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Central Michigan Football: 2018 Chippewas Preview and Prediction

Jonathan Ward, Central Michigan Football

Jonathan Ward, Central Michigan Football

Last year's Central Michigan offense received a boost when quarterback Shane Morris played his final year of eligibility for the Maroon and Gold after transferring from Michigan, but now CMU must turn to a new signal caller in sophomore Tony Poljan -- and a whole new group of receivers.

Previewing Central Michigan Football's Offense for 2018

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UConn Football/Athlon Sports 2018 College Football Preview

Poljan's size (6'7", 237) might not make him a running threat in Central Michigan's spread offense, but he has solid athleticism and a strong arm. Whether he has the accuracy and decision-making skills needed to man the spot as an untested sophomore will be the key to whether the Chippewas offense moves the chains consistently.

Central Michigan finally found a running back it could trust last year in Jonathan Ward, who not only is the leading returning rusher (1,019 yards) but also tops among returning pass catchers (48 for 470 yards). The Illinois native should be one of the league's most versatile offensive weapons as a junior.

The biggest question: Who will catch the other passes? Gone are the top three wideouts and top tight end from 2017. Look for underclassmen such as Brandon Childress, Bailey Edwards and Drayton Law to be among those who fill the void.

As for the offensive line, it goes into a fourth straight year as a question mark, but there were promising signs last season that perhaps a corner had been turned. Left guard Shakir Carr is the top player of the group and could be in line for all-conference honors.

Previewing Central Michigan Football's Defense for 2018

After ranking fourth in the MAC in total defense last year -- and No. 2 in conference games (349.4 ypg) -- the Chippewas could be in the upper third again if they can fill a few holes.

Junior Sean Bunting, who intercepted five passes in 2017, will inherit No. 1 cornerback responsibilities with the graduation of three-year starter Amari Coleman. Bunting has the potential to be an All-MAC performer, although the interceptions could drop if he is challenged fewer times. Another three-year starter, safety Josh Cox, also graduated, and the candidates to fill that position are untested. While CMU should have the athletes to get the job done at cornerback, there is a chance they take a step back at safety.

Linebacker is in good hands with the return of All-MAC performer Malik Fountain (89 tackles) and fellow senior Alex Briones (83). The defensive line lost a couple key contributors and is fairly thin in numbers but also has enough talent to be a strength of the defense. Expect junior Mike Danna to be a handful.

Previewing Central Michigan Football's Specialists for 2018

Jerrod Davis emerged late in the season as a big-time threat in the return game, taking his first-ever kickoff return 98 yards for a touchdown in CMU's win at Kent State. For the year, he averaged 26.7 yards on 18 returns. Seniors Jack Sheldon (43.4-yard average) and Michael Armstrong (7-of-11 field goals) give the Chippewas a pair of adequate kickers.

Final Analysis

A lot of what Central Michigan does this season will tie in with the development of Poljan and the inexperienced wide receiver group. Every other position group should be satisfactory to strong, so those could be the final pieces of the puzzle in taking another step forward. The Chippewas have a fairly difficult schedule with three Power 5 opponents in addition to the MAC slate, which is bookended by road games at Northern Illinois and Toledo. At least rival Western Michigan is a home game.

College Football Rankings: Central Michigan

NATIONAL RANKING: 105

MAC WEST PREDICTION: 4