2021 Central Michigan Football Preview: Schedule, 4 Things

I don’t have a stat to point to in order to prove my point here, but here’s the thing I want you to know about Central Michigan before the season gets going. CMU is the most physical team in the Mid-American Conference, regardless of what side of the ball the team is on.

This team was coming off of 1-11 season when Jim McElwain was to turn things around in 2019. The team didn’t fall apart during the coaching transition. CMU instantly turned things around to win the MAC West title, and finished with an 8-6 record. In 2020, the NCAA wouldn’t let returning QB David Moore play so the Chippewas fell short on the year without the production it expected to have out of that position. Nobody from the preseason media poll voted for CMU to win its division this year, but it’s not hard to imagine everybody being wrong about the Chips yet again.

Schedule

2020 CMU football schedule, final results

SP+ final rank: 90 (87 offense, 87 defense, 31 special teams)

  • W vs. Ohio, 30-27
  • W @ NIU, 40-10
  • L vs. WMU, 52-44
  • W @ EMU, 31-23
  • L vs. Ball State, 45-20
  • L @ Toledo, 24-23

2021 CMU football schedule

SP+ preseason rank: 82 (78 offense, 82 defense)

  1. @ Missouri
  2. vs. Robert Morris
  3. @ LSU
  4. vs. FIU
  5. @ Miami
  6. @ Ohio
  7. vs. Toledo
  8. vs. NIU
  9. bye
  10. @ WMU (Wed.)
  11. vs. Kent State (Wed.)
  12. @ Ball State (Wed.)
  13. vs. EMU (Fri.)

4 Things

The defense

Even when CMU saw its all-time low of going 1-11 in 2018, the defense really hasn’t been terrible in… well, longer than you think. Every year this team always comes up with a new player to rise up and stand out.

Last year, that breakout defender was DE Mohammed Diallo. He’s in the CFL now, but he started and played in four games 2020 and recorded 9.5 tackles for loss (2nd in MAC) and 3 sacks to be a First Team All-MAC player. Diallo is a Canadian (Toronto, Ontario) who started his college career out at Arizona Western C.C. before transferring to Texas A&M in 2018 (one game), then to CMU for his final two years.

As big of a loss as he is, CMU’s still got some heat.

Troy Brown’s a tremendous football player, and is definitely a preseason favorite to be in the running for the league’s top defender. A two-time First Team All-MAC selection, Brown is both one of the best blitzing linebackers in the conference (led MAC with 16.5 TFL in 2019, 5th in 2020) and does a great job in coverage (4 career INT, 7 pass breakups).

Troy Hairston returns as last year’s MAC co-Defensive MVP (w/ Ball State’s Brandon Martin). In 2020, Hairston recorded a MAC-best 5.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss. He also had 41 total tackles (22 solo), 1 forced fumble (3 career) and one recovery.

LaQuan Johnson. George Douglas. Dishon McNary. Willie Reid. Devonni Reed. Tico Brown. There’s a lot of good talent out of these guys, and this side will always give this team a chance to win if it keeps limiting opposing offenses.

Bernhard Raimann

Raimann is CMU’s national star of the offseason, or at least that’s the way it feels to me. Last year, Raimann, from Austria, made the transition from tight end (26 career games, 11 starts) to left tackle and it seemed to be a move for the best.

From Bruce Feldman’s annual Freaks List:

He started playing football in Austria for the Vienna Vikings program when he was 14 and displayed soft hands and great length for the Austrian U-19 team before moving to Michigan in a year-long high school exchange program. Central Michigan took note of his near 6-7 frame and his athleticism. He caught 20 passes in his first two seasons before being shifted to the O-line, where he’s continued to pack on bulk. Raimann is definitely on the NFL’s radar. Scouts are intrigued. He’s up to 304 pounds but ran a 4.60 shuttle with a 33-inch vertical and a 9-7 1/2 broad jump and a 1.56 10-yard sprint to go with a 450-pound bench press. Raimann has a 3.80 GPA as an Actuarial Science & Statistics double major. On the field, he’s spent a bunch of time in the offseason working with renowned NFL line coach Paul Alexander to polish his game.

(Bruce Feldman, The Athletic)

By PFF’s standards, Raimann was a replaceable player with 53.7 and 47.7 as his offensive grades in 2018 and 2019, but his total grade rose to 75.1. He’s always been a steady pass blocker (77.3 in 2018, 73.5 in 2019, 78.0 in 2020), and showed improvement as a run blocker (54.9 in 2019, 70.9 in 2020).

QB1: Sirmon? Richardson?

Should the Week 1 starting QB be Jacob Sirmon, the Washington transfer, or Daniel Richardson, the returning starter from 2020? As of a week ago, CM-Life’s student reporting says that this is a battle that doesn’t have a clear frontrunner right now.

According to Barbay, the competition itself is progressing well and believes will go down to the wire. 

“They’re not backing down from each other,” Barbay said. “It is a fierce competition, every rep. And they’re watching what each other does. They’re also learning from what the others mistakes are.”

Sirmon was the class of 2018’s top quarterback recruit in Washington, staying in state to play for the Huskies. He backed up future NFL quarterback Jacob Eason for two seasons and Dylan Morris for another before entering the portal and choosing CMU in December. 

“At this stage in my career, I’ve seen a lot and I’ve been around a lot of coaching staffs and players,” Sirmon said. “And I’m really impressed with what coach (McElwain)’s done, with his history, his philosophy, what they’re doing with the offense. The opportunities here that are available for me and this team, I’m really excited about being a part of this team and seeing where we can go.” 

With Richardson, the Chippewas have the quarterback recruit from McElwain’s first recruiting class. The Miami, Florida native enrolled in the spring of 2019 and saw action in three games as a true freshman before stepping in for David Moore and starting four games in 2020. 

The experience Richardson gained in 2020 was valuable, and his time in McElwain’s offensive system may give him a leg up. In four games last year, Richardson was 63-for-99 for 714 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions.

(Christian Booher, CM-Life)

I, a potential idiot, assume that Sirmon’s going to get the nod. No matter who plays though, CMU’s not going to win the West if it doesn’t have improved play out of this position in 2021. But the rest of this team is so promising, especially with the skilled guys to handoff or throw to, that I think this team will be in the running for a West title if it can pick up some steady offense through the air. CMU finished ninth in the MAC last year in team QB rating (128.9).

Rivalry series vs. WMU

For as good of a job Jim McElwain has done in his short time at CMU, he still hasn’t beaten his team’s biggest rival in either of his first two matchups.

In 2019, a late September meet-up in Kalamazoo, the Chippewa offense turned the ball over via interception twice, fumble once, and on downs once for WMU to score in every quarter of the game. CMU lost 31-15, and all 15 points were scored in the fourth quarter. Last year, the Chippewas lost 52-44 in a game that was largely dominated by WMU’s stud receiver. Even though CMU WR Kalil Pimpleton had 3 TD for the day, WMU’s D’Wayne Eskridge had TD receptions from 33, 72, and 85 yards out to put the Broncos up 45-22 in the third quarter. The Chips attempted to rally late, but ultimately fell short.

A few notes on the series’ recent history:

  • 2018-2020: CMU three-game losing streak (outscored 118-69 in stretch)
  • 2017: CMU 35, WMU 28, last time CMU won.
  • 2014-2016: CMU three-game losing streak (outscored 122-79)
  • 2006-2010: CMU’s last winning streak in the series (125-104)

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