Just when it seemed like CMU was taking a big step forward, the shock came.
By Pete Fiutak | @PeteFiutak
Dan Enos was able to get Central Michigan back on track again, but he wasn’t able to become the next Brian Kelly or Butch Jones on his way to becoming the Arkansas offensive coordinator. Now it’ll be interesting to see if John Bonamego can take the program back to the highest of high MAC levels, and then to see if he wants to make CMU a true home.
It’s part of the deal in the MAC for talented head coaches – have a little success and use the MAC school as a stepping-stone to a bigger gig. There’s an outside chance that Bonamego could break the mold – assuming he does a good job – making his name as an NFL special teams coach, but the Central Michigan alum appears to really and truly be fired up to be the main man for his school.
The former Chippewa quarterback and receiver has never been a head coach before, so he might be the exact right fit – he doesn’t have one eye on what the next big thing might be, because he first has to figure out how to run a team. He has to know what he’s doing at CMU first.
But there might not be too much of a grace period after Enos turned CMU into something solid again after two disastrous 3-9 seasons. The 2014 season will forever be remembered for the epic comeback in the Bahamas Bowl loss to WKU, but the team also overcame some personnel and in-season adversity to succeed with a second seven-win season in three years. Bonamego, though, is going to have to bring something more.
It might be tough, though, to fight the rebuilding job he’ll have to do while also trying to battle through what he terms a “very treatable” cancer. He’s going to coach through his tonsil cancer, but it’s obviously going to be more important than trying to figure out how to keep the attack rolling.
The dangerous offense loses a few stars, but has enough strong parts to continue to once again be among the best attacks in the MAC. The D that was so fantastic at times needs more work, but Bonamego doesn’t appear concerned about any of the potential problems, or his lack of experience.
The West is nasty, and it’s going to be a fight this year, but the energy should be there. Central Michigan will be an experiment, but it could be a successful long-term one if Bonamego turns into the head man he’s expected to become.
What You Need To Know About The Offense: Can the offense keep on rolling after coming up with a highly efficient passing game and a dangerous attack cranking out 34 points or more in three of the last four games and getting stronger as the season went on. However, WR Titus Davis was a special playmaker and RB Thomas Rawls was outstanding when he got his chances – they’re gone now. Saylor Lavallii, Martez Walker and Devon Spalding can handle the work in the backfield. Three starters return up front, and QB Cooper Rush should be a statistical machine.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: The bowl game shootout against WKU might not have looked like it, but the defense came up with a terrific season overall, especially against the run. LB Justin Cherocci was a heart-and-soul type who’ll be missed in the middle, and three starters are gone in the five-man secondary, but there’s hope up front with ends Joe Ostman and Blake Serpa returning to a strong-looking D line. Cherocci led the team in tackles, but the next three are back, while the return of Serpa is a big deal for the pass rush.
What to watch for on offense: The music will keep on going with the passing game. Morris Watts goes from dealing with the passing game and coaching the quarterbacks to taking the offensive coordinator job and looking to give CMU some consistency with the offense. Cooper Rush threw every passing yard for the Chippewas last season, and even with leading target Titus Davis gone, there shouldn’t be any slowing down with one of the MAC’s most efficient passing games.
What to watch for on defense: Former Illinois defensive line coach Greg Colby, and his job will be to generate pressure. CMU couldn’t get to the quarterback on a regular basis last year, generating just 20 sacks and never getting to Brandon Doughty in the bowl loss to WKU. The pass rush got far better as the second half of the season went on, but there needs to be more production with three starters up front including Blake Serpa and Joe Ostman on the outside.
The team will be far better if … the special teams are better. If only the program had a head coach who knew special teams … oh yeah. There might not be a better special teams head coach in college football than John Bonamego, and he has to turn things around for a woeful return game. The placekicking was great, with Brian Eavey hitting 8-of-9 tries, but that was about it. Titus Davis returned three punts for 67 yards in the opener, and the rest of the way the Chippewas returns 15 punts for a grand total of six yards. The kickoff return game wasn’t much better, averaging 19.6 yards per try and the awful punting game averaged just 36.42 yards per try.
The schedule: Welcome to the new era, John Bonamego. There’s a nice scrimmage against Monmouth, but how’s this for a start? Oklahoma State, at Syracuse, Monmouth, at Syracuse, at Michigan State, Northern Illinois, at Western Michigan.
– CMU might be one of the four best teams in the MAC and start out 1-5.
– So the back half is a breeze, right? The Toledo game is at home after a week off, but the other five games are against teams that didn’t go bowling.
– Oklahoma State is making the trip to Mount Pleasant to start the season.
– WATCH OUT FOR … the trip to Ball State. Barring a few early upsets, to have any real hope of going bowling the Chippewas have to rock the second half of the season. They can’t afford a loss in Muncie.
Best offensive player: Senior C Nick Beamish. The MAC’s best center and the anchor of a good-looking line – even after it loses two starters – is a fantastic part of the puzzle to make the attack go. QB Cooper Rush is going to be fantastic again, and there are a few running backs who can carry the attack, but Beamish is the quarterback up front who helps make the thing go.
Best defensive player: Junior DE Joe Ostman. The team’s third-leading tackler and decent pass rusher can do a little of everything right despite being an undersized 6-3 and 250. He’s quick off the ball, active, and he’s always working to get into the backfield. With Blake Serpa on the other side and a good tackle in Jabari Dean in the interior, the line should be great with Ostman the star of the show.
Key player to a successful season: Junior DT Jabari Dean. With Leterrius Walton gone off the nose, the interior misses a key part and needs Dean to be more of a force against the run. The Chippewas have 300-pounders to fill in the gaps and create a nice rotation, but for a run defense that ended being a rock last year, and with the main linebackers needing to be replaced, Dean should be a good interior pass rusher and needs to build off his 30-tackle season.
The season will be a success if … CMU gets to eight wins. A winning season is a must, a bowl game should be on the radar, and being in the mix for the West isn’t a crazy thought. The program hit a seven-win wall over the last few seasons, but even with the new coaching staff the talent is there to break through and do a bit more. Monmouth, Buffalo, at Ball State, at Akron, at Kent State and Eastern Michigan all have to be wins – or at least go 5-1 during those teams. It’ll take an upset to win at Syracuse, and forget about Oklahoma State and at Michigan State, but the Chips should be good enough to go at least 1-2 against Northern Illinois, Toledo, and at Western Michigan.
Key game: Oct. 3 vs. Northern Illinois. It’s the MAC opener against the defending conference champion and the West’s superstar – it would be a perfect time to come up with a defining win to potentially set the tone for the season. On the flip side, with a nasty road game at Western Michigan to follow, an 0-2 conference start would be likely with a loss. CMU beat NIU in DeKalb last year.
2014 Fun Stats:
– First Quarter Scoring: Central Michigan 108 – Opponents 57
– Time of Possession: Central Michigan 33:25 – Opponents 26:35
– Punt Return Average: Opponents 13.2 yards – Central Michigan 4.2 yards
Players You Need To Know
1. C Nick Beamish, Sr.
The MAC’s best center last year, the 6-3, 310-pound veteran was the leader of a strong line that turned into a force as the year went on. A veteran who knows what he’s doing, he’s been a starter for the last three years and now should rise up and grow into more of a pro prospect with the right size, smarts, and experience. A pounder of a run blocker, he blasts open holes, but he won’t have guard Andy Phillips next to him anymore to help the cause.
2. DE Joe Ostman, Jr.
One of the leaders of the defense last year now becomes the main man up front after coming up with 60 tackles, three sacks and ten tackles for loss. The 6-3, 250-pound end is built more like a linebacker, and he has the quickness off the ball to get into the backfield, but he can also hold up against the run. Tough for his size, he handles himself well when getting beaten on, and he can be a disruptive force making two sacks and three tackles for loss against Purdue. A Third Team All-MAC performer, now he should be one of the league’s biggest defensive stars.
3. QB Cooper Rush, Jr.
Forever known for leading the ill-fated comeback against WKU in the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl, he had a good year before throwing for 493 yards and seven scores in the season-finale, too. He threw for 200 yards or more in each of his last nine games, completing 64% of his passes for 3,157 yards and 27 touchdowns on the year with 13 picks. Not a runner, the 6-3, 220-pounder has a good arm, excellent accuracy, and the pure passing skills to stretch the field. However, he has to keep the interceptions in check.
4. RB Devon Spalding, Soph.
The 5-11, 200-pound sophomore has the skills to become the star of the ground game, and he might be right away with the quickness and moves to crank out yards in chunks. Used a bit as a kick returner, he struggled to break free, but he finished second on the team in rushing with 371 yards and four scores averaging over five yards per pop. Eased into the season, he ripped up Eastern Michigan with 154 yards and two scores on just 18 carries, and followed it up with 22 carries for 147 yards and two scores against Miami University. Now he needs his chances.
5. RB Saylor Lavallii, Sr.
Thomas Rawls became the star of the running game, but it was the 5-9, 213-pound Lavallii who was the main man in 2013 with a team-leading 807 yards and five scores. However, his workload diminished over the second half of the season two years ago, and he was an afterthought at times when Rawls was doing his thing last year. However, when he got his chances, he produced with 21 carries for 80 yards and two scores in the win over Buffalo, and 24 carries for 105 yards and two touchdowns in the victory over Eastern Michigan. He’ll be a part of a rotation at times again, but he’ll also be a workhorse at times – the offense could work around him.
6. DE Blake Serpa, Sr.
The 6-3, 255-pound end had a good start to his career, but he needed to turn into more of a pass rusher. He didn’t dominate, but he came up with four sacks with 12.5 tackles for loss along with 44 tackles and a pick. Fast off the ball, he has the talent and the ability to do even more and being in the backfield on a regular basis. With Joe Ostman on the other side, Serpa should turn in a big final year.
7. S Tony Annese, Jr.
The team’s leading returning tackler came up with 74 stops on the year with ten broken up passes and three picks as the sheriff of the safeties. At 6-1 and 205 pounds he has decent size and good hitting ability with a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Steady, he came up with five tackles or more nine times, but two of his interceptions came in the opener against Chattanooga, picking off just one throw the rest of the way.
8. S Kavon Frazier, Sr.
Used mostly as a nickel defender and a deep safety throughout his career, the 6-0, 213-pound veteran combined with Jarrett Chapman last year finishing with 58 tackles with four broken up passes. A big hitter with great range, he’s great against the run, working like an extra linebacker at times, and holding up well. Now he has to do more against the pass again after not picking off a pass last year, but coming up with three interceptions in 2013.
9. WR Jesse Kroll, Sr.
The running mate to Titus Davis and the second-leading receiver, Kroll came up with 36 catches for 109 yards and for scores, saving his lone 100-yard day for the bowl loss with 109 yards on four grabs. At 6-3 and 214 pounds he has excellent size and can outmuscle defenders for the ball, and he can go up and get it. Smart, he’s a solid route runner who should be the top target.
10. LB Jeff Perry, Soph.
The team needs playmakers on defense, especially at linebacker, and it should start with Perry as the main man on the inside. Very smart with academic all-star honors, he should be able to pick up the starting gig right away in the middle. With 6-2, 232-pound size, he’s built to be a hitter.
|Sept. 3||Oklahoma State|
|Sept. 19||at Syracuse|
|Sept. 26||at Michigan State|
|Oct. 3||Northern Illinois|
|Oct. 10||at Western Michigan|
|Oct. 24||at Ball State|
|Oct. 31||at Akron|
|Nov. 7||OPEN DATE|
|Nov. 17||at Kent State|
|Nov. 27||Eastern Michigan|
|Ten Best CMU Players|
|1. C Nick Beamish, Sr.|
|2. DE Joe Ostman, Jr.|
|3. QB Cooper Rush, Jr.|
|4. RB Devon Spalding, Soph.|
|5. RB Saylor Lavallii, Sr.|
|6. DE Blake Serpa, Sr.|
|7. S Tony Annese, Jr.|
|8. S Kavon Frazier, Sr.|
|9. WR Jesse Kroll, Sr.|
|10. LB Jeff Perry, Soph.|