2013 SEASON IN REVIEW: For the first few weeks of Central Michigan's 2013 season, things weren't looking so good. The Chippewas were vastly outmatched in an opening week 59-9 defeat at the hands of No. 17 Michigan, and in Week 2 CMU needed a game-winning field goal as time expired to beat FCS program New Hampshire.
The Chippewas suffered three straight losses after that to put a scare into coach Dan Enos and the CMU fan base. But the team pulled it together in the latter half of the season, winning five of the last seven games to draw even at 6-6 overall, with a 5-3 mark in the Mid-American Conference.
Central Michigan had to deal with the loss of tackle Eric Fisher, who was the first-overall draft selection in the 2013 NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chippewas responded to his loss by averaging over 341 total offensive ypg.
Enos enters his fifth year at the helm of the Chippewas program looking to make some serious waves in 2014 with a squad returning a remarkable number of starters from 2013.
OFFENSE: Typically a returning starter at quarterback garners much of the offensive attention in a new season, but for Central Michigan, the focus is spread all around. The Chippewas bring back all 11 offensive starters from the 2013 campaign - an almost unprecedented feat.
Cooper Rush returns to his quarterback spot where he completed 177-of-312 pass attempts in 2013 (56.7 percent) for 2,349 yards and 15 touchdowns. He did throw 15 interceptions, though. The only two offensive contributors that won't be coming back for Central Michigan are running back Zurlon Tipton (74 carries, 414 yards, eight touchdowns) and receiver Connor Odykirk (11 catches, 148 yards, two touchdowns).
Despite the loss of Tipton, the Chippewas retain Saylor Lavallii, who led the team in rushing in 2013 with 845 yards and five scores. But perhaps the biggest contributor to the offense will be senior receiver Titus Davis.
Davis led the team with 61 receptions for 1,109 yards and eight touchdowns as a junior with a relatively inexperienced redshirt freshman Rush throwing to him. Davis will be a huge factor for the Chippewas this upcoming season looking to build his stock as a potential NFL player. He'll draw most of the coverage, but opposing defenses will have to keep an eye on Andrew Flory and Courtney Williams as well.
The offensive line gets all five starters back and will look to improve the mere 132.8 rushing ypg CMU was able to register.
DEFENSE: The defense returns eight starters from a year ago, and it will need all the experience it can get. The Chippewas allowed 28.6 ppg to opponents in 2013, including 201.2 rushing ypg and 405.2 total offensive ypg.
Linebacker Justin Cherocci, Central Michigan's leading tackler from 2013, returns to take over the center of the linebacking corps. Cherocci racked up 121 total tackles with four sacks, an interception and a quarterback hurry. The team's second- and third-leading tacklers from last season are gone.
"We're very happy with a lot of things," Enos said. "Obviously there are a lot of things that we need to continue to improve on, but I think our defense is playing very well right now. They're playing very fast, they're being physical and that's very encouraging."
Three of the team's four starting defensive linemen return for another shot at getting to the MAC title game, and the same is true for the defensive backfield. Both Kavon Frazier and Jason Wilson recorded three interceptions each last season with five pass breakups apiece. Nose tackle Leterrius Walton tied for a team-high with 8.5 tackles for loss in 2013, and will be the anchor in the middle of the defensive line once again.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Sophomore kicker Ron Coluzzi returns from his freshman season in which he made 12-of-17 field goal attempts for the Chippewas. He hit a long of just 40 yards in 2013, and made 5-of-6 from 20-29 yards out. CMU will have to replace punter Richie Hogan, who sent 51 punts flying last year with an average of 43.9 yards per punt. Freshman Cooper Mojsiejenko is in line to see the primary punting duties, but Coluzzi could fill in as well.
OUTLOOK: The Chippewas were able to battle back after limping to a 1-4 start in the 2013 season by winning five of their last seven. On paper, 19 starters returning for another season looks phenomenal, but they'll have to show an improved playing ability for that number to translate into wins.
"There are a lot of young players doing some really good things and our team chemistry continues to build and get better," Enos said. "We like the attitude of our team and the way we're working on a day-to-day basis."
Central Michigan opens the season with FCS program Chattanooga, which is no pushover in the Southern Conference. After that, the Chippewas will face Purdue, Syracuse, Kansas, and will jump into conference play with a contest against Toledo. It's not the easiest of non-conference opponents, but CMU has never shown it wants to pick up cupcake victories.
If Rush can cut down on the number of turnovers and Lavallii becomes more productive with his sure-to-be high volume of carries, Central Michigan can easily average more than 23.2 ppg. And if the defense can cut down on the number of opposing red zone trips, this could be a bowl eligible team. Perhaps one of the best Enos has put together in his five years on the job.