49 against URI, with just 226 yards, and one TD to go with a pick. If KU's secondary struggles, it will be a bad sign for the young group.
When Kansas has the ball
Rhode Island's run game went nowhere last week (3.48 ypc), but if the playcalling against SEMO is any indication, Kansas may not look to test CMU's run defense anyway. Their pass defense numbers were very pedestrian last year, and S&P+ rates the defense overall just 89th nationally. This is a team that mustered just 20 sacks all year in 2016, so if KU's pass protection is truly improved, Peyton Bender should have an opportunity to try and pick apart the CMU secondary. However, it should be noted that 4 of the 5 DBs who logged the most snaps for CMU last week are seniors, so Bender, Sims and co. will be facing a veteran unit, if not an especially talented one.
What to expect
Central Michigan gave us no reason to think they're a decent football team last week, but that was just one game (and the season opener to boot). On paper, Kansas appears to have a slight edge here, but a lot of that will depend on two things. One, Bender has to play like a starting Big 12 quarterback facing a subpar defense. I don't expect much of a running game for him to lean on, and while CMU doesn't play good defense, they have experience, and it's the better half of their team. If Bender takes care of business, KU should take care of business.
The second thing I'll mention is limiting big plays. Central Michigan does not have an explosive offense, but Kansas has had a tendency to give up chunks of yardage in recent years. CMU has at least one running back capable of putting up a few yards. Kansas can't afford to give up big plays and still win against a team that appears to be fairly even with them.
Between what should be a talent advantage, and the game being played in Lawrence, I expect a Kansas win by a small margin. I don't see Central Michigan being able to keep the KU passing game down, and the Jayhawks' front seven should be able to limit CMU enough to get the win.