By: chalifour.eric | 5/5/12, 4:03 PM EDT
Order Your CFB
You can read the entire Central Michigan preview in Athlon Sports' 2012 National magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
#110 Central Michigan
MAC West PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Dan Enos, 6-18 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Cummings | DEF. COORDINATOR: Joe Tumpkin
Quarterback Ryan Radcliff’s numbers last season were better than his reputation. Actually it’s his low number in one statistical category that gives third-year coach Dan Enos hope for his senior quarterback in 2012 — six interceptions in eight conference games. Radcliff’s career has been hampered by his INTs — 17 two years ago and 10 in four non-league games last season. The picks overshadow his significant number of passing yards (3,286 in 2011) and touchdowns (25), mostly because they’ve helped lead to consecutive 3–9 seasons since Radcliff took over for the beloved Dan LeFevour.
To be fair, CMU switched from a spread to pro-style offense just as Radcliff took the reins, and there haven’t been a ton of playmakers around him over the last two seasons (not healthy ones, at least). There appear to be now, with young wideouts Titus Davis (40 catches, 751 yards and eight TDs as a freshman) and Courtney Williams emerging alongside senior Cody Wilson.
Just as significant, the Chippewas’ ground game might have a chance this season. After two injury-filled years up front, CMU starts four seniors on the offensive line — All-MAC left tackle Eric Fisher included — and gets back bruising tailback Zurlon Tipton, who was hobbled last season by a broken foot.
The only significant loss is All-MAC tight end David Blackburn.
CMU allowed at least 41 points five times in 2011, with much of the problem stemming from third downs, where Chippewas’ opponents converted better than 45 percent of the time.
“We need to get better there and our players know that,” Enos says.
The fault didn’t lie with CMU’s last line of defense very often, and the secondary should be a strength again this year. First-team all-conference free safety Jahleel Addae returns, as does junior safety Avery Cunningham. A pair of seniors, Lorenzo White and Taylor Bradley, are expected to start at cornerback.
Improvement is needed, however, along the front four, which did little to pressure quarterbacks. The Chippewas ranked 110th in the nation in sacks, averaging barely more than one per game. Senior Joe Kinville, with 5.5 tackles for a loss a year ago, seems like CMU’s best hope for improvement on the defensive front.
Senior placekicker David Harman and junior punter Richie Hogan both return. Harman made 13-of-16 field goals, including both attempts beyond 40 yards, in 2011. Hogan averaged 39.4 yards on his 64 punts. Davis and Wilson are expected to handle the bulk of the return duties. The Chips finished in the middle of the pack in both punt and kickoff returns last season.
CMU has put together one of the better home schedules in MAC history for the 2012 season, with seven home games — a rarity in the mid-major world. It features Navy, rival Western Michigan and, most notably, Michigan State. “Just because you’re playing them at home, you’re still playing them,” Enos says, laughing, at the prospect of facing the Spartans.
It’s the sort of home slate that’ll put butts in seats and put eyes on Enos’ program, which probably needs a .500 season to take the heat off of the third-year coach.
That, however, isn’t likely to happen. The MAC West is loaded, with Western Michigan, Toledo and Northern Illinois at the top and improving Ball State and Eastern Michigan not far behind. It will be a struggle for the Chips to escape the cellar.