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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

The Countdown

No. 82: Central Michigan

The Mount Pleasant Super 8. Hopefully Dan Enos decides to buy a house, not rent a room.

I’d never dare impugn Miami (Ohio) University’s reputation as the “Cradle of Coaches,” a designation earned by the school’s illustrious history as the breeding ground of some of the finest names in college football history: Paul Brown, Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler and Jim Tressel, among others. Yet it’s hard to ignore the success Central Michigan has had propelling some of its recent coaches onto the national stage. First it was Brian Kelly, who after three years in Mount Pleasant took his wares to Cincinnati; he’s now at Notre Dame. Next came Butch Jones, who, like Kelly, parlayed a fine run with the Chippewas into the head job with the Bearcats. In Dan Enos, the new C.M.U. coach, the program has found another young, energetic leader who will inevitably be tabbed for a B.C.S. conference position if he can come close to duplicating the success of his predecessors.

Conference
MAC, West

Location
Mount Pleasant, Mich.

Nickname
Chippewas

Returning starters
11 (6 offense, 5 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 51

2009 record
(12-2, 8-0)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 30

2010 schedule

  • Sept. 2
    Hampton
  • Sept. 11
    at Temple
  • Sept. 18
    at Eastern Michigan
  • Sept. 25
    at Northwestern
  • Oct. 2
    Ball St.
  • Oct. 9
    at Virginia Tech
  • Oct. 16
    Miami (Ohio)
  • Oct. 23
    at Northern Illinois
  • Oct. 30
    Bowling Green
  • Nov. 5
    Western Michigan
  • Nov. 13
    at Navy
  • Nov. 26
    at Toledo

Last year’s prediction

C.M.U. returns its key offensive skill players and the overwhelming majority of its defense, leading me to believe this team will at the very worst match its eight-win total of a season ago. Actually, I think Central Michigan will be a bit better than that. How good can C.M.U. be? Well, I don’t believe this team is a B.C.S.-buster, but it can easily reach 10 wins. The Chippewas are my pick as MAC champions.

2009 recap

In a nutshell The finest squad in school history, with all due respect to the Division II championship-winning team of 1972. The Chippewas faced little resistance from the rest of the MAC, winning eight of nine affairs by at least 10 points en route to a perfect conference record. Among the highlights: 478 points, second-most in school history; 265 points allowed, second-least since 1993; the best passing attack in the MAC (255.5 yards per game); the most opportunistic pass defense in the MAC; the play of senior Dan LeFevour, the finest quarterback in school history; and, when all was said and done, the first Top 25 finish in program history.

High point A 29-27 win over Michigan State on Sept. 12 was one for the record books: Central Michigan scored nine points in the final 32 seconds to steal a win in East Lansing. Have you forgotten that the Chips went for two and the win down by 27-26 with 30 second remaining, only to see the conversion fall flat? Oh, how those Spartans celebrated. Prematurely, obviously, as C.M.U. recovered the onsides kick and nailed a 42-yard field goal for the win with three seconds remaining. That win may have been the most emotional, but the season’s promise was fulfilled thanks to a 20-10 victory over Ohio in the MAC title game.

Low point Only two losses all season, both to B.C.S. conference opposition. The Chips put together two extended winning streaks after each loss (seven after Arizona, five after Boston College). The pessimist in me would like to point that I felt C.M.U. should have put forth a better effort against B.C.; the Eagles won by three touchdowns.

Tidbit While Central Michigan is still looking for its first win against the University of Michigan, the program has had success against Michigan State, as illustrated early last season. The Chips have met Michigan three times, losing each game (in 1931, 2003 and 2006) by at least 27 points. However, the Chips hold a 3-4 mark against the Spartans, winning the first two meetings between the schools in 1991 and 1992. Last fall’s victory cracked a four-game losing streak in the series.

Tidbit (running game edition) Central Michigan rushed for at least 126 yards in 10 of its 12 victories on the 2009 season. The Chippewas averaged only 85.5 rushing yards per game in their two losses on the year (to Arizona, 74 yards; and Boston College, 93 yards) and its two closest victories (Michigan State, season-low 66 yards; and Troy, 109 yards).

Tidbit (100-word preview edition) It’s that time again. Here’s how it works: I give you a quiz question; you become the first person to answer the question in the comment field below; you win the opportunity to pen a 100-word preview of your favorite team when it appears on the Countdown. Get it? Good. Here’s the question:

Last season’s title gave Central Michigan seven conference championships since joining the MAC in 1975, the most of any MAC team over that span. Can you name the other MAC programs to have won at least four conference titles since 1975? Can you name the MAC programs that have not won at least one title since 1975?

Teams already spoken for: Texas Tech (Freakville), Texas A&M (Dr. Norris Camacho), Virginia Tech (James), Wake Forest (jjtiller) and Washington (Dr. Klahn).

Former players in the N.F.L.

10 WR Bryan Anderson (New England), WR Antonio Brown (Pittsburgh Steelers), OL Eric Ghiaciuc (Cleveland), CB Josh Gordy (Jacksonville), OT Andrew Hartline (Miami), TE Troy Humphrey (New Orleans), DE Cullen Jenkins (Green Bay), QB Dan LeFevour (Chicago), OT Joe Staley (San Francisco), DE Frank Zombo (Green Bay).

Arbitrary top five list

Athletes from the Chippewa tribe
1. Chief Bender. Hall of Fame pitcher for the Philadelphia A’s.
2. Henry Boucha. Center for the Detroit Red Wings.
3. Chris Simon. Left winger for the Avalanche, among others.
4. Ted Nolan. Former player, then coach of the Sabres.
5. Arron Asham. Right winger for the Flyers.

Coaching

Dan Enos (Michigan State ’91), entering his first season. Of the dozen or so new hires in the F.B.S. heading into this season, few are as unfamiliar to the casual fan — those who don’t read Pre-Snap Read, for instance — as Enos. Let me help shed some light on the situation. Enos, 41, is a former Michigan State quarterback and assistant with deep ties to the state of Michigan. As the Michigan State quarterback from 1989-90, Enos led the Spartans to 16 wins and a share of the Big Ten championship as a senior. His two seasons under center also saw the Spartans land bowl wins in successive seasons, then a program first. His coaching career, not surprisingly, began at Michigan State. Enos served as a graduate assistant under George Perles, his college coach, from 1991-93 before taking a position at tiny Lakeland College in 1994. After two seasons at Lakeland – holding a number of positions – Enos moved to the F.C.S. level. From 1996-99, Enos was an assistant at Northern Michigan (1996), Southern Illinois (1997-98) and Southwest Missouri State; he was in charge of the quarterbacks at each stop, and added offensive coordinator duties at Northern Michigan and Southwest Missouri. Enos landed his first taste of major college football during three seasons at Western Michigan (2000-2), again as quarterbacks coach. The Broncos went 18-17 over this span, including a 9-3 mark in 2000; the nine-win total tied a school record. His big break came following the 2003 season – which Enos spent as the offensive coordinator at North Dakota State – when he was tabbed by then-new hire Mark Dantonio as the quarterbacks coach at Cincinnati. After two years with the Bearcats, Enos moved to his his alma mater; he beat Dantonio there by a year, as his former boss at Cincinnati became his boss at Michigan State prior to the 2007 season. Though he had been the quarterbacks coach in 2006, Enos coached the running backs from 2007-9. Dan Enos, in 350 words (or so). Did that help?

Players to watch

Ryan Radcliffe takes on the unenviable task of replacing Central Michigan great Dan LeFevour, who accounted for an N.C.A.A.-record 150 touchdowns over his superb four-year career. Here’s the bad news: Radcliffe will never duplicate his predecessor’s production. Now, the good news: the sophomore is better suited for this new offense than the spread system run by Jones, as Enos — looking to push the ball down field — will call upon Radcliffe’s strong arm in his vertical passing attack. While he attempted only 21 passes a season ago, Radcliffe is also the most experienced returning quarterback on the roster. The job is his, barring injury, but keep an eye on JUCO recruit Robert Fricke. Unlike Radcliffe, Fricke has spent time in a pro-style system.

I’m interested in seeing how successful this offensive line can be under Enos. As was the case at Michigan State, the new C.M.U. coach will place a firmer emphasis upon the ground game than did either Kelly or Jones; this line, which returns four starters, should be very excited about the change in philosophy. The sophomore Matt Kanitz will earn the first shot at right guard, where the Chippewas lost all-MAC performer Allen Ollenburger. Kanitz played efficiently during the first half of the spring before an ankle injury sent him to the sidelines; he’ll be fine come the fall, however, and should start the year in the starting lineup. Injuries also hampered returning strong side starters Jake Olson and Jeff Maddux, yet like Kanitz, both will be 100 percent come the fall. Junior Rocky Weaver has all-conference potential at right tackle. Central Michigan has entertained the thought of moving him to tight end, but Enos and his staff would be wise to keep him on the line.

The running back corps took an unexpected hit when returning starter Bryan Schroeder, last season’s leading rusher among the backs, left the team in February. However, while the Chippewas could certainly have used Schroeder in 2010, the team returns enough talent to expect little drop in production from its backfield. Senior Carl Volny (390 yards rushing) and junior Paris Cotton (220 yards) shared time with Schroeder last fall, combining to start eight games. Cotton seems to have put some distance between himself and the rest of the competition, but Volny, due to his steady play, will continue to see significant playing time in his final season. The big key, of course, will be accounting for both Schroeder and the 713 yards LeFevour rushed for a year ago. This group will get plenty of action in the new offense.

If you don’t know about Nick Bellore, you should. He’s not only the finest returning linebacker in the MAC, he may just be one of the most productive linebackers in the country. The three-year starter earned first-team all-conference honors last fall — for the second consecutive year — after leading Central Michigan in tackles (132) and tackles for loss (13). Bellore, who has cracked 100 tackles in each of his three seasons at C.M.U., added a career-best three sacks. He’s firmly in the conversation for MAC Defensive Player of the Year, obviously. He’ll be flanked by fellow senior Matt Berning, who made some noise of his own in 2009: 108 tackles (8.5 for loss), 3 sacks and 7 pass breakups, the latter total good for second on the team. Both sophomore Kyle Zelinsky and junior Armond Staten are battling for the second outside linebacker spot, with Staten bringing experience to the table, Zelinsky the better physical tools.

The loss of Kirkston Edwards and Josh Gordy, multiple-year contributors at cornerback, hurts the secondary. Central Michigan is crossing its fingers that junior Taylor Bradley, who missed last season due to academics, regains his 2008 form. If so, Bradley will step into the starting lineup; he was in the running for a starting role last spring before losing his eligibility. The Chippewas also return sophomores LaVarus Williams and D.J. Scott and senior Vince Agnew, with one of that trio likely starting alongside Bradley. As the lone returning starter in the defensive backfield, junior Dannie Bolden (51 tackles, 2 interceptions) will take on a greater leadership role. Eric Fraser’s departure opens up free safety to senior Bobby Seay — I swear, it seems like Seay has been in Mount Pleasant forever.

The interior of the C.M.U. defensive line is in good shape; I can’t say the same about the situation at end. Three leading seniors must be replaced at end, including Frank Zombo, and the Chippewas return only two players who served significant snaps in 2009: sophomore Caesar Rodriguez (14 tackles) and junior Kashawn Fraser (14 tackles, 1.5 sacks). Each are expected to earn meaningful action this fall, but depth is a concern. Perhaps sophomores Chris Reeves and Steve Winston, each of whom seem better suited to play tackle, not end, will add some production on the second team. Sean Murnane (49 tackles, 7.5 for loss, 3.5 sacks) and John Williams (29 tackles, 2.5 sacks) return at the two tackle spots, making the interior of the line no reason for concern.

Position battles to watch

Wide receiver Central Michigan must replace the two finest receivers in school history: Bryan Anderson concluded his career with 290 receptions, third in MAC history, while Antonio Brown’s 305 career grabs ranks second. Stepping into the void will be senior Kito Poblah, whose 53 catches and 681 yards receiving last fall ranked third on the team. Poblah has been biding his time, waiting behind the departed duo, but will have every chance at carrying this otherwise unproven receiver corps through the transition to a new passing philosophy. There is talent at the position, however. Sophomores Jerry Harris and Cody Wilson have the physical tools to produce immediately, though both need to show they’re ready to perform on the college level. The same should be said of redshirt freshman Malek Redd, a former running back making the move to receiver in 2010. Like Harris and Wilson, Redd lacks only experience; he has the athletic ability. Juniors Jeremy Wilson, Sean Skergan and Cedric Fraser round out the group. Little is known outside of Poblah, but this group has potential. Injuries were a bit of a concern during the spring, but there should be no lingering effects come September.

Game(s) to watch

C.M.U. must take one of three from Navy, Virginia Tech and Northwestern in order to reach six wins. That will be difficult, of course. We’ll get a good gauge of where this team stands when it travels to Temple on the second weekend of the year; the Owls should be the best team in the MAC this fall. C.M.U. gets both Northern Illinois and Toledo, my top two teams in the West Division, on the road.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell I like what I’ve seen thus far from Enos: he’s energetic, determined and a top-flight recruiter; as a coordinator, he’s had success both running a spread-heavy passing attack and a run-first system, the latter to solid results at Michigan State. He’s a good fit at Central Michigan. Having said that — and I do think he’ll do well in the long run — 2010 shapes up to be a rebuilding year for the Chippewas. There is simply too much to be worried about. Most distressing is the loss of significant pieces on offense — and that might be putting it lightly. Even if Butch Jones had remained, giving the program a sense of continuity, the Chippewas would struggle mightily replacing LeFevour, Anderson and Brown. Schroeder’s unexpected departure also stings, though C.M.U. will have a far easier replacing him than the previous trio. The defense is terrific at linebacker, but there exist question marks on the defensive line and, to a lesser degree, in the secondary. Those hoping for the Chippewas to drop off the map — the rest of the MAC, for instance — will be disappointed: this team remains a threat in the West division. Yet I don’t think we’ll see this team repeat as division champs, let alone return to bowl play: I’d be happy with five wins, four of which come in conference play.

Dream season New coach, new system, new players, no problem. The Chippewas repeat as MAC champs, though their 9-3 regular season mark falls one win short of last season’s total.

Nightmare season The rebuilding job is a tad uglier than expected: 3-9, 2-6 in the MAC.

In case you were wondering

Where do Central Michigan fans congregate? Not many options. The first choice is Chippewas Insider, which gives the best C.M.U. recruiting coverage with a healthy dose of chatter. Another option is Fire Up Chips, a blog that covers all Central Michigan sports. As always, send me — or list below — your favorite blogs, message boards and local beat reporters yearning to be included in this section.

The New York Times' Wayne Kamidoi, a C.M.U. alum, designed this celebratory poster.

Tidbit (design edition) The great Wayne Kamidoi, currently the lead designer of The New York Times Sports page, designed the above poster when working at the Detroit Free Press in the early 1990s. Wayne — a proud Central Michigan graduate, as well as a loyal supporter of Pre-Snap Read — sent me the poster with a brief back story:

This commemorative poster (circa 1992) is still available! Was sold nearly 2 decades ago at tailgate parties for 5 thin bucks. Popular to frame for Fire Up Chips! shrines in proud C.M.U. alums’ homes.

My friend Ken McDonald (former C.M.U. soccer goalkeeper and Free Press colleague) and I designed, published, marketed and sold this just weeks after the second straight upset over the mighty Spartans. George Perles could blame his eventual firing for these embarassing defeats. In the third matchup, the Chips actually had rallied to tie the game at 28 early in the fourth quarter, but lost 42-28. Not a bad run for relatively mediocre teams.

I guess if we ever beat the Wolverines, then I would consider re-entering the poster business.

How could a C.M.U. fan not have this hanging up somewhere in their home?

Tidbit (Twitter edition) I hate doing this, yet I do so once a week or so. Don’t forget you can follow Pre-Snap Read on Twitter. I’m at 340 followers right now; let’s try to get to 1,000 by August. I am world-renowned for the healthy interaction I have with all my followers: close, but not too close. Just right.

Up Next

Who is No. 81? Our next program has suffered four consecutive losing seasons, its longest such stretch since suffering six straight losing campaigns from 1979-84.

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Comments

  1. dan lefevour says:

    I will be impossible to replace.

  2. Colin says:

    Miami, Toledo, Bowling Green and Marshall (no longer a member) have each won at least four football championships since 1975.

    Ohio, Kent State and Temple (an associate member in football only since 2007) have not won any football championships since 1975.

    Paul: So, so close. But just a bit off.

  3. Rookierookie says:

    “C.M.U. must take one of three from Navy, Virginia Tech and Northwestern in order to reach six wins.”

    Why?

    Beat Hampton, Ball State, Miami(OH) and West Mich at home. Beat East Mich on the road. CMU has a better chance of winning one of the remaining MAC games than a non-conf road game.

  4. Jeff says:

    Paul, the main message board where most of us MAC fans ‘hang out’ is the MAC section on ncaabbs.com

  5. Shawn says:

    Four time champions of the MAC since 1975, beyond Central Michigan, are Miami of Ohio, Toledo, Bowling Green, Marshall, and Ball State.

    Ohio, Kent State, and Temple have not won a football championship since 1975.

    Paul: I feel bad for Colin. Just missed Ball State in his above group. I thought it would be Marshall that would throw everyone for a loop, but both you got the Thundering Herd. Shawn, list your team in a comment below.

  6. kevin says:

    Aaron Asham – winger for the flyers

    Paul: So he is. Updating it above. Thanks.

  7. Jeff says:

    *Arron

    Paul: You’re killing me.

  8. Shawn says:

    Then I’ll write-up Navy. Thanks for the opportunity!

  9. M Meyer says:

    I’m sure everyone in Pac-10 land is looking forward to tomorrow’s preview of the CU Buffaloes!

  10. melody Harris says:

    I really would like to know how to get the poster above. My Husband is a Chip Alumni and he is absolutely devastated after his Custom Framed Poster (like the one above) was water damaged. He even contacted a poster restoration company to see if it could be saved. The amount of money it would take is crazy to pay. If anyone knows of a way to get a copy of this poster I would greatly appreciate it. It is Oct 16th and I would like to get it for him as a Christmas gift. I know he would just die over it….my email is mlbest@ameritech.net….thanks so much!!!!

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