Football opens MAC play Saturday leading nation in picks


Senior defensive backs Josh Cox and Amari Coleman pose for a portrait on Sept. 20 at Kelly Shorts Stadium.

After taking its first loss at Syracuse on Saturday, the Central Michigan football team looks to regroup and start Mid-American Conference play. 

CMU takes on Miami (Ohio) at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 23 at Kelly/Shorts Stadium. This is the first conference game for both teams. 

Last weekend, the CMU defense gave up a season-high 41 points to Syracuse. The offense struggled to keep its momentum and scored a season-low 17 points. Quarterback Shane Morris was replaced by backup quarterback Tony Poljan in the final drive. 

The Chippewas have a chance to bounce back in their first conference game this weekend against the RedHawks. 

“It’s always nice to get off to a good start in the MAC,” senior defensive back Josh Cox said. “Being able to play with a lot of confidence and having a few games behind you helps a lot. When you are playing in the MAC, there is a lot of competition.”

Cox, a former cornerback turned safety, leads the country with three interceptions this season. Cox and senior cornerback Amari Coleman anchor the CMU defense, which ranks No. 1 in the country with nine interceptions. 

Coleman and linebacker Alex Briones are tied for third in the country with two interceptions each. Coleman’s two interceptions came against Rhode Island in the season opener. 

According to ESPN, Central Michigan is ranked No. 76 with the most efficient defense in FBS division I college football. 

“I prepare (for Miami) the same way I prepare for every game,” Cox said. “I prepare like it is our last game. Miami is a great team. I’ve seen a lot of things based off their offense (in) last year’s game.”

In 2016, the RedHawks dominated the Chippewas in Yager Stadium. Miami defeated CMU 37-17 in the second-to-last game of the regular season.

Miami started the 2016 season without winning a game until week seven. The RedHawks lost their first six games and won the last six games of the regular season.

"Miami is an excellent football team,” head coach John Bonamego said. “(That was) probably the biggest turnaround in NCAA history."

The Chippewas return to Kelly/Shorts Stadium for the first time this season after the home opener against Rhode Island. Cox said he is eager to get back in front of the home fans this season, and Bonamego said he is glad to start MAC play at home.

"It's a big home game for us,” Bonamego said. “We need our home crowd to show up."

Miami started the season with a 1-2 record. The RedHawks only win came against Austin Peay, an FCS team. Their most recent loss came against Cincinnati on homecoming at Yager Stadium, 21-17. 

On offense, the RedHawks are led by redshirt junior quarterback Gus Ragland, who won MAC East Division Offensive Player of the Week when Miami faced CMU last season. This season, Ragland has passed for 664 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions. 

"I think (Ragland) is the catalyst of their offense,” Bonamego said. “They've built a really good system around him. He's a dual-threat and he just makes really good decisions. Whether it is a designed run or an improvised run, he can really hurt you. We're going to have our work cut out for us." 

Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 23 in Kelly/Shorts Stadium. The game is being broadcasted on ESPN3.