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.

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