For the second straight week we have another guest blogger stopping by to talk about a football opponent. Also, for the second straight week, it is a writer from The Huslte Belt. Ronald Balaskovitz handles all things Central Michigan for our MACtion overlords within the SB Nation network, and he has some answers about CMU:
T-Mill: Was last year's finish a result of CMU improving or the lousy teams it played?
Ronald: A combination of the two I think. Early in the season, just about everything that could go wrong did. Within the first quarter of the first game against Michigan they lost the starting QB for the season, and then the starting RB to a broken ankle that kept him out until the last couple games. Then the next week the starting LT broke his wrist and was lost for the season, so for last seasons team to go 6-6 with all of that happening that early is actually pretty impressive.
Even then, the team still played decently in some of those early losses. They played NIU and Toledo tough for three quarters, before getting blown out in the fourth to make both games look bad, and that was while trying to break-in a freshman QB. They also played probably their best half of the season in the first against a decent UNLV before the QB remembered he was a freshman, and the defense collapsed. So really the only three real beatdowns were Ball State, Michigan, and NC State.
The big turning point for the team, at least I think, was stealing a key road win at Ohio. They lost the next two following that, but the schedule up to that point was about as rough as I can remember for any CMU team. But then the scheduled eased up, and they did what they are supposed to with bad teams, even winning the last two by a combined 79-10 score.
It was probably a blessing in disguise for the future of the program that QB Cooper Rush was forced into such tough duty early, but another key also was that the offense was able to establish a more solid rushing attack as the season went along to ease the burden on him.
T-Mill: Given that this game is a week after playing WMU how much of an improvement in competition should we expect?
Ronald: Don't sleep on Western, they may have gone 1-11 last year, but they have had to of the best MAC recruiting classes ever since P.J. Fleck took over. That said, they are still a young team, and an undisciplined one, while CMU returns one of the most experienced teams in the league.
The talent difference won't be as big as one might think due to the records last year, but the big difference will be in the little things, taking penalties, turnovers, etc. CMU was one of the least penalized teams in the NCAA last year, and that's one of the big keys if you want to steal a game from a Big Ten team.
T-Mill: Is my fear of Titus Davis legitimate? He looks like a huge advantage for CMU.
Ronald: Titus is as legit as it gets, and one of the biggest deep ball threats not just in the MAC, but the NCAA. He had six games last season where he topped 100 yards receiving, including a 9 grab, 187 yard game against Ball State. For his career he averages about 19 yards per catch, and that's not just as a guy who only goes deep or catches 2-3 passes a game. He's averaged just under 50 catches a season for his career, and has improved with each season. His combination of size (6-2) and speed make him the most complete receiver I've ever seen at CMU.
But another key is that he's not the only threat the team has. CMU returns 6 of its top-7 receivers from a year ago, including Nos. 2 and 3, Andrew Flory and Courtney Williams. So to have the top-3 receivers back is a big deal, because it prevents teams from just focusing on Titus.
T-Mill: After getting Indiana, Michigan State, and Iowa in recent years is this another excellent chance for CMU to get another Big Ten scalp?
Ronald: Not to sound cocky, or overly confident, but I really think so. I think CMU has all the things that you look for when you are trying to upset a Big Ten team. We return 18 of 21 starters, have good experience at almost every spot, good depth, especially on offense and in the secondary, and then have experience upsetting Big Ten teams on the road.
The biggest key will be turnovers. Cooper Rush threw 15 INTs last year, and that number has to come down for CMU to be a threat. The defense typically isn't a stout one, so the offense can ill-afford to put them in bad spots, as well as give opponents extra chances to score.
T-Mill: Who wins the quarterback battle and why?
Ronald: I think it has to be Cooper Rush. He's the more tested of the two competing for the starting spot, and really improved as the season wore on. He's also what you're looking for in CMU's pro-style offense, good arm, nice touch, and willing to stand in the pocket, sometimes almost to a fault.