Central Michigan was quietly one of the great stories of last season. Coach John Bonamego, hired in a pinch after former coach Dan Enos left abruptly to be offensive coordinator at Arkansas, was diagnosed with a cancerous spot on his tonsil during the summer. By November, he announced he was cancer-free. Along the way, Central Michigan went 6-2 in the MAC for the program’s third bowl trip in four years. With 14 returning starters, Central Michigan is aiming for more in 2016.
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Previewing Central Michigan’s Offense for 2016
Central Michigan has arguably the top quarterback in the Mid-American Conference in fourth-year starter Cooper Rush, who enjoyed a breakout 2015 campaign by throwing for 3,848 yards and 25 touchdowns. Once again, the Chippewas will go as far as the savvy and talented Rush will take them. He threw for at least 300 yards in eight of 13 games, including a 430-yard showing at Syracuse.
Rush will also enjoy a full complement of returning wide receivers, including Jesse Kroll (61 catches, 866 yards), who was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. Also back are veterans Anthony Rice (595 yards), Mark Chapman (559) and Corey Willis (564). Even if CMU struggles to find production at the tight end position, the depth at wide receiver should keep the passing game rolling.
The struggles for the Chippewas last year came in the run game, where they averaged a MAC-worst 101.3 yards per game. Starter Devon Spalding was lost for the season in Week 5 after impressive performances at Syracuse and Michigan State. It was not until the emergence of Romello Ross at the end of the season that CMU found some stability. Ross scored four TDs in a regular-season finale win over Eastern Michigan and rushed for 100 yards against Minnesota in the Quick Lane Bowl. Spalding, Ross and short-yardage back Jahray Hayes should be enough for Central Michigan to show significant improvement on the ground.
A couple question marks on the offensive line must be resolved before CMU can be called one of the MAC’s elite offenses.
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Previewing Central Michigan’s Defense for 2016
There is a lot to like about the Central Michigan defense, which was second in the MAC in yards allowed per game (332.2) and third in points allowed (22.0). Although the Chippewas graduated three key starters, back in the fold are the majority of the playmakers to keep them afloat as one of the conference’s better units.
Safety Tony Annese is a proven ball hawk who put himself on the map in 2013 when he returned interceptions for touchdowns his first two career starts as a redshirt freshman. He’ll be tasked with breaking in a new starter at safety alongside him, but back at cornerback are both starters in juniors Amari Coleman and Josh Cox. Coleman in particular is gaining a reputation as a shutdown cornerback, even getting the best of former Michigan State star wideout Aaron Burbridge in a matchup last year.
The defensive line will be boosted by the return of junior end Joe Ostman, who suffered an ankle injury early in 2015 and was eventually shut down. Central Michigan’s linebacking corps will be led by outside backer Malik Fountain (67 tackles, 4.5 TFLs), who could be poised for a breakout sophomore season.
Previewing Central Michigan’s Specialists for 2016
Last year’s punter Ron Coluzzi opted to transfer to Iowa, leaving a void to fill. CMU should have no problem with turning over the reins to Cooper Mojsiejenko, whose father punted for seven years in the NFL. Kicking duties will once again go to Brian Eavey (16-of-24 on field goal attempts). The returns are likely to once again go to Emmett Thomas after he gained the coaching staff’s trust as a true freshman..
The Chippewas surprised last year in coach John Bonamego’s first year at the helm. After being picked fifth in the MAC West preseason poll, CMU ended up sharing the division title. Expectations are riding high with so many starters returning on both sides of the ball. But standing in the way are other MAC West programs that have also been built to win in the immediate future. Central Michigan will not catch anyone sleeping in 2016.