The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 107 Central Michigan.
Previewing Central Michigan’s Offense for 2014
Injuries caused the Central Michigan offense to be slowed considerably in 2013. It was a storyline that helped turn what looked like one of the top offenses in the MAC into a middle-of-the-road attack that had some big games but also some very disappointing outings.
While senior quarterback Cody Kater is healthy again after being out almost all of last year with a broken collarbone suffered in the opener at Michigan, he might not be able reclaim his starting job. Cooper Rush took the reins in Kater’s absence and had some impressive moments as a redshirt freshman. He came off the bench in Week 2 against New Hampshire to throw for 326 yards and three touchdowns, leading the way to a 24–21 comeback victory. Rush also struggled at times with reads; too often he threw interceptions into the hands of sitting linebackers.
What will help Rush is the return of senior wide receiver Titus Davis, who toyed with the idea of entering the NFL Draft before opting to return. Arguably the best big-play threat in the conference and a first-team All-MAC selection as a junior, Davis caught 61 passes for 1,109 yards and eight touchdowns in 2014. He ranks first among active FBS players in yards per catch (18.9).
Central Michigan returns an experienced offensive line led by senior left guard Andy Phillips, a second-team All-MAC selection as a junior.
Previewing Central Michigan’s Defense for 2014
This will be the third full year that the Chippewas will employ a 4-2-5 scheme under defensive coordinator Joe Tumpkin, and it has produced mixed results thus far. Central Michigan tied for seventh in the MAC in scoring defense (28.6 ppg) in 2013, but the Chips ranked fourth in the league in total defense (405.2 ypg).
Leading the charge defensively will be senior linebacker Justin Cherocci, who notched 121 tackles a year ago and is entering his third year as a starter. A third-team All-MAC selection in 2013, Cherocci shifts over to the strong side linebacker spot to replace the graduated Shamari Benton. Senior Cody Lopez and junior Tim Hamilton will battle for the other starting linebacker spot.
Expect a better frontline for CMU, with sophomore defensive tackle Jabari Dean back in the fold after missing last year with a groin injury. He was impressive as a freshman in 2012 and played well during spring practice. Senior defensive tackle Leterrius Walton has dropped down from 323 pounds to 297 and could make a huge difference inside.
Sophomore safety Tony Annese made some noise last season as he stepped into the starting lineup late and had 34-yard interception returns for touchdowns in back-to-back games against Western Michigan and Massachusetts.
Previewing Central Michigan’s Specialists for 2014
Ron Coluzzi converted 12-of-17 field goals as a freshman and will once again handle the placekicking. Punting duties will likely fall to true freshman Cooper Mojsiejenko, the son of former NFL punter Ralf Mojsiejenko.
Central Michigan was bowl-eligible in 2013 with a 6–6 record but did not receive a postseason invite. There is considerable pressure on Dan Enos and his staff to get the Chips back among the elite in the MAC West. Enos inherited a program that went 32–7 in the MAC from 2005-09, but is 13–19 in league play in four seasons.
There are reasons for optimism: The Chips return 16 starters from a team that went 5–3 in the league. But there are also reasons for concern: Four of the five victories came against teams that either went 1–7 or 0–8 in the MAC.
Bottom line: This team is competitive but still not ready to contend in the West.