Opponent Preview: Central Michigan

Northwestern is set to play Central Michigan in Week 3.

By Nicholas Magas

The Central Michigan Chippewas are on the schedule for Northwestern’s Week 3 matchup at Ryan Field. The September 19 showdown will mark the second ever meeting of these programs. It will be critical for Northwestern to pick up a convincing win over a less-talented non-conference foe to build momentum before traveling to Penn State the following week.

Central Michigan had a unique 2019 campaign, finishing 8-6 overall and 6-2 in the Mid-American Conference. Wisconsin drubbed the Chippewas by 61 points in their Week 2 Big Ten contest, setting a poor tone for the rest of the season. They got their act together after the fact, however, going undefeated at home en route to an appearance in the MAC championship game. The postseason ended unceremoniously, as CMU dropped a one-score game to Miami (OH), and followed it up by getting pummeled at the hands of San Diego State in the New Mexico Bowl.

In his first year as head coach in 2019, Jim McElwain led Central Michigan to seven more wins than they had the season prior. McElwain is an offensive-minded coach with experience as a former college quarterback at Eastern Washington. Still, after a messy tenure as the head coach at the University of Florida, his immediate success at CMU came as a shock to some. The program will have to deal with much higher expectations in the years to come.

Much like Northwestern’s first two opponents of the season, Central Michigan will be searching for a replacement for a graduated starting quarterback. Quinten Dormady moved from school to school throughout his college career, playing a solid senior season behind center for the Chippewas. Based on his stat line from 2019, the man most qualified to take the reins is clearly David Moore. Moore, however, tested positive for a banned substance last season and will remain suspended until October 7. 

As a result, ‘Cats defense will most likely be going up against quarterback Daniel Richardson. Richardson completed one pass for a total of one yard last season as a first-year, before redshirting the remainder of the year. Richardson has a smaller frame but possesses the arm and the athleticism to be a legitimate dual threat quarterback. The other options for the Chippewas would be sophomore George Pearson and transfer Ty Brock. Pearson hasn’t seen game action since CMU’s atrocious 1-11 season in 2018. Brock showcased an impressive skill set as a starter at Sam Houston State University, but questions still remain as to how well that will transfer to the FBS.

The rest of the Chippewa offense is, quite literally, in good hands. The receiving core is both talented and experienced, with All-MAC pass catchers Kalil Pimpleton and JaCorey Sullivan returning for their junior and senior seasons, respectively. Tight end Tony Poljan is back for one more year as well. Poljan utilized every bit of his solid 6-foot-7-inch build, and he established himself as a legitimate red zone threat in 2019.

The running game also shows promise for the coming season, with Kobe Lewis again in the Chippewa backfield for his junior year. The Georgia-native rushed for over 1,000 yards last season as a backup, and he should star as the focal point of Central Michigan’s ground attack.

On the whole, the CMU defense was decent in 2019. They kept the team in a few close ballgames over the course of the year, but also allowed some opponents to put up ugly numbers on the scoreboard when it was all said and done. Some of the single game disasters can be attributed to a lack of experience, and many of those players will return this year. Junior linebacker Troy Brown led the squad in tackles last year with 91, and he will return as the anchor of the defense. LaQuan Johnson will be a difference-maker up front, contributing to both the run defense and the pass rush. The secondary will return most, if not all, of its relevant players, so the Chippewas have plenty of potential to keep opposing passing games in check. 

As will be the case with every NCAA football team, Central Michigan will be forced to adapt to different practice and game environments this season. While they may struggle against a pair of Big Ten opponents early in the year, the Chippewas have an opportunity to finish at or near the top of their conference once again. If the quarterbacks can hold their own and the defense can avoid giving up the big play, don’t be surprised if Central Michigan can hang with the Wildcats in week three.

Score Prediction: Northwestern 20, Central Michigan 13

Editors Note: This article was published before the Big Ten’s decision to play a conference-only schedule in fall 2020.