Saturday, December 27, 2008

Dan Bazuin on Texans' practice squad

Looks like former CMU standout Dan Bazuin has a job - for now. He is on the Houston Texans' practice squad, and right now, he gets to help his team prepare for the Chicago Bears defense - which he briefly played for until Aug. 30, when he was cut.

Post-Motor City Bowl: What next?

On the afternoon of Nov. 19, very few saw this kind of ending for the CMU football team.

On that day, the Chippewas sat at 8-2, the best start the team has had in years. They beat their first Big Ten opponent in 16 seasons just a couple weeks earlier. They had not lost a meaningful MAC game in two seasons, and were back-to-back defending champions.

But that night turned out to be the beginning of the downward spiral. CMU uncharacteristically lost a critical home matchup with Ball State. It then uncharacteristically lost the season finale against Eastern Michigan. Last night was the culmination, a 24-21 loss to Florida Atlantic, a team that was good but beatable.

CMU simply looked too uninspired. It had its moments, for sure, and it is not as if the players were not trying to win. They were, just like they always do. But ever since the MAC West title went out its hands, this Chippewas squad just has not played with the same grind-it-out intensity it thrived on to win games this season. It is as if the team cringed when it saw its own blood following the Ball State loss.

In a lot of ways, the Motor City Bowl summed everything up just perfectly. CMU came close. It had one big play - a 72-yard touchdown run by Antonio Brown - but it was called back because of a facemask penalty by Kito Poblah at around FAU's 25-yard line. The CMU defense had stopped FAU on a three-and-out in the third quarter, but a roughing the passer penalty by Larry Knight kept the drive alive. The very next play was a 52-yard touchdown strike that gave the Owls a 17-10 lead.

Had those two penalties gone uncommitted, this game could have turned out a lot differently. But that is how this season has went - down to the wire. CMU could just as easily have lost to Buffalo and Ohio earlier this season because of mistakes by its opponents.

So what's next? Obviously, winter conditioning, recruiting and spring ball. But assuming Ball State quarterback Nate Davis elects to enter the NFL Draft, CMU should enter next season, again, as the Mid-American Conference favorite, mainly because it does not lose as many key players as other teams do. Along with Davis, the Cardinals also lose tight end Darius Hill, defensive back B.J. Hill, wide receiver Louis Johnson and offensive linemen Dan Gerberry and Robert Brewster to graduation. Western Michigan loses receiver Jamarko Simmons and a handful of defensive starters such as Londen Fryar, Louis Delmas and Boston McCornell to graduation. Buffalo, the MAC Champion, does return a lot of key players but not quarterback Drew Willy.

The only starter CMU loses on defense is nose guard Casey Droscha, who spent half the season injured anyway. It loses tailbacks Ontario Sneed and Justin Hoskins, but the team has a surplus of talented running backs who will fight for a starting spot, including Bryan Schroeder, Paris Cotton and redshirt Jahleel Addae. Other key losses include backup quarterback Brian Brunner, wide receiver Joe Bockheim and offensive tackles Andrew Hartline and Greg Wojt. These guys are going to be tough to replace because of their high character, but hopefully this paves way for guys like quarterback Ryan Radcliff, wide receivers Kito Poblah and Jean Pitts, and offensive tackle Jake Olson.

Furthermore, this Central team is going to be hungry come next August. I have a feeling we have yet to see the best of Dan LeFevour, entering his last season. He has all of his best weapons coming back - Bryan Anderson (senior next year), Antonio Brown (junior) and Kito Poblah (junior). The defense should get better with virtually everybody returning and possible high-profile additions in the secondary such as D.J. Scott and Shamari Benton. Obviously, it is going to take work - the Chippewas play both Western and Ball State on the road next season, but does get an improving Northern Illinois team at home. I would not expect two three-game road trips next season, either.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Motor City Bowl: LIVE BLOG from Detroit

10:44: The Chippewas are trying to mount a comeback. It is not working. Coach Butch Jones elected to go for it on fourth down, with CMU inside the FAU 5-yard line, instead of kicking the field goal and making it an 8-point game. Hmmmm.

10:42: The announced attendance is 41,399. That sounds about right - just about all of them are CMU fans, too.

10:36: FAU scores on a 14-yard touchdown pass to make it 24-13. There is obviously something wrong with CMU right now, and it is not the flu bug that was going around earlier in the week.

10:18: The penalty bug strikes CMU yet again. A reverse play that would have went for a 72-yard touchdown was called back after Kito Poblah was flagged for a facemask penalty while blocking downfield. That offset an FAU offside penalty back at the line of scrimmage, resulting in a replay of the down. That has to hurt.

10:04: LeFevour still looks too hesitant in the pocket - he took off running a little too late on third down. CMU does get a field goal to make it 17-13 Owls.

9:57: Great second effort by Justin Hoskins on third down, taking a pass another five yards after contact to give CMU the first down. The Chippewas are driving through FAU territory now.

9:54: Antonio Brown returns the ball out to CMU's 45-yard line thanks to the unsportsmanlike conduct call following FAU's touchdown. But again, a block in the back penalty puts the ball back toward the 20. That is how penalties can kill a team.

9:47: The Chippewas come up with another big stop on third down... or not. Larry Knight gets flagged for a 15-yard roughing-the-passer penalty, then Rusty Smith throws a 52-yard touchdown bomb to Chris Bonner. That is how penalties can kill a team.

9:40: Florida Atlantic starts its first second half drive on its 2-yard line. Nice punt by Hartmann, again.

9:38: Maybe it is just me, but LeFevour seems like he is a little off his game, despite completing 15 of 20 passes. He's a little more hesitant in the pocket than he used to be and is not showing his running ability as well as he has in the past. That is part of the reason why the offense is struggling - CMU opens up defenses with that quarterback running ability.

9:08: LeFevour takes a knee and sends the game to halftime. There's plenty of offense, with both teams hovering around 200 total yards, but not many points to be had thus far. Seniors Ontario Sneed and Justin Hoskins have combined for 60 yards on 12 carries, better than usual. And the CMU defense, overall, is playing well despite allowing some yardage. Rusty Smith is 10-for-20 for 158 yards.

9:01: Florida Atlantic drives again, but has to settle on a 36-yard field goal to tie the game. Only 47 seconds left until halftime.

8:52: CMU punter Brett Hartmann's stats get a boost with a 67-yarder, aided by Tavious Polo's muffed return. FAU starts at its 18-yard line instead of around the 30.

8:46: The defense bent, but did not break. A common mantra for this team. A third-down sack forces FAU to punt when it probably could have kicked a field goal had Rusty Smith thrown an incompletion.

8:43: The Owls have another drive going. CMU is playing very soft coverage, allowing receivers to get open and running backs to get moderate gains.

8:35: Andrew Aguila hits a 34-yard field goal to give CMU its first lead. ESPN has to be disappointed at the lack of offensive firepower in this game so far.

8:31: Three-and-out again for Florida Atlantic. The CMU defense stays hot. Meanwhile, Antonio Brown looked like he was going to let the punt go, but then caught it on a bounce and took it 27 yards to FAU's 38-yard line. The guy's a stud on punt returns this year.

8:25: Wow! Sophomore wideout Kito Poblah just made a highlight-reel catch - a one-hander in the corner of the end zone. Tie game.

8:23: Running back Justin Hoskins, also a senior, is getting some chances in his final game. Two consecutive first-down runs to put CMU inside the FAU 10-yard line. It is good to see him play well early.

8:19: End of the first quarter. FAU still ahead 7-0, but CMU's driving. The Chippewas just need to settle down a little bit and not force anything. The Owls have had one good drive, but not much else other than that. Meanwhile, the crowd gives former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr a huge ovation. Wolverines fans have to miss him right now.

8:17: LeFevour again throws into coverage, but hits Joe Bockheim right in stride for 28 yards. Heck of a throw.

8:14: The defense is staying on its toes, though. FAU tries a flea flicker and almost has it intercepted. But a holding call puts it 10 yards back anyway.

8:08: Central almost put a good drive together, getting into FAU territory, but had to punt after an incompletion on third down. Bryan Anderson looks shaken up after a hit near the end zone. Things just do not look in sync right now for the Chippewas' offense.

8:01: FAU's Cortez Gent has three receptions for 42 yards early. That does not bode too well for CMU if he gets going.

7:59: This is what happens when you give teams too many early opportunities. FAU drives 66 yards on six plays, easily scoring on a one-yard touchdown run. Both teams looks a bit rusty early, but the Owls seem to be in gear on offense right now. The CMU crowd is quiet.

7:52: Just to clear something up... several CMU players have had the flu bug over the last week, including a couple offensive linemen. I'm told they are fine now, but who knows at this point whether that will have any repercussions on the football game.

7:50: Things are moving fast early in this game - and not the way ESPN was expecting. Linebacker Nick Bellore picks up a fumble in CMU territory. Then LeFevour throws an errant pass to Antonio Brown and has it picked off. FAU has the ball on its 36-yard line. There certainly is no shortage of defense in the first five minutes of this game.

7:42: ...but that basically was it. On fourth and one, quarterback Dan LeFevour fumbled the shotgun snap, forcing him to fall on it and concede to the Owls near midfield. I'm not sure if it was a concentration gaffe or what, but the ball was snapped just fine. It might have been premature.

7:41: Running back Ontario Sneed is making his last game count. 28 yards on his first run, toward midfield...

7:39: Quick three-and-out drive for Florida Atlantic, mainly because of pressure to quarterback Rusty Smith. Junior defensive end Frank Zombo made a great play on first down, tipping a screen pass while chasing Smith. Great start for the CMU defense.

7:34 p.m.: The game will be underway in a minute or two. There definitely is not as many people here as last year. The CMU crowd is here, as usual, but the FAU crowd is about as easy to find as Waldo in this place. (Like I said before, though, that's not surprising, considering few would travel from Florida to Michigan for Christmas)

Stay posted for live updates from today's Motor City Bowl game.

Setting up at Ford Field

DETROIT - I just got here about 20 minutes ago, and there is a lot of time ahead before kickoff (a little less than two hours, to be exact), so I toyed around a little bit with my camera. Nothing professional, just a look at the scene here in Ford Field prior to the Motor City Bowl.

The last two seasons, the Motor City Bowl set attendance records with CMU holding the majority of the fan base, even last year against Purdue. I would not expect another crowd of 60,000, however - not with a Florida team here. Who would come to Michigan for Christmas, anyway? The Chippewas are going to have major home field advantage, and they will probably need the help against a hot FAU team.

ESPN's hyping this game up as an offensive shootout. I don't blame them. Florida Atlantic's offense is not extraordinary, but it is going up against the 118th-ranked pass defense in the country (out of 119 FBS teams).

More to come from Ford Field.

It's showtime!

Hope everybody had a good holiday yesterday!

I apologize for no updates over the past 10 days; Since school is out, I am out of the Mount Pleasant area and spending time with family back home in Saginaw. That, and I have not had a computer even capable of updating a blog until two days ago. I am trying to follow the team as much as possible from home, however; other than the slew of coaching changes going on in the MAC right now, there's very little to update on at this point.

Hopefully today makes up for it. As you know, the Motor City Bowl kicks off at 7:30 p.m. at Ford Field in Detroit. I'll be there, updating the blog before, during and after the game, as usual. This time, I hope to do live blogging on here, as well as updating the score on as it happens. So if by some small chance you're not at the Motor City Bowl nor able to watch the game on ESPN (or, of course, if you would like additional analysis and behind the scenes), then be sure to tune in to this blog and the CM Life Web site.

Thank you for your patience and have fun tonight!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Update: Hoke takes SDSU job, plus CMU Bowl Mania

Ball State coach Brady Hoke has taken the San Diego State job, according to BSU Athletic Director Tom Collins.

It sounds like it's a money thing. Obviously Hoke is going to make more money coaching the Aztecs. Especially in these tough economic times, you have to make business decisions, and that's probably what drove Hoke from his alma mater. I wish him luck in San Diego State, which is going to be tough to rebuild with the likes of powerhouses such as Utah, BYU and TCU in the Mountain West.

As for Central Michigan, I got a chance to watch ESPN's Bowl Mania tonight (I guess it first aired last night?). For those of you unfamiliar with Bowl Mania, it's a fantasy game where you pick the winners of every bowl game, then rank your picks by order of confidence. You get a certain amount of points for each correct pick depending on your confidence in the pick- for example, if you have CMU over FAU at the top of the list, you get 34 points, all the way down to 1 point for your least-confident pick.

ESPN's Jesse Palmer (one of the analysts who I rarely take seriously, unfortunately) has Central Michigan winning, but has the pick ranked third-to-last in confidence. He mentioned the Chippewas' second-to-last pass defense and FAU's Rusty Smith "tearing up" the Sun Belt conference as possible reasons for otherwise, but liked CMU's practical home-field advantage.

I would agree to an extent, but I wouldn't call tearing up the Sun Belt conference as much of an accomplishment, considering only one team finished with seven or more wins. To put it bluntly, it's the weakest conference in the FBS. I still think Florida Atlantic is a good team, but I have more confidence in a CMU win, not just because of home field advantage. The one-month break gives the Chippewas time to heal a lot of key injuries and let the emotion from the last two losses wear off a little bit. But more on all this later.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Source: Ball State's Hoke to take San Diego State job

An interesting turn of events today: Apparently, Ball State coach Brady Hoke will leave his alma mater to coach the San Diego State Aztecs.


I'm not sure of the validity of this report, but if it is true, it's a head-scratcher. I'm sure he would make more money at SDSU than at Ball State, and the draw of the area is a tad better than Muncie, Ind. (At least for some).

But for Hoke to leave his alma mater, especially before the end of a historic season, it sounds strange. The cost of living in San Diego is sky-high in comparison to Indiana, so that extra salary would mostly go toward that. He has to recruit against Pac 10 schools such as USC and UCLA, and even against other established Mountain West schools such as Utah and BYU, in an area he's probably unfamiliar with.

Most importantly, though, he would be leaving his alma mater. Think about the situation he would be leaving- Ball State is extremely close to a MAC Championship and has the national attention to earn another ranking next year. His biggest recruiting challenges in the state are Notre Dame, Purdue and Indiana, all of which are currently slumping. He's got a second-round NFL Draft pick at quarterback that said he was going to return next year. Not so if Hoke leaves, I bet.

We'll see how valid this report is, but if it is true, I'm shocked.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

CMU/FAU: Motor City Bowl section

Hey everybody,

Sorry for not posting the past couple of days. It's exam week at CMU, so this is a particular time where my studies tend to get in the way of my football-covering duties.

There is some good news though: Tomorrow (Wednesday), CM Life will release a 10-page Motor City Bowl Preview section. Inside, you'll find a dissection of the Florida Atlantic squad the team is playing, plus a feature on coach Howard Schnellenberger, and more. You can find it at any CM Life newsrack in the CMU and Mount Pleasant community. For those of you out of the area, however, we did post the stories online and a PDF of the front two pages along the left frame.

I had the privilege of talking to Coach Schnellenberger over the phone Tuesday. He sounded very gracious for the opportunity his team had to play in the Motor City Bowl and had plenty of kind words to say about the CMU football program, as well. He called the Chippewas a tougher team than the Memphis squad the Owls defeated 44-27 in the New Orleans Bowl last year. I may post more of the conversation if I get the time.

Even though CM Life is ceasing publication until Jan. 12, always keep updated with the Web site throughout Christmas break for any football updates. Even though the game's on ESPN, we're going to update the Web site throughout the Motor City Bowl game, including a postgame recap. And I plan on carrying out my blogging duties here on Chip Shots as well.

Finally, to keep you satisfied for the time being, there's a new poll. Although I am afraid of an obvious result to it.

Thanks a lot for your patience!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Motor City Bowl: Central Michigan vs. Florida Atlantic

It's official, according to

CMU will play Florida Atlantic of the Sun Belt conference in the Motor City Bowl, the second time in three years it plays a Sun Belt team. Middle Tennessee State was the other, in 2006, when CMU won 31-14.

Check back for more updates.

Palm Beach Post: Florida Atlantic's chances for Motor City Bowl bid 'looking pretty good'

The Palm Beach Post is reporting that Florida Atlantic is feeling good about its Motor City Bowl chances.

The only teams in contention for the final spots, it says, are San Jose State, Arkansas State and Florida Atlantic. There's also Bowling Green and NIU, but obviously no MAC team will fill the MCB spot to play CMU.

Will a Big East team be CMU's opponent?

Apparently, Ken Hoffman, executive director of the Motor City Bowl and International Bowl, said he is looking into the possibility of switching the Big East's representative in the International Bowl to instead play in the Motor City Bowl.

It might sound kind of confusing, but it means that CMU would play a Big East opponent - in this case, Connecticut or Rutgers - and Buffalo would play the at-large team in the International Bowl. Whether this will play out is still up in the air - I'm still expecting an at-large in the Motor City Bowl at the moment, until we hear anything else.

But a Big East team could very well make its way to Ford Field to play the Chippewas.

UPDATE: If a Big East team does go, it's not UConn. It just accepted a bid to the International Bowl to play Buffalo in Toronto. So that could very well put the Big East out of the picture. We will have to wait and see on that.

CMU looks headed to the Motor City

I do not have 100 percent confirmation yet, but sources tell me CMU is going to the Motor City Bowl for the third consecutive year.

Obviously, we'll get confirmation in the coming hours. But as of right now, it's all but a certainty. That should make plenty of CMU fans happy, to be able to stay in the state to watch the team in a bowl game.

As for the opponent, no one is sure yet. The two biggest possibilities, as of right now, are San Jose State and Florida Atlantic. The former would certainly be an interesting matchup, since it is a rematch of the 1990 California Raisin Bowl. San Jose State won that 48-24.

Be sure to stay posted.

Muncie Star Press: Either Ball State or CMU for GMAC Bowl

If the Muncie Star Press is any indication, CMU is either going to the Motor City Bowl or the GMAC Bowl.

According to the article, GMAC Bowl President Jerry Silverstein says either Ball State or Central Michigan will play in the game, depending on which team Ken Hoffman and the Motor City Bowl executives decide on first.

I would read the entire article, though, because it goes into good detail on Ball State's perspective of the bowl picture. It sounds like they would enjoy either bowl game.

Expect updates on this blog and on throughout the day Sunday for news and analysis. We'll know for sure what the game is by the end of the night.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Making sense of the bowl possibilities

The Mid-American Conference bowl picture just got a whole lot more interesting after last night.

Buffalo upsets No. 12 Ball State 42-24, winning the MAC Championship. Stunning, for sure, considering the Cardinals went all this way to not even win the conference. And of all things, they lost because of lack of discipline. Four fumbles, two of which led to returns for touchdowns. One of them was a premature shotgun snap, one quarterback Nate Davis clearly was not prepared for. This game is going to burn for a long time.

The loss may not change anything. But it is important to note that CMU still has a good chance at a Motor City Bowl bid now. Why, even with BSU at 12-1 and CMU at 8-4? Why, even with BSU beating CMU on the road on Nov. 19? Attendance.

A paltry 12,871 fans came to the MAC Championship last night. Even with Ball State treading on perfection, even with two new teams and a very interesting matchup, only 12,871 fans made their way to Ford Field in Detroit. Compare that to the 25,013 last year that came to watch CMU, then 7-5, beat a 6-6 Miami team 35-10. And that game was at 11 a.m. Friday, rather than at night when more people have a chance to attend!

In fact, CMU brought more than 25,000 fans to the MAC title game in each of the two years it went. And don't forget last year's Motor City Bowl record attendance as CMU lost 51-48 to Purdue - 60,224. And from being at that game, I can safely say at least half of that crowd was supporting CMU, if not more than half.

The fact is, CMU is guaranteed to bring a huge crowd to the Motor City Bowl, no matter who the opponent is (54,000-plus to play Middle Tennessee State in 2006). Ball State, even with its small four-hour drive to Detroit, is not.

Compound all of that with two struggling sponsors - GM and Ford - and Motor City Bowl executives are probably going to have to make a business decision. Ball State's obviously the more attractive option, simply because it's a new team and it's 12-1. Chances are, it could maintain a low ranking after the Buffalo loss - it's not like the Cardinals are not the best team in the MAC now.

BUT- CMU is an attractive business option because of its huge draw. Tens of thousands of fans will go to Detroit to watch the Chippewas play anybody. That is a certainty. And right now, I'm not buying the talk that CMU would rather go to a different bowl because they've already went to the MCB the last two years. It is guaranteed Central is going to play a different team, so we already have a completely different game to look forward to under the same bowl name. And I doubt the team wants to travel across the country just for the opportunity to play in a different bowl. What's the logic?

Plus, let's face it - Every CMU game is an interesting game. I can't remember the last time the Chippewas played in a FBS game that didn't come down to the final few minutes. I think the Georgia and Temple games are it.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Bowl information, plus MAC Championship

First of all, you probably have already seen this, but if not, Athletics Director Dave Heeke posted a message on regarding bowl information for Central. It confirms that CMU is going to go to a bowl this year, which we already figured - the four possibilities, Heeke said, is the Motor City Bowl, GMAC Bowl, Texas Bowl and Independence Bowl.

The International Bowl is not part of the equation. I'm assuming that confirms Buffalo's appearance in that game even if they win tonight (as of right now, the Bulls are up 14-10 over No. 12 BSU in the third quarter. Catch it on ESPN2. But more on that in a second.). That would be a terrific move for a team that has never played in a bowl game to play just less than 100 miles away from home. That's also a great draw for the International Bowl that will take as many fans as it can muster.

Ball State's a best bet for a Motor City Bowl appearance, no matter if it wins or loses tonight. They could even get a bid tonight, much like CMU did last year following winning the conference. But we will see, of course. That would probably mean Central is going south - either to Mobile, Ala. (GMAC), Houston (Texas Bowl vs. Rice), or Shreveport, La. (Independence Bowl vs. Louisiana Tech). Sunday is the latest we will know.

As for the MAC Championship tonight, I have watched most of it thus far, and Buffalo definitely showed up to challenge the Cardinals. But I still think Ball State will come out with a win, and as I type, it took a 17-14 win on running back MiQuale Lewis' one-yard touchdown run. I'll type more on this later tonight or tomorrow... plus, on whether Ball State should have negotiated better for a bowl game with Boise State.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Around the MAC

Several news stories have popped up concerning the Mid-American Conference over the past few days, so I figured I would go over them in a nutshell:

- Ball State and Boise State will not meet in a bowl game. That's sad for those who were hoping for a battle of the non-BCS unbeatens, but the likelihood of it happening was just too small. There was no way the Cardinals were going to take their undefeated season all the way across the country to play a road game in a hostile environment, which they would have had to do if the game would go to the Humanitarian Bowl, located at Boise State. And I doubt Boise State would have done the same even at the Motor City Bowl, a neutral site but much closer to BSU. It just wasn't meant to be... which means BSU will likely go to the MCB.

- Toledo hires Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Tim Beckman to coach the team in place of "Toledo Tom" Amstutz. At first sight, this is a good move for the team, even though it's Beckman's first head coaching gig. The Rockets, known for their offensive firepower during the Amstutz era, are weak on defense and need a good defensive mind to lead them back to the top. And Oklahoma State looks good on his resume.

- Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly claims he is happy to be coaching the Bearcats despite being contacted by other teams. Wow, that sounds familiar, doesn't it?

- You heard it here first: Turner Gill will not be coaching Buffalo next season, whether he leaves after the MAC title or the bowl game. He is such an attractive option for BCS teams with coaching openings, which we know will come within the next month or two.

- You heard it here first: Brady Hoke will coach Ball State next year. Like Gill, he's a popular commodity since he turned the Cardinals from MAC bottom-feeders into BCS contenders, but I think it's going to take a really good offer for him to leave his alma mater.

- Also, the all-MAC teams were announced. Looks good, but I have a question: Why is WMU's Tim Hiller, statistically the best MAC quarterback, on the THIRD-team offense? I understand Ball State's Nate Davis deserves to be on the first-team. And no disrespect to Dan LeFevour (on the second team), it's moreso because of his injuries throughout the year, but Hiller did have a better year than him. And Western had a good year, too.

- There's finally a new poll. Pretty basic. Fire away.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

CMU: Overlooking the regular season that was

We're still a few days away from finding out which bowl game CMU will attend. But for now, the regular season is over and we know the team's fate in the Mid-American Conference. No, it will not go to a MAC Championship game and more than likely will not make the Motor City Bowl. But at 8-4, it was still a very good year for the team with its fair share of highs and lows.

Here's to the 2008 season:

BEST WIN: CMU 37, Indiana 34 on Nov. 1. This is a milestone in the sense that Central Michigan finally overcame a Big Ten opponent after 16 seasons of failed opportunities. Although the Hoosiers are by no means a powerhouse in the BCS, it was the "monkey off the back" game that CMU needed for the program to head into the right direction. This really was the high point of the team's season. (Honorable mention: CMU 38, WMU 28 on Oct. 18. This is easily the best MAC win of the year, especially since neither quarterback Dan LeFevour nor senior tailback Ontario Sneed were available. But more on that later.)

WORST LOSS: Eastern Michigan 56, CMU 52.
There really is not a loss that was more disappointing this year, for several reasons. For one thing, the Eagles entered the game 1-9 against Football Bowl Subdivision competition. Their coach, Jeff Genyk, was fired earlier in the week. It had one thing to play for - defense of the Michigan MAC Championship, which, if you think about it, is nothing more than a novelty trophy supporting the rivalry between each Michigan MAC team. Sure, the Chippewas scored 52 points, but that was because quarterback Dan LeFevour and the offense kept having to play catch-up all game. The defense could not stop quarterback Andy Schmitt. An NCAA-record 58 completions? Really?

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Antonio Brown, sophomore wide receiver.
While as of right now, his numbers do not quite compare to last season, Brown has been a stud from game one. He consistently ranked among the nation's best in punt return yardage and is a staple in the short passing game because of his acceleration and moves. There were some times where he had trouble running into his own blockers, especially on returns, but his impact is nonetheless noticeable. Teams had to kick away from him on kickoffs and single him out in the offense. That's a good thing for the other 10 guys on the field.

MOST VALUABLE BACKUP: Brian Brunner, senior quarterback.
It was great to finally see Brunner get another shot as a starter this season. If you think about it, he had probably the most profound impact on this football team when he played. He took over for Dan LeFevour against Temple on Homecoming and finished out with a win - then he went 2-0 in his next two starts in two of the team's most critical games: Against a very very good Western Michigan team and against Indiana to earn the team's first BCS win. Not only that, but he was dominant in both games, throwing for 346 yards vs. WMU and 485 vs. Indiana. Interesting statistic: Brunner was 3-0 when he finishes the game for CMU; LeFevour was 5-4.

FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR: Bryan Schroeder, running back.
For the few times Schroeder has stepped in, he contributed immensely. He became CMU's first 100-yard rusher not named LeFevour when he compiled 106 yards against Western Michigan, which was critical in the win. With both Sneed and Justin Hoskins on their way out, Schroeder should get more carries next season. But he does face stiff competition from freshman Paris Cotton (that is, if he holds onto the ball) and redshirt Jahleel Addae.

PLAYCALL OF THE YEAR: Two-point conversion Sept. 22 at Purdue. With the score 24-23 in Purdue's favor, coach Butch Jones could have secured a tie and give the team a shot at a win in overtime. Instead, he went for the two-pointer and the win. Jones made a good call no matter what the result was; the Chippewas surely were sick of losing to the Boilermakers and took a gamble. LeFevour ended up connecting with a diving Antonio Brown to take a 25-24 lead. Yeah, Purdue got the last laugh 18 seconds later with a 46-yard touchdown run by Kory Sheets, but this was still a heck of a call. Jones believed in his players and they delivered.

CLOSE CALL OF THE YEAR: Buffalo's game-winning field goal off the right goalpost on Sept. 27. The Bulls had just scored a touchdown and recovered an onside kick to set up this field goal try, down 27-25. What was a sure win just moments ago was in the balance for CMU. The Bulls' A.J. Principe's 46-yard try, however, hit the right goal post, much to the delight of the CMU sideline. That was the difference between an 8-4 season and a 7-5 season, but what could have compounded that to a 6-6 season was Ohio quarterback Boo Jackson's fumble in the end zone with just 2 minutes remaining on Sept. 13. Had he held onto the ball, the Bobcats could have taken a 35-31 lead. It was close, but the important thing was the result: A CMU win.

THE TURNING POINT OF THE YEAR: Many will point to Ball State's 31-24 win on Nov. 19, which began the two-game losing streak to end the year, but the third quarter of CMU's 33-30 overtime win over NIU, to me, is where things took a turn. The Chippewas held a 30-6 lead midway through that quarter before the Huskies opened up 24 unanswered points to end the game and force the extra period. CMU squeaked by before losing its next two games.

BY THE NUMBERS: CMU averaged 22,659 fans at each of its five home games, by far the highest average of any other MAC school. No other MAC school topped 20,000. Antonio Brown averaged 20.7 yards per punt, best in the nation. The Chippewas outscored their opponents 129-99 in the second quarter. It has been 28 seasons since the team had three consecutive seasons with eight wins or more, the last time being 1978-80.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The waiting game

I'm sure CMU fans aren't too familiar as of late with the topic of this blog entry. Usually, it's this football team that decides its own fate and takes itself as far as it can go in the Mid-American Conference. Now, with the 2008 regular season at a close, CMU has to wait one week to see if it even makes a bowl game.

But like I've said many times before, it is very likely the Chippewas are going to a bowl. For one thing, every prognostication I've seen around the major media outlets has at least four MAC teams going, some even have five (with Northern Illinois at 6-6). Enough at-large bids are opening up to accept that fourth team, which at worst would have an 8-4 record. (Buffalo will automatically go by virtue of being the only bowl-eligible team in the MAC East).

The most likely scenario, according to these outlets, is CMU and East Carolina in the GMAC Bowl on Jan. 6, even with Western Michigan at a better overall record. The biggest disadvantage to playing in this game, obviously, is the fan following - Mobile, Ala., is a tad further away than Detroit. You can expect many Central fans from Georgia and Florida (pipeline states) to show up, but not quite the crowd we saw at the Motor City Bowl last year.

The next game to watch, obviously, is Buffalo and Ball State in the MAC Championship on Friday. If Buffalo wins, we could see the Bulls in the Motor City Bowl instead of the Cardinals, but I still think they want the International Bowl regardless because of its proximity. Both teams have huge draws to those bowls for that reason, especially since Buffalo is going bowling for the first time since it joined the MAC and Ball State wants fans to attend the final game of its perfect season. 

That leaves CMU and WMU for the GMAC, and both have strong cases. CMU may win out by virtue of head-to-head, but WMU's 9-3 record has a say, too. We'll see, I suppose - that's the point of the waiting game.