Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Maize n Brew 2006 Season Preview, Part II of XIII

It's time for the second installment of Maize n Brew's 2006 Season Preview. As usual I spent far too much time on this. My pain, your gain. I've already broken down Michigan's first opponent, Vanderbilt, so now its on to the Central Michigan Chippewas

An Error Prone & Excessively Verbose Overview of:
The Central Michigan Chippewas

The Game
University of Michigan v. Central Michigan University
Location: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI
Date: September 9, 2006
Game Time: Noon, EST
Game #: 2
TV: ESPN Plus
Radio: WOMC-FM and CKLW-AM

The Opposition
University: Central Michigan University
Location: Mount Pleasant, Michigan
Team Name: Chippewas
Facility: Kelly/Shorts Stadium (Cap. 30,199)
Conference: MAC (Joined the MAC in 1972)
Number of National Championships: 1 (Division II National Champions 1974)
Number of MAC Championships: 4 (1979, 1980, 1990, 1994)
Last League Championship: 1994
First Season of Football: 1896 (3-1)
Last Season: 2005 (6-5)
Head Coach: Brian Kelly
Versus Michigan All-Time: 0-2
Last Meeting Versus Michigan: 1969 in Ann Arbor. Michigan won 42-14.

A Brief History of Central Michigan University:

Founded in 1892 as the Central Michigan Normal School, Central Michigan was originally intended to be a teachers college. Its name was changed to the Central State Teacher's College, to Central Michigan Collge of Education, to Central Michigan College, and finally settled on Central Michigan University in 1959. Today CMU has almost 28,000 students and over $320 Million in revenues.

Football History:

Central Michigan began playing football before the turn of the 20th century. Since then CMU has played 105 seasons, not fielding teams in 1901, 1906, 1913, 1914, and 1915. An overall 532-338-36 record over those seasons. In the two decades before their move to Division I, CMU owned the D-II Interstate Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, winning 9 conference championships in the 50's thru the 60's. The Chippewas crowned their D-II record by winning the Division II National Championship in 1974. The following year, CMU moved to Division I.

The last ten years have been tough on the Chippewas, posting only two winning seasons since 1995. Prior to last year CMU's last winning season was in 1998. CMU's Divison 1-A Hey-day was from the late 1970's and the early 1990's. CMU won back to back MAC Championships in '79 and '80 with 10-0-1 and 9-2 records. In 90 CMU shared the conference crown and took it outright in 1994.

Central Michigan is on the schedule because of the former head coach's Michigan ties. CMU was the proving ground for current Michigan Offensive Coordinator Mike DeBord. Well, more of an un-proving ground. Debord managed to run CMU into the ground during his four year tenure, racking up an unimpressive 12-36 record. From 2000 through 2003, CMU had 2, 3, 4, and 3 wins respectively. Lloyd rescued his old buddy (and architech of our 1997 championship offense) and put him in charge of special teams. DeBord is now back at the helm of the Michigan offense. I'll leave it to Brian and Joey to comment on this.

Last Season: 2005 (6-5)

2005 was the first winning season for CMU since 1998. It also marked the first winning season in Division I for head coach Brian Kelly. While the Chippewas didn't make it to a bowl game there were plenty of positives to come away with. Despite dropping non-conference games to Indiana and Penn State the Chippewas played tough. Starting the MAC season off with a victory over Miami, CMU's overtime loss to Eastern Michigan had them at 1-3.

The Chippewas proceeded to go on a tear through the first half of their MAC schedule. Reeling off convincing victories over Akron, Army (non-conf), Ohio, and Toledo, CMU stood at 5-3 with an excellent shot at a bowl. Two losses to NIU and Western Michigan dropped the Chippewas to 5-5, but CMU came back on the road and beat Ball State 31-24 in overtime.

What Went Right:

A winning season for starters. In addition the Chippewas seemed to find their footing offensively. For the first time ever CMU finished in the MAC's top four in both rushing offense and passing offense. Led under center by now graduated Kent Smith the Chippewa offense averaged 158 on the ground and 260 in the air. DE Daniel Bazuin finished second in the nation in sacks with 16, and true freshman Ontario Sneed stepped into the starting RB slot (after the prior starters were dismissed from the school) and gained 1,500 all purpose yards.

CMU posted a mid season four game winning streak in which their defense held opposing offenses to 10 points and 17 points twice. CMU also topped eventual MAC Champion Akron and bested Toledo (9-3). With the exception of a blowout loss to Penn State, CMU was in every game they played last year. Three of CMU's losses were by a touchdown or less.

Finally, Myles Brand completely missed these guys. Despite the fact that the NCAA was waging war on Chief Illiniwek, the Fighting Souix, and any and all other Indian/Native American/Indigenous Peoples mascots, somehow the Chippewas managed to sneak under his radar. Brand probably thought they were Disney characters.


What Went Wrong:

The secondary for the Chippewas was young and big play prone in 2005. In dropping two straight to Northern Illinois and Western Michigan the defensive backfield gave up huge play after huge play. In fact, against Western Michigan they gave up touchdowns on three consecutive passes. Against NIU they gave up a 79 yard TD pass on NIU's first possession of the second half.

While the Chippewas begin and finish well, the middle chunk of the game is not their strong suit. CMU was prone to let downs in the second quarter giving up 17, 21, 19 and 14 points during the second stanza of games they lost.

The Chippewas lost several close games against division foes. They lost to an Indiana team they probably should've beaten. As a young team, too many critical mistakes at critical times.

What to Look for in 2006:

A bowl and possibly a MAC Championship. This team is loaded with talent in the trenches. The QB spot will be a huge question for CMU this year, however the spot that can hurt the Chippewas the most is their secondary. The secondary was young and dumb last year. Dramatic improvements won't be necessary, but preventing the big play will. If CMU can do that, they should be a major player in the MAC Championship race.

The biggest of Big Games in CMU history will occur on August 31st when Boston College comes calling at Kelly/Shorts Stadium. This will be CMU's first time hosting an ACC team. Finally, keep an eye on Daniel Bazuin. He's been named to the watch list for every "Great-Player-In-College- So-They-Named-An-Award-After-Me" throphy on the defensive side. Athlon and Lindy's have him as a pre-season All-American. (Incidently, why is there no Brian Bosworth Award? Seriously, 'roids or not, he was unreal at OU. Did I just answer my own question?)

Seriously. We Need an Award Named After This Guy.
How Much Fun Would It Be To Hand Out "The Bos" Award!?

Returning Starters on Offense: 7
Returning Starters on Defense: 7


Coaching:

Brian Kelly is entering his third year at CMU. Prior to taking over the job at CMU he was busy dominating the Division II ranks. Kelly coached for 13 years at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan. During that time he never had a losing record at GVSU. Finishing as the National Title runner up in 2001, Kelly guided the Lakers to two straght National Titles in 2002 and 2003. Following the 2003 victory, Kelly took the head coaching job at CMU. Kelly is a proven winner at the DII level and seems to be transitioning well into DI. Put simply, he'll be around Mt. Pleasant for as long as he wants.

Random University of Michigan Connection: Mike Elston, LB coach, was a Michigan grad who started 12 games for Michigan in 1996. He was a member of the 1997 Michigan National Championship team.

Offense:

Strong O-line. Good, young running back. A wideout or two with speed, and a big fat question mark at QB.

QB:

The biggest cog in the Chippewas offense departed at the end of last season. Today CMU has one QB on its roster who has actually seen game time. The QB in question is redshirt sophmore Brian Brunner. Brunner threw only three passes last year, but completed all three. Brunner will compete against redshirt freshman Sean Price. Both were two star QB's according to Scout, and their high school careers are unremarkable. While there are other players in the mix, the battle will be between those two.

The CMU offense incorporated a lot of QB runs into its offense last year, and is unlikely to heavily change that this year. However, looking at the two potential starters, neither QB looks to be a "make-you-miss" kind of kid. They'll run, but I'd be surprised if they matched even half of Kent Smith's 2005 rushing total. Most likely either one will be serviceable as a first year starter, but expect loads of mistakes from either one early. With a solid offensive line, a good running back, and a decent set of receivers Brunner or Price should have enough time and comfort to grow into their position by the mid-point of the season. If that's the case, the Chippewas should compete for the MAC championship. Without a quick maturation process at the QB position, CMU could easily reverse its 6-5 record from last year.

RB:

Helping to keep these young QB's out of trouble will be 1,000 yard rusher Ontario Sneed. Sneed hit 1,065 on the ground last year and added 433 yards receiving on 51 catches. Sneed's freshman campaign was enough to earn him a spot on the Sporting News Freshman All-American list. Just because he's in the MAC, don't sleep on this guy. Sneed's got speed. He proved it on a 80 yard TD run against Indiana. Sneed had four 100 yard rushing games in 2005 and looks ready to do more damage this season behind a veteran offensive line. With the offense breaking in a new signal caller, look for Sneed to get the ball early and often as his new QB settles in.

Sneed's backup Anthony Boykins didn't see a lot of action last year, rushing for only 65 yards. Sneed and former QB Kent Smith carried the load all year with Smith adding 684 rushing yards to his all-purpose total. This year Boykins will have to be used more with Smith gone and Sneed likely using up the majority of his early career luck last year (it happened to Hart [UM] and Peterson [OU]). Regardless, Sneed will be spelled by Boykins. However, if Sneed goes down, the CMU offense is in trouble. There is a big drop off between Sneed and Boykins. There's an even bigger one between Boykins and the rest of the backups.

WR/TE:

CMU's top returning receiving threat is Damien Linson. Second on the team in receptions last year, he led the team in receiving yards (832) and tied for the lead in receiving touchdowns (4). Linson cracked 200 yards against Miami. Starting opposite Linson will be French Canadian redshirt junior Obed Cétoute. Along with having the coolest name on the team (and being Canadian), Obed is probably the most gifted athlete on the team. Unfortunately his production hasn't showed it. In 2005 Cétoute managed only 2 TDs and 27 receptions. A lot more will be expected out of him this year, and the consensus is his production with rise to meet his talent. The giant "IF" is whether or not the CMU QBs can actually get the ball near him.

CMU lost its field stretcher, the diminuitive Jemmy Jasmin, to injury early last year. At 5' 8", Jasmin crazy fast with 4.43. He's not going to be a high traffic pass catcher, but he is capable of keeping the safties back with his speed. Expect to see a couple of bombs thrown his way in an attempt to legitimize the the deep threat and keep opposing D's from stacking the lines. At the TE position, CMU is not particularly deep. Sophomore Andre Moore is penciled in as the starter. He's a QB turned TE, but has good speed and good hands. He could see quite a few short passes over the middle and prove to be a prime outlet target for Brunner.

OL:

Regardless of the motor, a ship ain't going anywhere without a sturdy hull. If I'm making a nautical comparison between football and oceangoing, the best way to describe it is ice breaking. The CMU offensive line would be considered a top-of-the-line hull in any ocean.

Anchored (harhar) by LT Joe Staley, the Chippewa's offensive line will be the determining factor in CMU's offensive sucess this year. Staley is a three year starter who didn't allow a sack last year. As a result he's garnering all kinds of interest from NFL scouts. Opposite Staley will be redshirt sophomore Andrew Hartline. Hartline is a tad undersized at 285, but that didn't stop him from starting all 11 games and earning Freshman All-America honors from The Sporting News. As he fills out he could become CMU's next OL anchor.

Centering the line will be Drew Mormino. Mormino started all 11 games in 2003 and 2005. He would've started all eleven in 2004, but injuries kept him out. While he doesn't appear to be a pro prospect, he's a solid contributor and an All-MAC candidate. The guard spots will manned by Redshirt Sophmore Adam Benke and redshirt Junior Eric Tunney. Benke appeared in two games last year as a reserve, and Tunney started all 11 games last year. Benke appears to be the weakest link in a strong line chain. This unit should pave the way for Sneed's second 1,000 yard season and keep their new QB upright long. However, this group is not particularly deep. After the starters there are a pile of sophomores and freshmen at the tackle and guard positions. Backup center Mike Decker is the oldest reserve as a Junior.

Defense:

Great D-Line. Probably the best linebackers in the MAC. The secondary is the Bowl eligiblity question.

DL:

Daniel Bazuin. Say his name often. Last year he absolutely terrorized MAC quarterbacks and tackles. Bazuin led the nation in tackles for loss (26.5) and was tied second in sacks (16) nationally. His line against Indiana is enough to keep quarterbacks up at night:
10 tackles (9 solo), 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles. So was his season finale versus Ball State:
11 tackles (5.5 tfl), 3.5 sacks. Rumor is he swallows offensive linemen whole. Then he goes into the stands and steals lollipops from children, before eating them.

His appetite earned him MAC Defensive Player of The Year honors, Honorable Mention All-American, and named to five different pre-season defensive awards watch lists. He will play on Sundays in 2007, for lots and lots of money. As an added bonus, his high school is named Ranier Wolfecastle's starring role.

Alright Mendoza, You've got the Maxwell Circuit.
Now give me my daughter.


The rest of the line is just trying to keep up. Human mountain Ronnie Ekdahl will clog up the middle at NG, but not provide much more. However, he is a sophomore, so if he develops, watch out. Junior DT Steven Friend is a pass rusher who developed recently into a solid run stopper as well. Opposite Bazuin will be junior De'Onte Burnam. Burnam only posted 29 tackles last year, but he did register 2.5 sacks as a sophomore and spent a lot of time in the opposing backfields. He'll benefit greatly from the double teams on Bazuin.

Making things easier on the starters will be several excellent (for the MAC) backups that have either seen playing time or are large and highly touted (redshirt Freshman DE Larry Knight, for example). One thing that is certain, this line will put pressure on opposing QBs. Whether they'll put enough pressure on their out-of-conference foes is another question, but they should wreck havoc on MAC OLs.

LBs:

Another defensive strength for the Chippewas. All three of last year's starters return. The group is led by junior Thomas Keith who, as a sophomore, led the team in tackles (104), interceptions (4), and was fourth on the team in tackles for loss (5.5). Not a bad way to follow up a 95 tackle year as a freshman. Keith displayed the ability not only to get into the backfield, but also the ability to effectively drop into coverage. At 5'10" he's a little undersized, but Keith hits hard and manages the defense.

On either side of him you'll find seniors Doug Kress and Isaac Brown, former safeties who made the transition to LB. Kress and Brown can both fly. Brown is light at 204 lbs and is somewhat limited to run defense. And that's not a bad thing. Brown posted 11.5 tfl and 3 sacks. Kress however is capable all over the field and at 6'1" 240, delivers a pounding when he reaches his target. Despite playing only 9 games at LB, he still tied for third on the team in tackles. There is depth at LB too. All three prime backups had playing time last year, with Leython Williams starting two games before Kress took over.

With speed and athleticism, this group will rack up the tackles and put plenty of pressure on opposing offenses. If they're vulnerable anywhere its against tall, agile TEs. Like the ones Michigan uses.

S/CBs:

Basically the reason CMU didn't go to a Bowl last year. As stated above, this unit was torched in their 3 of their five losses. Against Western Michigan the secondary allow three straight TD passes on three consecutive snaps and 460 yards in the air. That's bad. Against NIU they gave up 382 in the air, 3 airborne TD's and a 79 yard TD to open the third quarter.

The news this year is good and bad. The good, most of the culprits for that horrible unit are gone. The bad, they've gotta be replaced. Senior Pacino Horne is the lone returning starter to the secondary. Last year he led all CBs and Safety's with 66 tackles, a sack and an INT. However, he's making the transition from safety (where he played last year) to CB. However, Horne's got the wheels to make the transition. Opposite him will be former walk-on senior Terrance Robinson. Robinson has one tackle on his record and at 5'6" may start the season at CB but will not finish it. expect to see redshirt freshman Josh Goody quite a bit early, and eventually in the starting spot. Most of CMU's recruiting class was DBs, and it is almost a guarantee that most of them will see some playing time.

The safety slots look to be in better hands. Junior Curtis Cutts was second on the team in pass break-ups without starting a single game. He'll start the year at Free Safety. Finally, speedy redshirt frosh Aaron Carr will take over the strong safety position.

Went for 187 and 3 TDs against CMU in 2005

While the secondary loses guys that couldn't stop couldn't stop a three-year-old on a Big-Wheel, the replacements are the guys that couldn't unseat them. There is better over-all speed this year, but the lack of depth, the lack of talent, and the lack of experience will most likely doom this unit. If the DL and LBs can get into the backfield, it will take some of the pressure off of the secondary. Even so, against a decent OL, these guys will be on islands all by themselves. And their past performance indicates they're in trouble.

ST/K:

Another of CMU's Achilles Heels will be the kicking game. Sophomore Rick Albreski handled the field goal and PAT duties last year with middling success. He has no leg past 40 yards and ended the year missing 4 of his last 6 kicks. However, an extra year usually helps kickers get their heads in gear so look for better consistency out of Albreski (10-19 last year), but don't expect him to turn into Kevin Butler. The punting game will be controlled by Tony Mikulec. No leg either. Average under 40 ypk. The return duties will be handled by WR Damien Linson. Linson averaged 9.2 yards per return and broke off a 78 yard punt return against Ohio.

Best Case:

The only game they lose is to Michigan and CMU goes 11-1. The corners turn out to be far better than advertised and Brunner turns out to be a legit college QB. If the answers to CMU's critical questions at QB and DB come up "yes", this team has enough talent to run the MAC table. This will of course require BC to take a gigantic, ACC-expulsion-worthy dump on August 31st. But stranger things have happened when middle-rung, major conference teams visit amped-up minor conference teams (cough* MICHIGAN STATE * cough). They won't win games by blowout, but the lines are solid and that's enough to compete in any league.

Worst Case:

The defensive backfield is as bad as I think it is and neither Brunner or Price manage to take the reigns resulting in a QB carosel. The Chippewas drop their entire out of conference schedule, and fall to NIU, Toledo, Akron and rival Western Michigan. NIU, Western and Akron all have veteran quarterbacks and Toledo is stocked at the skilled offensive positions. The Chippewas could end up 5-7.

Most Likely:

CMU drops its games to Boston College and Michigan, but takes care of Temple and Kentucky. They also drop games to NIU and Akron. They've got a great chance of going 0-3 at the start of the season, and my guess is they will. The hangover from the BC and UM games will be substanital. After that the schedule opens up for them with their only remaining tough MAC contests with Bowling Green and NIU. I'm betting they put together a 7 game win streak before dropping a game to Northern Illinois. They'll miss the MAC championship and close out the season with a win over Buffalo, finishing 8-4.

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