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August 29, 2013

Central Michigan has its own questions heading into opener

At some point this season, Central Michigan's offense will give opponents fits. The Chippewas have the offensive line, the running backs and the receivers to be dangerous, but quarterback and CMU's defense are question marks.

"I think they're a dark horse to contend in the MAC," ChippewaCountry.com publisher Steve Livingston said. "I think the only reason Central wasn't voted higher is because they don't have a returning starter at quarterback.

"If Central can get consistent play from its QB, offensively they could have a great season because there is All-MAC talent everywhere else. The defense has to step up too for this team to be a contender."

Northern Illinois is the favorite to come out of the West Division and Toledo and Ball State list second and third, with Central fourth.

"Those other three teams have well established guys at quarterback," Livingston said.

That's why all eyes, all Chippewa eyes anyway, will be on junior QB Cody Kater this weekend.

"He's shown more consistency and a more well-rounded game than the other two quarterbacks he was competing with, and he has the respect in the locker room," Livingston said.

Up front, CMU saw three starters depart, including No. 1 draft pick Eric Fisher, but there are four linemen with starting experience set to take over this fall, including sixth-year senior Jake Olson.

Olson was actually regarded more highly than Fisher going into the 2012 season, but a season-ending injury cost him the final 11 games.

The good news for the 6-8, 305-pound tackle is that the NCAA granted him another season of eligibility - he was originally a member of the 2008 recruiting class - and that he will have another chance to impress scouts. The bad news is he has a long history of injuries, playing in only three games in 2010 before being sidelined the rest of the year.

"Jake was the guy being compared to Joe Staley two years ago, and then he got hurt and at the same time Fisher slid over to left tackle, and they moved Olson to right tackle, and then Fisher blew up," Stevenson said.

Redshirt sophomore center Nick Beamish is also a talented lineman with NFL size (6-3, 310 pounds).

The two block for one of the Mid-American Conference's top runners, senior Zurlon Tipton, who exploded for 1,492 yards and 19 touchdowns on 252 carries (5.9-yard average) in 2012 - his yardage total ranking fourth in the CMU single-season annals and his TD mark placing him second.

Meanwhile, at receiver, juniors Titus Davis and Courtney Williams are plenty big at 6-2 and 6-1 respectively, and combined for 1,120 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2012, while redshirt sophomore Andrew Flory could be that X-factor.

"Titus Davis would start in the Big Ten," Livingston said. "I think he'll get a shot in the NFL. I don't know how he didn't get offered by a Big Ten school."

Defensively, Central runs a 4-2-5 defense and relies heavily on those two linebackers to clean up everything that penetrates the defensive line. Good thing than that Justin Cherocci and Shamari Benton are both experienced, proven performers entering their junior and senior seasons, respectively.

A year ago, the two combined for 258 tackles in becoming one of just 17 pairs of teammates to each break the 100-tackle threshold among Division I teams in 2012.

Last season, they played behind a feeble defensive line, and that unit saw its top pass rusher depart. The secondary has some playmakers, including senior safety Avery Cunningham, but everything starts up front and CMU insiders aren't sure what to expect.

"Biggest question mark by far on this team," Livingston said.

With a new QB under center and a defensive line that has plenty to prove, Central Michigan isn't ready to pull an upset quite yet but by week five when the Chippewas play at N.C. State, they might just be prepared to earn their second win over a BCS Conference program in head coach Dan Enos' four seasons (Iowa, 2012).


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