For Michigan fans that didn't follow Central last year, how did the season play out, and what are the expectations for this year?
The season started out slow last year for the Chippewas, most notably getting trounced at home by Michigan State, and people began to fear the worst. But when we upset Iowa on the road, people thought the team had a chance to be decent. And if the second half of the year the team found an identity and go to player in Zurlon Tipton, who almost singled handedly carried us to a bowl game with his 19 touchdowns last year. It also helped that the schedule eased up in the second half, but we still had enough momentum from that late season run to claim the first bowl victory in the Dan Enos Era.
Expectations for this year are about the same as they were last year. Fans are hoping for a season that includes another trip to a bowl game, and around 7-8 wins. But I think fans this year need to tamper their expectations a bit for a couple reasons. We lost a three year starter at QB, and his replacement, Junior Cody Kater, has thrown four total passes at the D-1 level. Not to mention we face a much harder schedule this year. If CMU can become bowl eligible this year, I think it will be a successful season.
What kind of offense do the Chips run, and who are the players that Michigan fans will need to watch out for?
CMU runs a pro-style passing game, with a power running attack, similar to what Michigan is trying to establish. They found that identity halfway through last year, and rode Zurlon Tipton to the tune of nearly 1,500 yards, and 19 touchdowns. He's the player to stop on offense for us.
But CMU may try to spread things a bit more this year, new starting QB Cody Kater is mobile, and in limited time has shown the ability to escape the rush and make things happen, so that may be an added dimension to the CMU offense that we haven't seen under Enos.
One other player to watch on offense is WR Titus Davis, he had eight touchdowns last year, and led the nation in yards per catch with an even 20. He's the big play threat who could stretch the defense and test the Michigan safeties.
How good do you expect the CMU defense to be this year, and do you think the Chips have enough firepower in the front seven to slow Michigan's still iffy power run game and force Devin Gardner to pass?
That's the big question for nearly every team in the MAC, can the defense step up and get a few stops? CMU is very experienced in the secondary, and at the linebacking corps, but along the front four, nobody has really stepped up and made themselves a three-down guy. And that's the biggest key for the defense this year, is figuring out how to get pressure with those front four.
The problem for CMU when they face a team like Michigan, who wants to establish a power running game, is that CMU doesn't play a normal front seven. They play 4-2-5 defense that is designed to bend but don't break, and slow down the pass happy MAC offenses, so it leaves them vulnerable against power run teams. It doesn't typically blitz often, and relies on pressure from the front four, and lots of tackles by the linebackers. The linebackers are both back, and both had over 100 tackles last year, so the pressure rests squarely on the defensive line coming into this game.
In your opinion, what three things need to happen for Central to win this game?
The first thing is win the turnover battle. Against Iowa we only forced one turnover, but we didn't have any ourselves, and that's the biggest key, is avoid giving Michigan short fields to work with. The second thing CMU needs is to establish the run. We are sending a guy out at QB who is making his first D-1 start, so if we can get the run going, to help ease the pressure on the passing game, it would be a huge help. And finally, our defense needs to figure out a way to stop some aspect of Michigan's offense. If CMU can make Michigan one dimensional, it would really help a defense that has lots of questions coming into the season.
What weaknesses should Michigan try to exploit?
The defensive front four. They struggled to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks all season long last year, and it contributed to the secondary looking bad. You can only cover receivers so long if you're going to let the quarterback stand in the pocket all game. And if CMU can't get pressure on Gardner, then it's going to open things up for the running game, and then we'll be in a world of trouble.
On offense, Michigan needs to try and force CMU to pass. The receiving corps is as deep as it's been under Enos, but an untested QB raises questions, and if the Wolverines defense can force him to make plays, it could be to their benefit.
What are your final predictions for the game?
I think both teams get what they want out of this. Michigan establishes the run, and gets the ball rolling before taking on Notre Dame. And CMU will figure out it's quarterback position, establish a solid run game, and have a list of positives to look at going forward for the rest of the season.
I'll say Michigan ends up winning something along the lines of 42-17 after a big third quarter puts things out of reach.