Gone is record setting quarterback Kent Smith. Smith really blossomed as a senior last season passing for 2,800 yards and 16 TDs. Sophomore Brian Brunner looks to be the heir apparent this fall – he completed all three passes thrown last year during limited playing time but has been in the program three years. Brunner has good size at 6-2 236-pounds and is a good athlete. Dan LeFevour & Sean Price are also battling for the starting role along with Duane Brooks. Each has certain attributes but Brunner is most likely ‘the guy’ this fall. It will be hard to duplicate last season’s #26 rank in passing offense.
Running Backs Ontario Sneed was terrific as a freshman last season rushing for over 1,000-yards and eight TDs. He is bigger and faster this fall at 5-11 210-pounds with 4.5/40 speed. Sneed is one of the MAC's best all-around backs and will be a focal point of the offense until a quarterback is more established. A complete back, he also finished 3rd on the team in receptions and receiving yards. Anthony Boykins and Clifford Gilliam have left the program so depth will be an issue. Troy Doane and host of true freshmen, namely Carl Volny and Marcel Archer, will be the backups. If Sneed gets hurt, the ‘Chips running attack may suffer. CMU ranked 46th in the country last year in rushing offense but should be better this year providing Sneed stays healthy.
Receivers/Tight Ends Central Michigan has quietly put together a very nice group of receivers to help out whoever ends up as QB. Obed Cetoute and Damien Linson return as starters while Jemmy Jasmin and Bryan Anderson each contribute. Last season Linson had 832 yards receiving with 4 TDs while Cetoute added 364 yards and two TDs. Cetoute was a 4th round draft choice in the most recent CFL Draft. Jasmin is small at 5-8 168-pounds while Anderson brings size to the unit (6-4, 205) and had a terrific spring game. Andre Moore and Dave Condeni are the tight ends. True freshman Anthony Quinn may get a look early.
Offensive Linemen During Central’s MAC dominance from the late 1970s through the early 1990s, one thing was constant, a big and physical offense line. Coach Brian Kelly has adopted that style again in Mount Pleasant. This year’s unit returns four starters who are certainly the strength of the team. Joe Staley will be a first day NFL draft pick this April at 6-5, 300-pounds, and legit 4.8/40 speed. Drew Mormino, Eric Tunney and Andrew Hartline also return for a unit that helped CMU average almost 420-yards of offense per game last season. Adam Benke is the lone new starter while Jeff Gilbert, Andrew Cribbs and Jeff Maddux add depth. Overall the starters are very talented and there is good size, just not a lot of experienced players as backups. CMU has one of the league’s top offensive lines this year.
Defensive Linemen Everything starts with MAC Defensive Player of the Year Dan Bazuin (6-3, 270) and goes from there. Bazuin set a school record in QB sacks (16) and tackles for loss (26.5) last season. Like offensive lineman Joe Staley, Bazuin looks to be a day-one NFL draft choice, possibly in the first round as a DE. DT Steven Friend also returns and is very effective as an interior lineman. De'Onte Burnam is the other DE – the former LB has bulked up to 253-pounds and plays the run and pass very well. Ronnie Ekdahl is the lone new starter at NG with Larry Knight, Mike Ogle and Chris Boss adding quality depth. Overall CMU was 20th in the country in rush defense giving up a mere 113-yards per game - they should stand tall against the run again this fall.
Linebackers Another solid strength to this year’s team is the LB unit with three solid returning starters. Isaac Brown, Thomas Keith and Doug Kress combined for 250 tackles and all could be in the hunt for All-MAC honors this fall. All three can run and hit with Keith and Kress having very good size (each in the 240-pund range). Leython Williams is a former starter who provides immediate depth at any of the LB positions with sophomores Chris Wohlgamuth and Jonathan Lapsley providing added depth. Overall CMU's LB unit should be one of the very best in the MAC.
Defensive Backs After giving up over 280-yards per game last year through the air, and that was with an outstanding pass rush to boot, Coach Kelly knows improvement is needed in this area and quickly. That is why he signed twelve players (out of 26) of the 2006 class as potential DBs. Pacino Horne moves from safety to CB and is the lone returning starter in this unit. The coaching staff is excited about Texas native Aaron Carr, who will man one of the safety positions this year. Expect several true and redshirt freshmen to fill up the two-deep roster in this area. Overall CMU could use more size and speed within the DB unit and how well this area performs will determine the success of the season.
Special Teams Veterans return in the kicking game with PK Rick Albreski and Tony Mikulec at punter, but each must show more this season. Albreski did well from short range but missed all four kicks from beyond 40 yards. Mikulec struggled with his consistency and averaged just 38-yards per punt. However he was accurate putting 18 inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. The return game should be rock solid with Damien Linson back to handle all the duties after averaging 9-yards per punt return and 18-yards per kickoff return.
Final Thoughts Last year was a mixed bag for Central. They upset Miami and Toledo but lost in OT to Eastern Michigan. Central lost in an opening day heartbreaker to Indiana by seven and lost their three MAC games by a total of 13 points. In fact, eight of the team's 11 games were decided by a touchdown or less. This year CMU returns 33 lettermen and 16 starters and have rock solid WR, OL, DL and LB units as well as one of the best running backs in the league. After a difficult early season schedule, the second half of the schedule is quite favorable which should translate into becoming a real factor in the MAC West race. Don’t’ be surprised to see Central once again win a game or two against a favored opponent. Coach Brian Kelly has this program really believing and if a quality QB can be found quickly and the DBs get even just a little bit better, winning seven to nine games is not out of the question. With three MAC bowls available, don’t be surprised if the Chippewas get a post season call for the first time since 1994.
Mark it down! Central Michigan will win at Kentucky. Yes you read that right. The ‘Chips will do what Ohio University did two years ago and go to Lexington and get a rare MAC win over a SEC team. Last season UK struggled to beat Idaho State and Mississippi State. With coach Rich Brooks on his last leg in Lexington, CMU has a real shot to win this game and by more than one touchdown.
Schedule Analysis CMU's 2006 schedule looks to be very interesting! Hosting Boston College is a real coup for CMU and hopefully they will get a full 30K for this very reputable opponent. Playing at Michigan is a certain loss but traveling to Kentucky should provide Central a golden opportunity to beat a SEC team. Traveling to Temple should be an easy win. Cross-over games are Akron & BGSU at home while traveling to Buffalo to close the season which is very favorable. Traveling to divisional foes Toledo and NIU will make or break a championship run.
Most Important Game Hosting Akron on September 16. Hosting the MAC champ to begin your conference campaign is always exciting and getting a win before three straight road games is a must for the ‘Chips if they plan on being in the divisional title hunt. Considering the fact that CMU won at Akron last year on October 1, you know the Zips are coming to Mount Pleasant looking for some revenge. This should be a fun game to watch.