Week 1 was not kind to the next opponent for the Kansas Jayhawks, as the Central Michigan Chippewas struggled to put away a Rhode Island squad that is projected to be pretty bad. But that game can’t give a clear picture of what to expect when these two teams kick it off this weekend. Instead, I turned to Alan Rucker over at Hustle Belt, the SB Nation website that covers the Mid-American Conference. He was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.
RCT: Most Kansas fans think of Central Michigan most recently as the team that beat Oklahoma State last year on a controversially allowed final play. It looks like that wasn’t a spark to a great season, as the Chippewas finished 6-7. What kind of expectations were there for this team coming into the season?
HB: The expectations were high from those familiar with the program. .500 seasons and bowl games are nice, but that’s the new normal in Mount Pleasant. Throw in NIU struggling, WMU turnover, and all of a sudden it looked like CMU and Toledo were going to duke it out for MAC West dominance, and thus, the conference in general. Suffice to say those expectations look a little misguided after week 1.
RCT: CMU struggled mightily with what is projected to be a very bad Rhode Island team. What went wrong, and what did you learn about this team moving forward?
HB: Everything went wrong for the Chips. Too many turnovers, a sluggish start, poor assignment football, and a general lackadaisical approach almost spelled doom for the Chips against a middling FCS team. This was worst case scenario stuff and the fans and program best be glad that they were able to hang on in 3OT. Use it as a wake up call and move forward, nothing more. Extrapolating future results from this is fool’s gold.
RCT: What players should Kansas fans expect to hear about during the game Saturday?
HB: If you hear about Corey Willis, that’s bad news for the Jayhawks. The receiver didn’t have a standout game last week, but did go over 1000 yards last year and is capable of burning defenses that don’t gameplan specifically for him. Same goes for Shane Morris. The Michigan transfer at QB has the pedigree and skills to be sharp and dominant, but looked off in week one. If that was simply nerves that eradicate themselves in week 2, Kansas may be in for trouble.
RCT: What is the key matchup that you are looking to help decide this game?
HB: The CMU secondary versus the Kansas passing attack. For MAC squads to win on the road against P5 teams they have to win the turnover battle and capitalize when their hosts make mistakes. The most likely scenario for that is when Kansas puts the ball in the air. The secondary for the Chips isn’t Big Twelve good, but it is MAC good, and had a decent showing against Rhode Island, even though there isn’t anything worth taking away from that game in and of itself.
RCT: Prediction Time! How do you see the game ending up? Can the Chippewas come into Lawrence and get a win like their MAC brethren did last year?
HB: Can they? Sure. Will they? Given what I saw last week both in terms of Central’s performance and also Kansas’ improvement in their win, I have hard time making that prediction. I think it’s a close game and one that comes down to the fourth quarter and Central’s victory chances rely heavily on Shane Morris. If he turns in the performance we were expecting last week then it’s a coin flip. I’m not sold, though. Vegas has the number at 5 for Kansas, and I think that’s a good number. Barring weirdness like 9 turnovers as we saw in week 1, I’ll say Kansas 31 CMU 21.
RCT: Bonus - Pacman or MegaMan?
HB: Pacman obviously. Dude was so much of a pimp he got his lady her own video game and convinced her to chase after his enemies. That’s when you know you’re doing it right.
A huge thanks to Alan for helping us out. If you want to read up more on CMU (or maybe sneak a peek at next week’s opponent), head on over to Hustle Belt and take a look around.