Coach: Brian Kelly (2nd season, 4–7) 2004 record: 4-7 MAC finish: 3-5 (5th West) 2004 I-A offensive rankings: Rushing: 40th (169.9 ypg) Passing: 47th (225.6 ypg) 2004 I-A defensive rankings: Rushing: 71st (170.2 ypg) Passing: 107th (261.2 ypg)
at Miami (OH)
at Penn State
at Western Michigan
at Ball State
Depth Chart: Offense
7 returning starters in red
Depth Chart: Defense
6 returning starters in red
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Central Michigan improved its win total by just one game under first-year coach Brian Kelly last season, but it's hard to deny that the Chippewas made significant progress under the former boss at Division II Grand Valley State.
This year, Kelly hopes CMU can break through for its first winning season since 1998. And the stars might just be aligned for that to happen.
The schedule is pretty forgiving -- the Chippewas welcome Indiana for the season-opener and host perennial MAC powers Toledo and Northern Illinois.
The offensive focus in the spring revolved around scoring in the Red Zone. Last season's starting quarterback, Kent Smith, had success moving the Chippewas -- the team finished 39th nationally in total offense -- but had trouble punching it into the end zone, finishing 79th in scoring offense. Smith completed 188 passes for 2,284 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2004. Redshirt freshman Brian Brunner is the No. 2 quarterback, but as long as Smith is healthy, Brunner's playing time will be limited.
Junior tailback Jerry Seymour is one of the most productive backs in the MAC. He's had 14 100-yard games over the last two seasons, and caught 47 passes last season. Seymour was second in the league (and ninth in the nation) in all-purpose yards, averaging 163.8 yards per game.
Senior Justin Harper and junior Damien Linson return to the starting lineup as seasoned receivers. Linson finished with seven touchdown receptions last year, and Harper caught 39 passes. Sophomores Justin Gardner and Jemmy Jasmin round out the receiving corps.
Sophomore Eric Tunney and redshirt freshman Andrew Hartline slide into the starting lineup at center and right tackle, respectively. Joe Staley replaces a four-year starter at the left tackle slot. Senior Jeff Jenerou and junior Eric Karbowski will man the guard positions.
The defensive line revolves around All-MAC selection Dan Bazuin, a defensive end who finished with three sacks and four blocked kicks last season. He's joined by tackles Steven Friend and Tony Thompson, two returning starters. De'Onte Burnam will line up at the other end.
Linebacker Thomas Keith, known as "Red," led CMU in tackles last season with 95, and also broke up seven passes. He'll be joined by Leython Williams and Isaac Brown, a converted defensive back. "Red Keith and Leython Williams are very solid linebackers," Kelly said. "They bring all the things necessary as far as size and speed."
CMU will start a pair of sophomores at cornerback -- Raeshon Ball and Ronnie Jackson -- who were thrown to the wolves last season as rookies in the offensively prolific MAC. Kelly hopes rover Marlin Maxwell picks up where the departed James King left off. Curtis Cutts will roam the defensive backfield at free safety. This group will need to step up this season; the Chippewas finished 107th against the pass in '04.
Mike Gruzwalski, a Freshman All-American in '02, is a seasoned placekicker. Tony Mikulec will handle punting duties. Seymour will return kicks and punts.
CMU has a seasoned quarterback and an all-league caliber running back who have a year of seasoning in Kelly's innovative offensive schemes.
"Clearly we've taken this program to the point where we can beat Eastern and Ball State," Kelly said. "Now we've got to beat Toledo and Northern Illinois. We were 4-1 at home last year so I think the schedule's given us a great break."
If the pieces come together, this could be the season the Chippewas finally make a move up the MAC standings.