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Petzold: Why Central Michigan is worth watching in MAC title game


Central Michigan wide recievers Kalil Pimpleton and Mark Patritto celebrate after a win against Toledo Nov. 29 at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.

Of the Division I football teams in the state, four of the five won't play football on Saturday.

Central Michigan is set to play for the Mid-American Conference championship at Ford Field in Detroit, but Michigan, Michigan State, Western Michigan and Eastern Michigan aren't involved in this weekend's schedule.

The Chippewas (8-4, 6-2 MAC) have made it to the conference title for the first time since 2009 through an improbable turnaround from a 1-11 record in the 2018 season.

For the first and only Saturday in the past decade, all eyes in the state will be on the team from Mount Pleasant led by first-year coach Jim McElwain – not Jim Harbaugh in Ann Arbor, Mark Dantonio in East Lansing or coaches that reside in Kalamazoo and Ypsilanti.

It's all about the Chippewas.

"We started on the bottom, and these guys fought their way through it," McElwain said. "Credit the players and coaches. Who would've ever thought?"

There's nobody else in the state to watch on national television, so why not check out Central Michigan on ESPN2?

After all, the players believe they're worth your time, especially with a high-powered offense that capitalizes on explosive plays.

"It's us as a whole, the way we play together – the camaraderie on the team, energy on the sideline," said wide receiver Kalil Pimpleton. "That's why you should turn us on."

"The reason why they should watch us is what we've gone through," said offensive lineman Clay Walderzak. "If you don't think something is possible, you should just watch the Chippewas."

Led by former coach John Bonamego in the 2018 season, Central Michigan didn't see much time on television. 

The Chippewas were on ESPNU for the season-opener against Kentucky, Fox Sports 1 on Sept. 29 against Michigan State and CBS Sports Network on Oct. 6 against Buffalo.

Three games.

The 2019 season has been much different, as Central Michigan got time on the Big Ten Network against Wisconsin, ACC Network against Miami (Florida), CBS Sports Network on three occasions – against Western Michigan, Northern Illinois and Ball State – and ESPNU against Toledo.

As McElwain's squad won games, television spots opened up. Now, the Chippewas get a chance to play on ESPN2.

Make it seven games.

McElwain made Central Michigan a watchable team through an explosive offense that was No. 1 in conference play at 4,117 total yards through eight games, an average of 514.6 yards per contest. The second closest team was Ohio with 3,824 yards. 

The passing offense, controlled by graduate transfer senior quarterback Quinten Dormady, put up 2,431 yards for an average of 303.9 per game. The efficiency rate through the air was 155.7, behind only Kent State (166.9) and Ohio (162.8).

Central Michigan's offensive line allowed just eight sacks in conference action, good for second-best behind Buffalo.

As the passing game succeeded throughout conference play, the running game did the same.

Led by senior running back Jonathan Ward and sophomore back Kobe Lewis, the Chippewas scored a conference-bet 27 rushing touchdowns in those eight games while tossing on 1,686 rushing yards.

The proof behind the numbers was showcased in the regular season finale, as Central Michigan scored on its first six drives en route to a 49-7 victory over Toledo to clinch the MAC West Division.

Regardless of your affiliation with other teams, the Chippewas are enjoyable to watch from an offensive perspective, and McElwain's formula wins games in blowout fashion.

All but one of the team's six conference wins were by double digits.

While it's worth noting all five Division I teams in the state are bowl eligible, Central Michigan has taken pride in being the only one competing for a conference championship.

"It's pretty exciting for everybody," McElwain said.

Once again, Chippewas are worth watching.