Ahhh, Central Michigan. That most central of all Michigan football programs. Remember when they were like sorta kinda good last year? Don't get too scared though: they're kinda mediocre at best as far as anybody can tell, and with last year's QB gone for the NFL and last year's coach Butch Jones gone to replace his CMU predecessor Brian Kelly at Cincinnati - those Bearcat tools have to stop robbing the Central Michigan coaching cradle - the Chips are a bit less intimidating. But still: get intimidated. After the jump, that is.
Thus far: The Chippewas had some serious good stuff going on for them last year: they went 12-2, 8-0 in conference, won the MAC, and then won the GMAC Bowl in overtime. Pretty sweet, huh? I'm pretty sure they were even ranked and stuff. This year it's been a little bit more dicey: in their first game, they literally manhandled the Hampton Pirates, winning 33-0 and scoring two touchdowns and a safety in a 51-second span in the first quarter. Which is pretty damn impressive. (Even more impressive: the safety came first.) Then came a game against Temple, which, against all better judgment, I actually watched (and tweeted). Suffice it to say it was one of the worst displays of football you can imagine. Everybody was fumbling, and I'm pretty sure Temple's running back doesn't own a working set of hands, and Central MIchigan benched their freshman kicker who was 1-5 through the first two games of the season so that their backup kicker could send the game into a 10-10 tie and thus overtime. Then CMU QB Ryan Radcliff telegraphed a pick in the end zone in overtime, leaving Temple to simply make a field goal for a 13-10 win. My eyes still hurt. Last week, the Chips got back on their biz by sending Eastern Michigan to a 52-14 loss, their 14th consecutive - their last victory was the season finale against CMU in 2008. So, thus far, the Chippewas have looked mighty good against some mighty bad teams and dysfunctional yet competitive against a mediocre Temple team. Make of that what you will.
Us and Them: This is the first matchup between Northwestern and Central Michigan. Translation: it will be difficult to turn this into one of the most vicious and hotly contested rivalries in college sports, especially because I'm pretty sure it's a one-off matchup we scheduled out of haste last year because there were very few other FBS teams with open dates and we won't play them again for at least another three years and seemingly don't have any plans to add them to the schedule ever again. That being said, they're on a hot streak against the Big Ten: last year they upset Michigan State 29-27 with an onside kick and a last-second field goal, and two years ago they beat Indiana 37-34 - however, they're 4-19 against the conference all-time.
When they got the ball: I already spoke about CMU's sophomore quarterback, Ryan Radcliff. He has pretty big shoes to fill - Dan LeFevour WAS Central Michigan's offense last year. He threw for 3438 yards, completing 69.7 percent of his passes - Dan Persa numbers - threw 28 touchdowns to seven picks - Dan Persa numbers - led the team in rushing with 713 yards and 15 touchdowns, more than half of the rushing touchdowns the team scored overall - Dan Persa numbers. Dan. Persa. Numbers. Meanwhile, Radcliff, as a redshirt freshman, went 10-21 with no touchdowns in two picks in rare mop-up duty.
And he's gone. Radcliff hasn't been awful since he took over, but the passing game - and the rushing game - are certainly hurt. He threw two picks and no touchdowns against Temple, and he has no ability to scramble like LeFevour. And as for CMU's running game, that also took a hit when Brian Schroeder - last year's starting running back and the team's second-leading rusher - Kevin Coble'd the Chippewa faithful and just straight up quit the team. Don't be fooled by the phenomenally named Paris Cotton's 343 rushing yards in the first three games: Cotton averaged 2.5 yards per carry against Hampton and Temple, then had 209 yards - nearly as many as he had all last year as a backup - against Eastern Michigan. Nobody else on the team has more than 60 yards rushing - CMU won't try to beat teams on the ground. Last week was an outlier against a team that can't tackle. That'll regress to normal this week.
When we got the ball: CMU currently has the fourth-ranked scoring defense in the country, which is a result of playing three horrendous offenses: Hampton (FCS, shutout) Temple (just regular awful, scored only 13 points) and EMU (scored 14 because they were losing by about 40 for most of the game). Now let's not let how bad those teams are take away from CMU's relative goodness defensively: they've forced two turnovers in each of the first three games, and their linebacker, Nick Bellore, is a legit beast. Now a senior, he's started every game in his career and leads all active NCAA players in tackles. Outside of him, nobody has eye-popping stats, but it is a very solidly built team: in the first three games, seven players have recorded a sack, nine have QB hurries, six have pass breakups with their strong safety, Jahleel Addae, being the leader in that category, and five guys have forced fumbles.