COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2012 PRESEASON TOP 25
MAC West PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Dan Enos, 13-24 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Cummings | DEF. COORDINATOR: Joe Tumpkin
It’s pretty clear who will be carrying and catching the football this season in Mount Pleasant. Who will deliver it, however, is a ways from being solved. Junior Cody Kater, sophomore Alex Niznak and redshirt freshman Cooper Rush — none of whom has any discernible FBS experience — are competing to replace three-year starter Ryan Radcliff. Heading into fall camp, if there’s a leader, fourth-year coach Dan Enos isn’t saying so. “It’s going to sort itself out,” Enos says.
It didn’t during the spring. Kater, who put up big numbers in the junior college ranks two years ago, was the presumed favorite before being outplayed by both Niznak and Rush in the Spring Game. Kater and Niznak are dual-threats, while Rush is considered the purest passer of the group.
There’s proven and prolific talent at the other skill positions, beginning with bruising senior running back Zurlon Tipton and big-play junior wideout Titus Davis, both second-team All-MAC selections a year ago. Tipton rushed for nearly 1,500 yards in 2012, at just shy of six yards per carry. Davis was one of only two receivers among the top 100 in the nation in receiving yards to average 20 yards per catch.
The Chippewas have to replace All-America left tackle Eric Fisher but caught a break when right tackle Jake Olson was granted a sixth year of eligibility. Olson, who was lost for the season with a leg injury in September, steps in for Fisher at left tackle, anchoring a line with two returning starters from a unit that allowed only 15 sacks last season.
CMU’s defense took a needed leap in stinginess toward the end of 2012. After allowing 41 points or more in five of the first nine games, the Chippewas held three of their final four opponents to 21 points or fewer during a four-game winning streak that altered how Enos’ program is perceived heading into this season.
Enos says this is the best defensive front of his tenure, led by junior tackle Leterrius Walton and senior end Alex Smith. Considering that the Chippewas ranked 119th in the country in tackles for a loss last season, even modest improvement may be noticeable.
CMU returns two starting linebackers — senior Shamari Benton and junior Justin Cherocci (258 tackles between them in 2012) — and three-quarters of its starting secondary.
Senior punter Richie Hogan averaged 41.8 yards per punt as a junior, fourth-best in the MAC. The uncertainty is at placekicker, where redshirt freshman Ron Coluzzi takes over for three-year starter David Harman. “We like him,” Enos says of Coluzzi. “He has a strong leg. (But) you’ve got to do it in the games.” The Chips need more production from their return game.
In early November, it looked like Enos might not see a fourth season as CMU’s coach. The Chippewas were 3–6, coming off of a home loss to rival Western Michigan, and appeared headed for their third losing season under Enos. Then, improbably, CMU won three straight and snuck into the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, where it upset Western Kentucky.
Suddenly Enos had a four-year contract extension. “It was a great thing for our program at the right time,” Enos says of the late-season run and bowl victory.
The vibe is now about taking the next step, rather than rebuilding. The schedule, though, isn’t kind. After a rare seven-home-game slate in 2012 (followed by an in-state bowl game), the Chippewas only have five home games this fall — with two of them coming against MAC West powers Northern Illinois and Toledo. A return to the postseason is unlikely.