Preview 2014 - Central Michigan Chippewas
Central Michigan RB Saylor Lavallii
Central Michigan RB Saylor Lavallii
Posted May 25, 2014

Preview 2014 - Everything is in place to make a big run, possibly to the MAC title. (Getty Images)

Central Michigan Chippewas

Preview 2014

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Dan Enos
6th year: 19-30
Ten Best CMU Players
1. WR Titus Davis, Sr.
2. LB Justin Cherrocci, Sr.
3. OG Andy Phillips, Sr.
4. RB Saylor Lavallii, Jr.
5. S Kavon Frazier, Jr.
6. CB Brandon Greer, Jr.
7. CB Jason Wilson, Sr.
8. QB Cooper Rush, Soph.
9. NT Leterrius Walton, Sr.
10. DE Blake Serpa, Soph.
2014 Schedule

Aug. 28 Chattanooga
Sep. 6 at Purdue
Sep. 13 Syracuse
Sep. 20 at Kansas
Sep. 27 at Toledo
Oct. 4 Ohio
Oct. 11 at Nothern Illinois
Oct. 18 Ball State
Oct. 25 at Buffalo
Nov. 1 at Eastern Michigan
Nov. 15 Miami Univ.
Nov. 22 Western Michigan

This is it. This is the year. This is the time when the Dan Enos era is supposed to truly kick in and the Chippewas are supposed to be back to being a MAC powerhouse.

It took more of an overhaul and a rebuilding job than it originally seemed when the transition to the post-Dan LeFevour era started, but Enos has had a full recruiting cycle and has had a chance to set the foundation to do what he wants. Now he has the experience and the momentum to challenge for the MAC title.

Yes, Central Michigan took advantage of the lighter portions of the last two schedules to avoid disaster, starting out 2012 2-5 before winning five of the last six games including the Little Caesars Bowl. Last year, the Chippewas were 3-6 before beating up Western Michigan, UMass and Eastern Michigan teams that combined to go 4-32 to finish 6-6.

With a team loaded with veterans, it has to start beating the good teams, too.

There have been a few big wins here and there under Enos, shocking Northern Illinois in 2011, beating WKU in the bowl game in 2012, and beating Ohio last year, but there haven't been enough of them. The 12-2 2009 season might seem like it was eons ago, but the program knows success and it has always done a great job of whacking the true losers in the MAC. If there aren't any big mistakes, and if there could be a few key victories, all of a sudden, CMU is a player.

The offense hasn't rocked anyone's world lately, but just about everyone is back including pass-catching terror Titus Davis and returning star RB Saylor Lavallii back ofter a terrific year. The defense that was so soft against the run is loaded with veterans and has bulk and depth up front.

So now it's time. It's not going to be easy with Ball State, Northern Illinois and Toledo in the West to deal with, but now, those teams will have to deal with Central Michigan.

What to watch for on offense: There isn't any excuse for the offense to not blow up big. It might not be the 2007 attack that ripped up the world for close to 6,300 yards, but the 4,093-yard campaign of last season was all about rebuilding after losing top running back Zurlon Tipton to injury and trying to get then-freshman Cooper Rush to figure out what he was doing. Not having Eric Fisher around anymore didn't help, either. This season, though, it's not crazy to ask for 1,500 more yards of offense with all five starters back up front, explosive ability at receiver and a veteran backfield that should be steadier. Transition time over.

What to watch for on defense: The defense has to utilize its excellent hitting ability and experience in the 4-2-5 to start doing more to come up with stops. With veteran defensive backs who all know what they're doing, and five returning starters in the defensive backfield, it's time to figure out how to get off the field. On the year, CMU allowed teams to convert 45% of their third down chances, and while the blowout loss to Ball State was an aberration – the Cardinals converted just 1-of-10 tries – for the most part, life was better when they were making big plays getting killed by Northern Illinois and Toledo, who combined to convert 18-of-27 attempts. Part of the problem? No pass rush. The Chippewas failed to generate a sack in two games last season – NIU and Toledo – and wasn't nearly consistent enough generating 21 on the season.

The team will be far better if … the offense comes away with scores when it gets the puck around the net. There were only three games last year decided by less than a touchdown, but for the offense to go from good to great, there can't be any empty trips. The Chippewas were in the red zone ten times and didn't score, partly because of five missed field goals, and partly because of big mistakes. This didn't end up proving to be costly last season, but failed opportunities will come back to bite them this year.

The schedule: It's going to be interesting to see if the veteran Chippewas can handle themselves against the mediocre big names on the non-conference schedule. After the scrimmage against Chattanooga to kick things off, they have to go on the road to deal with Purdue and Kansas and host Syracuse – if they can win one of those three, there will be a buzz. However, it could be kill or be killed in the early part of the MAC schedule having to go to Toledo and Northern Illinois wrapped around a home date with Ohio. If that wasn't bad enough, they have to deal with Ball State before going on the road to face Buffalo from the East. That means CMU has a run of six road games in nine dates before closing out with Miami University and Western Michigan.

Best offensive player: Senior WR Titus Davis. While he would've been a late round pick at best, he had an honest shot to take off early for the next level after ripping apart the MAC as the saving grace for the CMU passing game. He helped make Cooper Rush's life easier with big play after big play, even with defenses were keyed on stopping him. There are other good veteran receivers in the mix with five of the top six pass catchers returning, and with Andrew Flory and Courtney Williams able to make plays on their own, but it's Davis at the inside Z position who'll be the go-to guy for the attack.

Best defensive player: Senior LB Justin Cherocci. It's been Shamari Benton's linebacking corps over the last few years in terms of being an all-around playmaker, but it's Cerocci who's been making all the tackles. Benton is gone, and now Cherocci and his 253 tackles over the last two seasons gets to be the true star of the show. He's the big, tough run stopper in the 4-2-5 alignment, and while he's not going to get into the backfield on a regular basis, he'll clean up everything the leaky line doesn't get to.

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore QB Cooper Rush. The quarterback situation was a key question mark last year, and Rush showed the promise and potential to be the main man for the next few years. There were too many interceptions and massive inconsistencies, but when he's on, he can be deadly and a true difference-maker. Despite his name, he's not a runner, but he's a poised passer who should spread the ball around well with more time to work. The O line will give him a chance, and he needs to come through and crank up the offensive numbers.

The season will be a success if … the Chippewas get off to a hot start. With so much experience and potential, this should be a bowl team, but it's going to take some work. It's been the same stuff over the last few years – lose early, beat the bad teams late, and come up with a decent final record. It should be the same late with Eastern Michigan, Miami University and Western Michigan to close out, and having Chattanooga early helps, but there aren't any true layups from in September and October.

Key game: Sept. 27 at Toledo. Of course, to have any shot at winning the West, the Northern Illinois game will be important, and dealing with Ball State is big, but the Chippewas have to show that this team is different and this season is different by coming up with a massive win in the MAC opener. The Rockets have won four straight in the series putting up massive numbers, and even before that the games were massive shootouts. Beat Toledo, be a player in the West race.

2013 Fun Stats:
- Red Zone Scores: Opponents 43-of-50 (84%) – Central Michigan 33-of-43 (77%)
- Second Quarter Scoring: Opponents 110 – Central Michigan 64
- Rushing Yards Per Game: Opponents 201.2 – Central Michigan 132.8

- 2014 Central Michigan Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players