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1. Ahead of schedule
Their head coach left to become an assistant in the SEC. They signed a recruiting class without an actual head coach in charge. The guy they actually hired had no coaching experience and hadn't spent time at the college level since he was with Army in 1998.
They had to replace a 1,100-yard rusher, three of their top five receiving targets, an all-conference, four-year starting guard, two starting linebackers, and four of the top seven in the secondary. Their best defensive lineman got hurt early in the season and barely played. Their leading tacklers would be two safeties and a freshman. Their run game cratered.
Most significant of all, the new head coach had to undergo cancer radiation during fall camp and wouldn't find out until November that he was cancer-free.
The Central Michigan Chippewas dealt with a lot in 2015, enough to make you assume they didn't fare well on the field. There was an excuse not to. If they had bombed in 2015, there would still be reason to hope for a turnaround in 2016, with a far more experienced two-deep and a coach who was both healthy and more familiar with the responsibilities of the role.
Instead, John Bonamego's squad won seven games and came within two points of winning the MAC West. The Chippewas lost four games by one possession, trailed Oklahoma State by four into the fourth quarter, and trailed Michigan State by seven with nine minutes left. They were salty and competitive, with one of the best mid-major passing attacks and an aggressive secondary that pounced on passing downs.
In terms of S&P+, this was CMU's best team since 2009. After the great success of the Brian Kelly and Butch Jones eras -- from 2006 to 2009, with Dan Lefevour at quarterback, the Chippewas won 38 games, two bowls, and three MAC titles -- the Enos era was neither great nor terrible. After a pair of rebuilding years (6-18 in 2010-11), Enos' Chippewas rebounded to reach bowl eligibility three times and attend two bowls. They won the Little Caesars Bowl against Western Kentucky in 2012, then very nearly pulled off the greatest comeback in bowl history, falling to WKU in an epic Bahamas Bowl in 2014.
They also never topped 89th in S&P+ during Enos' time. In Bonamego's first year, with countless reasons for tamped down expectations, they ranked 78th.
In almost a mulligan year, CMU made a statement. And now the tables have turned: The Chippewas return a 3,800-yard passer and his top five wideouts, plus most of the defensive two-deep. A year after Bonamego was challenged to not only manage a football team but also manage cancer, now we find out if he can manage expectations. Because CMU should have them.
2015 Schedule & Results
|Record: 7-6 | Adj. Record: 7-6 | Final F/+ Rk: 67 | Final S&P+ Rk: 78|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|26-Sep||at Michigan State||9||10-30||L||11%||1%||+7.4||+7.0|
|10-Oct||at Western Michigan||51||39-41||L||37%||30%||-7.0||+5.0|
|24-Oct||at Ball State||110||23-21||W||53%||87%||-5.4||-5.5|
|18-Nov||at Kent State||109||27-14||W||62%||95%||+0.9||+3.5|
|Points Per Game||25.8||88||22.0||28|
2. Two ways to look at 2015
When you've got a sample of 12 or 13 games, you can see three or four different trends if you squint just right. It can become a fool's errand to lean too heavily into conclusions based off of this, but they can be interesting to note nonetheless.
Potential Trend No. 1: CMU got better over the second half of the regular season
- First 6 games
Average percentile performance: 36% (~top 85) | Record: 2-4 (Average score: Opp 26, CMU 25) | Yards per play: CMU 5.6, Opp 5.3
- Next 6 games
Average percentile performance: 63% (~top 50) | Record: 5-1 (Average score: CMU 29, Opp 19) | Yards per play: CMU 6.0, Opp 4.9
With a slower pace and a defense pretty good at preventing big plays, CMU was able to stay close in losses without actually playing all that well early on. The Chippewas were good against Monmouth and NIU but didn't hold up to statistical scrutiny in the other four games of the first half of the year.
Then, in the second half, they clicked. Aside from a shaky, lucky-to-be-that-close loss to Toledo, they looked the part of at least a top-60 team in each of the other five games, winning all five.
Even allowing for a bowl dud of sorts, this suggests exciting things -- a young, ahead-of-schedule team got better as the year progressed and returns most of the reasons for that improvement.
Potential Trend No. 2: CMU was excellent within its own weight class
Instead of looking at early vs. late, we could look at who CMU was playing early and late.
- Games vs. power conference competition
Average percentile performance: 20% (~top 105) | Record: 0-4 (Average score: Opp 26, CMU 16) | Yards per play: Opp 6.1, CMU 5.1
- Games vs. group of five
Average percentile performance: 61% (~top 50) | Record: 7-2 (Average score: CMU 30, Opp 20) | Yards per play: CMU 6.0, Opp 4.8
The style allowed CMU to stay close to OSU and Michigan State before losing ground in the fourth quarter, but I watched those games, and it never really felt like CMU had the weapons to surge ahead. There was accomplishment in keeping it close, but this could have simply been a case where the Chippewas didn't have the horses against power teams but knew quite well how to maneuver when the athleticism was even or in their favor.
Honestly, this is encouraging in its own way. You want to make statements and pull big upsets (especially when a school like Oklahoma State comes to Mount Pleasant), but winning your conference is the most important thing for most schools, and CMU proved that, even while it was getting situated under a new boss, it was pretty close to competing in a strong MAC.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||41.8%||67||Succ. Rt. +||96.4||86|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||30.4||80||Def. FP+||30.2||78|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity||4.1||96||Redzone S&P+||97.4||85|
|Q1 Rk||81||1st Down Rk||79|
|Q2 Rk||91||2nd Down Rk||75|
|Q3 Rk||34||3rd Down Rk||98|
3. Pass-first by necessity
Bonamego retained offensive coordinator Morris Watts when he came aboard last season. In 2014, Watts' first and only season as OC for Dan Enos, Watts installed a system that was balanced on standard downs and pass-heavy on passing downs. In 2015, CMU went all-in on the passing game.
For all we know, part of that shift may have come from Bonamego. Maybe he prefers it. But the most likely explanation is this: CMU couldn't run, and Watts isn't stupid.
CMU ranked 115th in Rushing S&P+ and 36th in Passing S&P+; a split that wide is impressive when you think about it. If a team cannot run, opponents know it and can game up on the pass, which might perhaps tamp down the passing numbers a bit. On the flip side, if a team can pass really well, opponents might have to focus heavily on it, and in theory that would open the door to successful running. Regardless, CMU pulled off this "feat."
At first glance, it's hard to see this changing much in 2016. "Leading" rusher Martez Walker transferred, and the line has to replace an all-conference center and its left tackle. Meanwhile, quarterback Cooper Rush is back, as are four of the five players who finished 2015 with at least 550 receiving yards. Good remains good, bad remains bad. But a sophomore running back might be able to change this equation a bit.
Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Cooper Rush||6'3, 227||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8227||324||489||3848||25||11||66.3%||27||5.2%||7.0|
|Jake Johnson||6'2, 202||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8231|
|Tommy Lazzaro||6'3, 225||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8111|
|Tony Poljan||6'7, 240||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8553|
|Austin Hergott||6'3, 220||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7999|
|Jahray Hayes||RB||5'11, 210||Sr.||NR||NR||95||324||4||3.4||2.5||28.4%||2||2|
|Romello Ross||RB||5'10, 189||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8039||54||247||4||4.6||2.9||44.4%||0||0|
|Devon Spalding||RB||5'11, 203||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7000||52||182||1||3.5||4.9||26.9%||0||0|
|Cooper Rush||QB||6'3, 227||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8227||36||259||3||7.2||6.0||55.6%||4||1|
|Jay Roberson||RB||6'2, 225||Jr.||NR||NR||19||60||0||3.2||4.8||15.8%||2||1|
|Mark Chapman||WR||6'0, 181||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8267||10||74||1||7.4||5.7||50.0%||1||0|
|Corey Willis||WR||5'10, 175||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8261||9||19||0||2.1||3.1||44.4%||0||0|
|Trent Grimes||RB||6'0, 198||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7759|
4. Maybe Ross is the guy?
Romello Ross was one of the gems of CMU's coachless 2015 signing class. A four-year all-stater at Detroit Western high school, he was a three-star recruit per the 247Sports Composite. While other more highly-rated members of the 2015 class redshirted -- receivers Brandon Childress and Jamil Sabbagh, quarterback Jake Johnson, offensive tackle Derek Smith, defensive tackle Shahid Bellamy, defensive end Mike Danna -- Ross was trhust into action over the last half of the season.
While you never want to make much of a small sample size, it might be worth noting that he averaged 3.9 yards per carry over his first three games and 4.9 over his last three. He had 100 rushing yards and 28 receiving yards in the bowl against Minnesota; that's impressive in its own right, but it's doubly impressive when you realize that CMU gained only 249 total yards. He had more than half of them.
If CMU's run game suddenly becomes viable, Ross will probably be the reason why. He hasn't proven himself explosive yet, but 44 percent of his carries gained at least five yards; of the five CMU backs with 19 or more carries last year, he was the only one above 30 percent, and he was WELL over 30 percent.
If CMU has someone who can steal the yardage defenses give the Chippewas by focusing on the pass, this offense could surge. It was too one-dimensional to succeed against good defenses last fall, but the pass should still work against everybody else. Rush is one of the MAC's best quarterbacks, and he's got one of the MAC's best receiving corps at his disposal. The top four returnees combined a strong 52 percent success rate with an average of 13.1 yards per catch. The loss of tight end Ben McCord hurts -- he was one of the better big-play tight ends around -- but his absence might just mean opportunities for Childress, Sabbagh, or a fellow redshirt freshman, tight end Austin Ervin.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|Jesse Kroll||WR||6'3, 214||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7000||97||61||866||62.9%||20.8%||8.9||66.0%||55.7%||1.44|
|Anthony Rice||WR||6'0, 179||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7600||77||57||595||74.0%||16.5%||7.7||46.8%||53.2%||1.32|
|Corey Willis||WR||5'10, 175||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8261||58||37||564||63.8%||12.4%||9.7||51.7%||43.1%||2.21|
|Mark Chapman||WR||6'0, 181||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8267||58||43||559||74.1%||12.4%||9.6||53.4%||53.4%||1.66|
|Martez Walker||RB||5'8, 185||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7983||25||19||97||76.0%||5.4%||3.9||56.0%||28.0%||1.15|
|Devon Spalding||RB||5'11, 203||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7000||18||14||125||77.8%||3.9%||6.9||72.2%||44.4%||1.24|
|Jahray Hayes||RB||5'11, 210||Sr.||NR||NR||14||9||52||64.3%||3.0%||3.7||57.1%||42.9%||0.74|
|Joe Bacci||FB||6'1, 245||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7615||14||11||49||78.6%||3.0%||3.5||64.3%||42.9%||0.82|
|Romello Ross||RB||5'10, 189||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8309||12||11||106||91.7%||2.6%||8.8||58.3%||41.7%||2.00|
|Eric Cooper||WR||5'11, 189||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7859||10||9||84||90.0%||2.1%||8.4||70.0%||60.0%||1.41|
|Tyler Conklin||TE||6'4, 235||Jr.||NR||NR||8||6||95||75.0%||1.7%||11.9||75.0%||62.5%||1.84|
|Zach Crouch||TE||6'5, 241||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7938||7||3||42||42.9%||1.5%||6.0||57.1%||42.9%||1.21|
|Jay Roberson||RB||6'2, 225||Jr.||NR||NR||5||5||42||100.0%||1.1%||8.4||80.0%||80.0%||0.97|
|Brandon Childress||WR||6'2, 190||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8500|
|Jamil Sabbagh||WR||5'9, 201||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8115|
|Austin Ervin||TE||6'4, 235||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7893|
|Bailey Edwards||WR||6'1, 183||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8321|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||2015 Starts||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Nick Beamish||C||13||51||2015 1st All-MAC|
|Kenny Rogers||RG||6'6, 295||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7500||11||24|
|Austin Doan||LG||6'4, 301||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7960||13||13|
|Derek Edwards||RT||6'5, 300||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8317||13||13|
|Jack Ford||LT||6'7, 305||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7916||2||2|
|J.P. Quinn||LG||6'4, 295||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8035||2||2|
|Joe Austin||RT||6'6, 288||Jr.||NR||NR||1||1|
|Joe Komel||C||6'4, 302||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7619||0||0|
|Shakir Carr||RG||6'4, 316||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7941||0||0|
|Alex Coty||OL||6'4, 310||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7483||0||0|
|Brandon Keen||OL||6'6, 274||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7659||0||0|
|Logan Slaughter||OL||6'3, 284||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7759|
|Derek Smith||OL||6'5, 260||Fr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8184|
5. The good news: The line already wasn't very good
Losing two players who had accounted for 83 career starts is never a particularly good thing, especially when that includes an all-conference performer and your left tackle. But if there's a silver lining for CMU in replacing Nick Beamish and Ramadan Ahmeti, it's that the line already wasn't very good with them. It could certainly get worse without them, but you can only get so much worse than 115th in Rushing S&P+, 117th in Adj. Line Yards, and 118th in stuff rate. There are, after all, only 128 teams in FBS. CMU let pass rushers into the backfield pretty frequently on passing downs, as well.
Maybe the most encouraging aspect of this year's line is that it only features one senior. That could hold back the Chippewas in 2016, but in 2017, when Rush, Kroll, and Rice are gone, Ross (or whoever ends up the starting RB) will be running behind a senior-heavy line. So there's that, at least. But unless Ross turns out to be the real deal, the run numbers probably won't be much better this fall.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||40.3%||58||Succ. Rt. +||94.2||89|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||30.4||54||Off. FP+||29.8||73|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity||4.3||52||Redzone S&P+||98.7||76|
|Q1 Rk||120||1st Down Rk||68|
|Q2 Rk||101||2nd Down Rk||77|
|Q3 Rk||15||3rd Down Rk||47|
6. A second-half team
A first-time head coach often sees value in bringing on veteran coordinators, and Bonamego has maybe the most experienced coordinator pair in the MAC. Watts' career spans back to the early 1960s, when he was an assistant in southern Missouri. Defensive coordinator Greg Colby's career reaches back into the 1970s in Illinois high schools. Colby worked for Nick Saban at Michigan State, then served as defensive coordinator at Kent State (1998-2001) and Northwestern (2002-07). He spent four years as head coach at Division II Millersville, as well.
If nothing else, Colby's first year as CMU defensive coordinator was defined by strong adjustments. The Chippewas were awful in the first quarter (120th), bad in the second (101st) and downright awesome in the third (15th) and fourth (16th). By both choice and injury-based necessity, Colby played a lot of guys in the front seven, and the defense appeared to remain fresh well into the game.
The key in 2016 will be not waiting as long. CMU wasn't incredibly aggressive (or effectively aggressive) but will have a chance to change that thanks to the return of senior defensive end and 2014 star Joe Ostman, who battled a high ankle sprain and barely played in 2015. Granted, his return might simply offset the loss of fellow end Blake Serpa, but with almost everybody else back in the front seven, this could work out pretty well.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Joe Ostman (2014)||DE||6'3, 250||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7643||13||46.5||7.3%||10.0||3.0||0||1||3||0|
|Kelby Latta||NT||6'4, 305||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8599||13||26.5||4.1%||3.5||1.0||0||2||0||0|
|Chris Kantzavelos||DE||6'3, 265||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7383||11||19.5||3.0%||6.5||1.5||0||0||0||0|
|Mitch Stanitzek||DE||6'4, 245||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7693||11||12.0||1.8%||3.0||1.5||0||0||0||0|
|Jabari Dean||NT||6'2, 290||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7900||8||10.0||1.5%||1.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Nate Brisson-Fast||DE||6'5, 246||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7759||12||5.5||0.8%||3.0||1.0||0||1||0||0|
|Michael Steinhauer||DT||6'3, 294||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7893||8||3.0||0.5%||0.0||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Donny Kyre||DE||6'2, 250||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7726|
|Alex Neering||DE||6'6, 243||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7981|
|Shahid Bellamy||DT||6'1, 305||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8145|
|Mike Danna||DE||6'2, 238||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8015|
|Leon Page||DE||6'2, 233||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7991|
|Josh Eldridge||DE||6'2, 252||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7790|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Malik Fountain||LB||6'2, 233||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7693||13||51.0||7.8%||4.5||0.0||0||1||1||0|
|Nathan Ricketts||LB||6'3, 237||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8182||13||46.0||7.1%||4.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Tyree Waller||LB||6'1, 225||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7383||13||31.5||4.8%||4.0||2.0||0||2||0||0|
|Jeff Perry||LB||6'2, 228||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7300||13||25.5||3.9%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Trevor Apsey||LB||6'0, 205||So.||NR||NR||13||13.0||2.0%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Alex Briones||LB||6'2, 235||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7856||10||4.5||0.7%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Michael Oliver||LB||5'11, 249||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7992|
7. A pass rush wouldn't hurt
Including Ostman's 2014 totals, CMU returns 10 players who recorded at least 2.5 tackles for loss. Younger players like tackle Mitch Stanitzek and end Nate Brisson-Fast sliced into the backfield in limited opportunity, and three returning LBs logged at least four TFLs each.
Now just imagine the totals if CMU could actually rush the passer. Of these 10 backfield invaders, only two had more than 1.5 sacks: Ostman and linebacker Tyree Waller. CMU recorded top-50 stuff rates against the run but had a drastically substandard pass rush. That the Chippewas still managed to produce excellent passing downs numbers was impressive considering opposing quarterbacks very much had time to throw.
This was probably at least part by design. If you're not sacking the QB and you're still producing solid passing downs numbers, that probably means you're flooding passing lanes and making it difficult for the passer to find a man. That linebackers combined for just two sacks suggests this is the case. Still, if Ostman's return and the further maturation of Brisson-Fast and junior Chris Kantzavelos leads to better pass rushing from the front four, perhaps this defense won't need to wait until the third quarter to play well.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Tony Annese||S||6'1, 209||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7900||13||71.0||10.9%||2.5||0||2||5||0||0|
|Josh Cox||CB||5'11, 190||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7759||12||42.5||6.5%||2.5||0||1||8||3||0|
|Amari Coleman||CB||5'10, 185||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7759||13||36.0||5.5%||2||1||1||7||1||0|
|Gary Jones||S||6'2, 217||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7533||13||9.0||1.4%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Winslow Chapman||CB||6'0, 195||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7200||13||4.5||0.7%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Zach Oakley||DB||6'1, 204||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7842||13||4.5||0.7%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Otis Kearney||S||6'0, 196||So.||NR||0.8000||4||3.0||0.5%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Emmett Thomas||CB||5'10, 160||So.||NR||NR|
|Da'Quaun Jamison||DB||6'0, 186||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7826|
|Alonzo McCoy||CB||5'10, 180||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8147|
|Jakkar Jackson||DB||5'10, 191||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7657|
|Tee'ondre Harvey||DB||6'0, 161||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7757|
8. Playmakers in the back
Losing safety Kavon Frazier, with his five passes defensed and DB-leading 4.5 tackles for loss, hurts. But in corners Josh Cox and Amari Coleman and safety Tony Annese, the Chippewas return three-quarters of a potentially fantastic secondary. It's not immediately clear who will man the other safety spot -- junior Gary Jones would probably be the favorite -- but Annese, Cox, and Coleman combined for 6.5 TFLs, four interceptions, 20 pass breakups, and four forced fumbles. And again, that's with no pass rush.
This unit appears to once again be a strength of the defense, one that could thrive even further with more favors from the front seven.
|Zach Oakley||6'1, 204||So.||4||48.0||0||0||1||25.0%|
|Brian Eavey||6'2, 192||Sr.||3||62.0||2||0||66.7%|
|Brian Eavey||6'2, 192||Sr.||38-38||11-11||100.0%||5-13||38.5%|
|Emmett Thomas||KR||5'10, 160||So.||28||20.3||0|
|Mark Chapman||KR||6'0, 181||Jr.||3||20.0||0|
|Emmett Thomas||PR||5'10, 160||So.||10||3.9||0|
|Special Teams S&P+||77|
|Field Goal Efficiency||76|
|Punt Return Success Rate||90|
|Kick Return Success Rate||17|
|Punt Success Rate||78|
|Kickoff Success Rate||82|
9. An automatic 3 points (inside the 25)
In place-kicker Brian Eavey, CMU had both a strength and weakness. Eavey didn't miss a kick all year under 40 yards -- that includes 39 PATs and 11 field goals. But he was also scattershot beyond 40., making under 40 percent of his kicks. A decent college kicker will make 80-plus percent of his sub-40 attempts and 50 percent or so beyond 40. Eavey was both good and bad.
Beyond Eavey, this was a pretty average special teams unit. Punter/kickoffs guy Ron Coluzzi is gone, but return man Emmett Thomas returns. More good, more bad.
2016 Schedule & Projection Factors
|Date||Opponent||Proj. S&P+ Rk||Proj. Margin||Win Probability|
|10-Sep||at Oklahoma State||23||-18.8||14%|
|15-Oct||at Northern Illinois||79||-6.0||36%|
|4-Nov||at Miami (Ohio)||107||4.6||60%|
|22-Nov||at Eastern Michigan||121||1.8||54%|
|Projected wins: 6.5|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-23.5% (102)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||91 / 101|
|2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin*||2 / 0.3|
|2015 TO Luck/Game||+0.6|
|Returning Production (Off. / Def.)||73% (80%, 67%)|
|2015 Second-order wins (difference)||7.2 (-0.2)|
10. You can work with this schedule
CMU is projected a conservative 85th in S&P+; experience levels are solid, and last year's results were strong, but the projections also incorporate recruiting rankings (which will drag down most MAC teams) and recent history beyond just last year.
85th is safe, but I could see the Chippewas cracking the 60s or 70s with just a few breaks. If Ross or another running back (junior Devon Spalding, perhaps) takes a step forward and helps to create a run game that isn't an anchor dragging down the passing game, then the offense could go from solid to awesome. And if an experienced front seven is able to provide a bit more help for its secondary, then the defense could improve. These both seem semi-realistic.
Regardless, even at 85th, CMU is given a 70 percent chance or better in four games this fall and between between 46 and 63 percent in four more. With further improvement, the trips to UVA or NIU could become tossups, but the Chippewas' chances of bowling once again are high even if they regress slightly.
After last year, though, regression would feel disappointing. This team exceeded my expectations and most likely exceeded its own, and even if this is a roster not designed to fare well against power conference teams, there are only two of those on the schedule. To me, this is a MAC West contender. The passing game is one of the best single units in the conference, and I feel the defense will improve a bit. John Bonamego earned major benefit of the doubt in 2015; we'll see if he can build even more.