After the Chippewas won six or more games six years in a row, a 1-11 mark in 2018 left the CMU faithful in shock, and head coach John Bonamego was fired after fielding the worst offense in the nation last year.
Former Colorado State and Florida HC Jim McElwain takes over in Mount Pleasant, but stars like DE Mike Danna (9.5 sacks, 5.5 TFL) and CB Sean Bunting are gone from a defense that was a bright spot last year. The offense, on the other hand, was really, really bad (3.7 YPP, down over 30% from the year before) but on the bright side, a lot of the key pieces are back.
Luckily they should be a lot more experienced this year after being one of the youngest teams in the country, but year one will be more about laying the groundwork for years to come for Jim McElwain as he has already started to kick up dust on the recruiting trail.
The quarterback race is going to be a little crazy. Four guys started games last year and none were great, but all of them are back. Tony Poljan, who started the year in 2018, and the big Austin Hergott seem likely to move to tight end, leaving senior Tommy Lazzaro (who was put out for the year due to an injury vs Western Michigan) and redshirt freshman George Pearson, who threw for a touchdown in the season finale last year under the NCAA’s new redshirt rules. They add a three-star freshman in Daniel Richardson as well as JUCO transfer David Moore (formerly of Memphis) as well as highly-touted former Tennesse QB Quentin Dormady (remember him???). Lazzaro and Dormady seem like the leading contenders right now, but I’d expect some time-splitting early on.
The offensive line is undersized but at least gets a lot back, and they do add a couple of bigger freshman who could see early playing time. The running game was shoddy last year but they get pretty much everyone back including the top guy from last year, senior Romello Ross (402 yards, two touchdowns, 4.5 YPA). Fellow senior Jonathan Ward or perhaps sophomore Kobe Lewis could challenge.
The top two are gone from the receiving group so expect Virginia Tech transfer Kalil Pimpleton or perhaps one of a handful of intriguing freshmen to step up into the very small shoes left by last year’s receiving corps, where no one topped 315 yards.
This offense should progress to the mean a bit after an atrocious year in 2018, but it won’t be good. How much it improves will largely depend on if they can find a reliable quarterback and a couple of reliable targets for him to throw to, as well as how well the Chippewas adapt to new OC Charlie Frye’s system.
The defense was really great last year but they lose a ton including a pair of NFL-level corners, three of four from the entire defensive line (including the awesome end Danna), and all three starting linebackers.
They do get their top two tackles back as well as both safeties. SS Da’Quan Jamison is surely the top returner on the defense and could compete for all-conference status. Mike linebacker Michael Oliver is solid and experienced but won’t light the world on fire as the captain of the defense.
Some late news will hurt CMU as highly touted Michigan transfer Deron Irving-Bey was ruled academically ineligible, meaning the ends remain a huge mystery. The outside linebacker spots and both corners will likely start underclassmen, and I am really worried about the low level of experience on this side of the ball.
So much is gone from this defense that a step back seems like a near certainty, how much so is still up in the air, but I think the drop off could be bigger than some realize.
The offense should improve, the defense should take a step back, but this will probably still be a bottom ten team in the country.
The opportunities for wins are there, as the Chippewas host two bottom-ten teams and an FCS, but a bowl run in year one for McElwain feels highly unlikely. Luckily for him though, this team is pretty young on the whole and his recruiting should have the Chippewas back in the bowl race within a couple of years.
|Date||Opponent||OPP. RANK||Proj. Margin|
|28-SEP||AT WESTERN MICHIGAN||86||-13.8|
|12-OCT||NEW MEXICO STATE||125||4.4|
|19-OCT||AT BOWLING GREEN||118||-4.1|
|16-NOV||at BALL STATE||113||-5.8|
Average Projected Record: 4.3 wins, 7.7 losses (2.4 wins, 5.6 losses)