The MAC is often called "the cradle of coaches," and our very own Dave Doeren cut his teeth there. Central Michigan, N. C. State's third opponent in 2013 (September 14th), has lived up to the reputation in recent years, berthing Brian Kelly and Butch Jones to the BCS ranks. With a 13-24 record over his first three years at CMU, lead man Dan Enos does not appear to be on the same trajectory as his predecessors. Enos is coming off his best campaign to date, a 7-6 mark that culminated in a pizza bowl win over Western Kentucky, but the Chippewas must shore up a porous defense that surrendered 32.4 points per game last year if they wish to return to the top of the MAC.
Enos, whose 13-24 career coaching record matches his TD-INT ratio as Michigan State's quarterback back in the day, inherited Butch Jones's 12-2 Chippewa squad that won what was once called the GMAC Bowl before Danica Patrick stripped it of its title (so to speak). Enos went to work right away destroying what Butch and Brian before him had built. CMU posted back-to-back 3-9 campaigns under the new regime. In those first two years, Enos so tempered expectations that he was awarded a four-year extension this off season after the Chippewas rebounded to 7-6. (Hopefully Dave Doeren does not employ the same strategy of going 3-9 for a couple of years to make Pack fans yearn for those golden seven-win days of the TOB era.)
Enos, who has coached QBs at Michigan State and Cincinnati, has always been an offensive guy. That's not to say he is a jerk so much is it is to say that he has only coached and played on the offensive side of things. Whether or not that's a factor is not for me to say, but the numbers say that CMU's issue under Enos is on defense. The Chippewas have finished 60th, 98th, and 95th in scoring defense under his watch. Last year, the Chips were 100th against the run (4.88 yards per carry) and 76th against the pass (7.5 yards per attempt). Doeren's Northern Illinois unit hung 55 on them last year and Toledo piled up 50.
Part of the problem for the Chips is the lack of pressure put on opposing quarterbacks. They managed just 18 sacks a season ago, 99th in the nation. Caesar Rodriguez, their leading sacker last year with four, has exhausted his eligibility, so things may get worse before they get better in that regard. Also gone for CMU is Jahleel Addae, who led the team with four picks.
The Chips do return a pair of prolific tacklers in linebackers Justin Cherocci, a rising junior, and his senior teammate Shamari Benton. Cherocci was 12th nationally last season with 132 stops and Benton was 21st with 126. While willing to drag guys down after a gain, Cherocci and Benton showed a remarkable resistance to tackling anyone behind the line of scrimmage. Despite 158 stops between them, they combined for just four tackles for a loss.
Offensively, CMU returns a pair of second team all-MAC performers that should help their offense stay in games despite the weakness on the other side of the ball. Rising senior Zurlon Tipton, a bruiser at 6-1, 219 pounds, bulled his way to 1,492 yards last year, the 13th highest total in the nation. Tipton averaged an impressive 5.9 yards per carry and rushed for 19 touchdowns, which tied Jordan Lynch for the MAC lead and was good for 10th nationally.
Titus Davis is one of the most explosive receivers in the nation. He ranked seventh in the FBS with 20 yards per reception last season on his way to 860 yards through the air. He led the Chips with eight TD grabs. During his 2011 freshperson campaign, Davis's 751 yards were the fourth most nationally among rookies. His first career grab was a 67-yard score. He is no doubt sad to see David Amerson go.
It is a mystery as to who will hand the ball off to Tipton and chuck it to Davis, as Ryan Radcliff and his 23-9 TD-INT ratio are gone. Rising junior Cody Kater, Radcliff's clipboard holder last season, is probably the best bet to take over under center. Kater played one season at Grand Rapids Community College and completed over 68% of his passes for a team that went 11-0 and averaged over 50 points and 500 yards per game.
Opening with a Louisiana Tech squad that suffered massive personnel losses, including its head coach, followed by games against the FCS Richmond Crime Family and defensively-challenged CMU, might not be the sexiest start to the season, but it might be just what the doctor ordered for a Wolfpack replacing nearly its entire offensive line and its quarterback (not to mention breaking in a new coaching staff with new schemes). Anything less than offensive fireworks for the Wolfpack will be foreboding. I expect a lot of points-for both teams-over the first three weeks, and if the Pack emerges unscathed at 3-0 they should be on their way to, at the very least, holding their middling TOB-ear ground and getting to six wins and a bowl in year one of the Doeren regime.