2011 Central Michigan Preview
Central Michigan QB Ryan Radcliff
Central Michigan QB Ryan Radcliff
Posted May 15, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Central Michigan Chippewas

Central Michigan Chippewas

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Dan Enos
2nd year: 3-9
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 18, Def. 22, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 19
Ten Best Central Michigan Players
1. QB Ryan Radcliff, Jr.
2. SS Jahleel Addae, Jr.
3. WR Cody Wilson, Jr.
4. OT Eric Fisher, Jr.
5. CB Avery Cunningham, Soph.
6. CB Lorenzo White, Jr.
7. OG Jake Olson, Jr.
8. FS John Carr, Sr.
9. OT Rocky Weaver, Sr.
10. RB Paris Cotton, Sr.
2011 Schedule

Sep. 1 South Carolina St
Sep. 10 at Kentucky
Sep. 17 at Western Mich
Sep. 24 at Michigan State
Oct. 1 Northern Illinois
Oct. 8 at NC State
Oct. 15 Eastern Michigan
Oct. 22 at Ball State
Oct. 29 at Akron
Nov. 4 at Kent State
Nov. 10 Ohio
Nov. 18 Toledo

With a coaching change, the loss of all-time great quarterback Dan LeFevour, and the loss of seven defensive starters and five offensive starters, there was going to be a drop-off after winning three MAC title games in four years. But to go from conference champion to 3-9 was far worse than anyone could've thought.

New head coach Dan Enos had a tough first season with the three wins over Hampton, Eastern Michigan, and Western Michigan, while blowing layups against bad teams like Ball State and Bowling Green. But for all the problems and all the issues, there showed a bit of potential to change things around in a big hurry.

Of the nine losses, CMU had their chances to win five of them. Yeah, yeah, yeah, shoulda, coulda, woulda, but the Chippewas lost to Temple in overtime thanks to a strong defensive performance. They had Northwestern on the ropes after coming back from a 30-13 fourth quarter deficit with a chance to win in the final minute. They lost to Miami University on a touchdown pass with 19 seconds to play; they lost to Bowling Green after losing a fumble and giving up a score with 21 seconds left; and they missed on a two-point conversion attempt in a one point loss to Navy. It doesn't work like this, but CMU was four missed plays away from being 7-5 and one of the hot teams coming into 2011.

But you don't lose that many close games without a reason. The turnovers wouldn't stop flowing, the takeaways weren't there, and the ground game was miserable. The defense was inconsistent, the offense too one-dimensional, and the special teams were a disaster. Now the key will be for Enos to turn all the problems of last year into positives, and it starts with the quarterback play.

Ryan Radcliff wasn't going to be Dan LeFevour, but he was a great prospect with a live arm. With a strong final month of the season, he showed why CMU fans should be fired up about the passing game for the next few years. The O line that couldn't stay healthy and couldn't find the right combination is full of veterans and should be far better in pass protection, and Radcliff will benefit.

The defense isn't going to be anything special, but led by a secondary that has speed to burn, it's more athletic from one to 11 than any of the championship teams. There hasn't been a pass rush in years, the star linebacking corps has to be replaced, and there needs to be more big plays from a D that picked off just four passes.

Can the experience translate into more production? All the Chippewas have to do is come up with three more close wins and they'll be back on track. For a program used to winning big, it would be a good step forward and would show that Enos is starting to get the job done. If nothing else, the team will be fun with lots of fireworks, but just being consistent would be fine.

What to watch for on offense: QB Ryan Radcliff improving. The CMU passing game finished 17th in America in yards, but was 77th in efficiency. No one could do an adequate job of replacing Dan LeFevour, but Radcliff did his best. With a live arm and good skills, he's the passer who can quickly become more of a bomber than LeFevour, even if he doesn't have the same mobility, and now he has to cut down on his interceptions and build off his strong November. Struggling to get the passing game going, he kicked it into high gear in the final three games throwing for over 300 in each, and now that he's working behind an improved line, he should be a threat for a 4,000-yard season.

What to watch for on defense: Speed in the secondary. The front seven will have a ton of issues. The pass rush was non-existent last season and the linebacking corps has to replace all three starters. There's athleticism up front and the stats will be there, but the run defense will hardly be a strength and, despite a concerted effort to start being more disruptive, there won't be enough plays behind the line. Fortunately, CMU has a track team, almost literally, in the secondary with four blazers. The corners can fly, and the safeties might be even faster. The wheels have to translate into turnovers because …

The team will be far better if … the turnover margin improves. In 2009, CMU was 33rd in the nation in turnover margin and was 3-0 in games decided by seven points or fewer. The Chippewas won the MAC title, just like they did in 2007 when they finished 30th in the nation in turnover margin. In 2010, CMU was 112th in the nation and tied with Eastern Michigan for last in the MAC in turnover margin, and it showed in several key close losses that couldn't made a 3-9 season a respectable 6-6. EMU was the only team worse at picking off passes, coming up with just two, while CMU tied with New Mexico, New Mexico State, and Colorado State with a mere four interceptions. The 14 fumble recoveries were nice, but they weren't enough to overcome the 29 turnovers.

The schedule: There's a nice layup against South Carolina State to start the season, and then the Chippewas dive head first into the fun with three straight road games – Kentucky, Western Michigan and Michigan State, and with a date at NC State looming. The lone home oasis is against Northern Illinois. Yeah, it's uh-oh time over the first half of the season, but things ease up in a huge way with an easy stretch against Eastern Michigan, at Ball State, at Akron, and at Kent State before closing out against Ohio and Toledo.

Best offensive player: Junior QB Ryan Radcliff. If he didn't have to be the quarterback who replaced Dan LeFevour, his first season at the helm wouldn't have been that bad. No, he didn't lead the team to enough big wins, and he didn't come through in the clutch, but he bombed away for 3,358 yards and 17 touchdowns and got better and better as the season went on. As long as he cuts down on his picks, after throwing 17 last year, he should be one of the MAC's star playmakers and a franchise quarterback CMU can build around for the next two years.

Best defensive player: Junior SS Jahleel Addae. He's not all that big at just 5-9 and 193 pounds, but he packs a wallop and he's a tremendous leader for the secondary. The Chippewas have speed in the secondary, but Addae can keep up with any of the corners with some of the best wheels on the team. He stepped up his game after being a key reserve as a redshirt freshman, making things happen all over the field as a terrific run stopper, but now he has to start making most things happen when the ball is in the air after coming up with just four broken up passes and no picks.

Key player to a successful season: Junior DT Steve Winston. The run defense wasn't anything special, but Sean Murnane was a solid interior presence and the anchor for the rest of the line to work around. Winston isn't all that big at 6-3 and 266 pounds, but the junior is active and tough enough to be a key part of the run defense. Nose guard John Williams has to be the main man for the line to work around, but if Winston needs to have a strong year as an interior pass rusher.

The season will be a success if … CMU wins seven games. The 3-9 season of last year could've been 6-6 with a few key plays, and this year's team is experienced enough and improved enough to start winning those close games. The first half of the season should be brutal with so many nasty road games, but if the Chippewas can somehow start out 2-4, they'll have an honest shot at a winning season. The MAC West title is a reach considering Western Michigan, Northern Illinois and Toledo are all better, but CMU should be a player again.

Key game: Oct. 1 vs. Northern Illinois. Coming off a rough road stretch against Kentucky, Western Michigan and Michigan State, the Chippewas need to take advantage of the home date against, arguably, the MAC's best team. A win over the Huskies would show how far things have come after last year's 33-7 loss.

2010 Fun Stats:
- 4th Quarter Scoring: Central Michigan 120 – Opponents 61
- Rushing Yards: Opponents 2,063 – Central Michigan 1,269
- Interceptions Thrown: Central Michigan 18 – Opponents 4

- 2011 Central Michigan Preview | 2011 Central Michigan Offense
- 2011 Central Michigan Defense | 2011 Central Michigan Depth Chart