Brian Kelly, fresh off back-to-back Division II national titles at Grand Valley State University, arrived at CMU in December and immediately began the difficult task of infusing a championship spirit into a program that hasn't had a winning record since 1998.
Kelly coached at Grand Valley State for 13 years and never suffered through a losing season. He's set his sights on the season-opener against Indiana to unleash the Chippewas' new attitude. "Winning the opener would be huge for this team," Kelly says. "This team needs to have success."
OffenseKelly believes in the spread offense. And for good reason. He's won back-to-back Division II championships running the spread at Grand Valley State. Now Kelly must find a quarterback who can run it at Central Michigan. A decision on who will lead the Chippewas' offense won't come until August. Jeff Perry, who injured his knee after starting the first four games in '03, has decided not to return for a fifth season, which means Kelly will have to rely on redshirt freshman Nick Gildersleeve, senior Grant Arnoldink or junior Kent Smith.
Fortunately, running back is a little more solidified for CMU. Sophomore Jerry Seymour earned Freshman All-America honors after rushing for 1,117 yards and eight touchdowns in just nine games.
Someone will need to step up to offer Justin Harper some help at receiver. Harper caught 45 passes for 441 yards and two TDs in '03. Scott Gibson, Damien Linson and Jacob Brown will offer depth, but the trio combined for just 28 receptions last season. Tight end Tory Humphrey will offer a solid receiving outlet for CMU. He caught 14 balls last year.
CMU is solid in the trenches. Adam Kieft offers experience and credentials. The left tackle took home second-team all-conference accolades last year.
DefenseDan Bazuin will be asked to wreak havoc again in opposing teams' backfields. Bazuin had six sacks and 14 tackles for a loss en route to second-team Freshmen All-America honors at his defensive end position. William Brookshire will find time at defensive end after starting last season, but sophomore Michael Ogle will likely start opposite Bazuin. Junior college recruit Temirez Williams is penciled in at tackle and returning starter Tony Thompson will continue to anchor the frontline.
One of the more talented defensive players for CMU, James King, will move from safety to drop linebacker to get him involved in more plays. King has accumulated 329 career stops. Two returning starters, seniors Anthony Tyus Jr. and Jon Nelson, will play alongside King.
The secondary returns three starters (and that doesn't include King), but that may not be a good thing; CMU allowed over 250 yards passing per game in '03.
SpecialistsMike Gruzwalski returns after nailing 4-of-6 field goals and all 35 extra-point attempts last season. He will be a steadying influence for CMU. Freshman Tony Mikulec is the likely replacement for departed punter Brian Brandt.
Final AnalysisKelly, who compiled a 41-2 record over his final three seasons at Grand Valley State, arrived at CMU in December and immediately began the difficult task of infusing a championship spirit into a program that hasn't had a winning record this millennium. CMU's struggles, however don't faze Kelly, who has kept his expectations high despite his new surroundings.
"People have called me crazy, but I expect CMU to make a run at the MAC championship," he said. "First we need to break some bad habits."
That starts with fixing a defense that allowed 501.8 yards per game last season. Kelly's optimism will help, as will his aggressive defensive alignments and spread offense, but this will likely be a learning year for CMU.