MAC football is back: McElwain preps Chippewas for shortened season
College football is returning to Mount Pleasant.
Two months ago, there was no fall season to prepare for. Now, Central Michigan will get a chance to defend its Mid-American Conference West Division title in 2020.
It won't be a full season though. Each of the MAC's 12 schools will play a conference-only, six-game schedule featuring the five members of its division and one interdivisional crossover game. The season is scheduled to start the week of Nov. 4 and will conclude with the MAC championship game on Dec. 18 or 19. There will be no fans in attendance at any of the games.
CMU's 2020 SCHEDULE:
Wed. Nov. 4: Vs Ohio
Wed. Nov. 11: At Northern Illinois
Wed. Nov. 18: Vs Western Michigan
Sat. Nov. 28: At Eastern Michigan
Sat. Dec. 5: Vs Ball State
Sat. Dec. 12: At Toledo
The schedule won't be the only change to the players' routines in 2020. Each student-athlete will be tested for coronavirus four times a week. If a player tests positive, they will undergo an antigen test to confirm their diagnosis. Once that diagnosis is confirmed, the player is out for at least 21 days.
As far as on the field, there are plenty of subjects worth watching within the Chippewa football program.
Head coach Jim McElwain is heading into his second year at the helm of the Chippewas and has plenty of offensive firepower.
Wide receivers junior Kalil Pimpleton and senior JaCorey Sullivan, both of whom were all-conference performers last season, return at wide receiver primed to have breakout seasons. There's also sophomore wide receiver Tyrone Scott, who had 650 receiving yards as a redshirt freshman last year. At running back, junior running back Kobe Lewis will see an increase in carries after posting 1,000 yards backing up Jonathan Ward in 2019.
McElwain and offensive coordinator Charlie Frye have plenty to work with, but the big question this season: Who is starting quarterback?
Senior quarterback David Moore seems to be the favorite. His one-year suspension was scheduled to expired Oct. 7, making him eligible for the entirety of the 2020 season. In four starts last season, Moore threw for 1,143 yards and five touchdowns, leading the team to two wins. He and Pimpleton formed a potent connection before Moore was forced to miss the season due to his suspension.
Should Moore go down, McElwain will be forced to turn to either redshirt freshman Daniel Richardson or graduate transfer junior Ty Brock, who comes to CMU from Sam Houston State.
Defensively, the Chippewas bring back star junior linebacker Troy Brown and a plethora of returning contributors on the front line. There is inexperience in the secondary, but expect transfer junior defensive backs Brian Edwards and Richard Bowens III to contribute in their first season with the Chippewas.
Praising the MAC
McElwain wasted no time sharing his thoughts on the MAC's process of reinstating the season. He praised commissioner Jon Steinbrecher and the medical professionals working toward creating a safe, playable environment for student athletes.
Among his biggest praises was the fact that the MAC allowed the players to participate in discussions. Student athletes from each MAC school met with Steinbrecher and medical professionals to discuss what it would take to play a season.
"I thought it really was good as a conference to include the players in those discussions," McElwain said. "(Players) felt they had a chance to find out all the reasons and how we’re doing it. My hat’s off to the Mid-American Conference, how they went about it and this decision to play this schedule."
Preparing in case of emergency
With contact tracing becoming a large part of the COVID-19 conversation, McElwain has sought to diversify his players' skills. He sets aside specific parts of practice to allow players to practice on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. For example, defensive backs spend time training as wide receivers, and vice versa.
Additionally, McElwain referenced that the team could be trying wildcat packages. Pimpleton seems like a prime candidate to fill that role given his experience at the position in high school.
The Chippewas may need help at running back and in the secondary from those on the opposing side of the ball. Lewis and redshirt freshman Lew Nichols are the only two scholarship options in the backfield after redshirt freshman Josh Crawford opted out. The crossover practices are allowing McElwain to evaluate what he has in his players.
"What we're doing in our crossover practices, I think is going to help us at that position," McElwain said. "Those crossovers are going to help us if we have some injuries."
Most of 2020 recruiting class to join team in January
Just nine members of Central Michigan's 2020 recruiting class will be on roster this season. Of the nine, seven are on scholarship. Other members of the freshman class will join the program in January and participate in spring practice, McElwain said. Those participating this season are running back Jordon Ingram, wide receiver Nahree Biggins and offensive lineman Keegan Smith.
"They're going to be able to get a full spring and summer, which will put them ahead academically," McElwain said. "On the back end, gaining another year as far as the eligibility piece, I think that's fantastic."
Four of the team's top-five recruits in the 2020 class are among those staying home. Defensive back Daedae Hill, the team's second-highest rated recruit according to 247Sports, is the lone recruit coming to Mount Pleasant. The other freshmen on roster are: defensive back Donte Kent, wide receivers Alec Ward and Zahir Swann, linebacker Jayden Cray, offensive lineman Ronald Novosedliak, running back John Shelton IV, kicker Marshall Meeder and defensive lineman Cade Cote.
Starting tackle Luke Goedeke to miss season due to knee injury
Central Michigan starting junior offensive tackle Luke Goedeke underwent knee surgery and will miss the 2020 season.
"He's gonna miss this season," McElwain said. "The surgery went great; he's in really good spirits."
Last season, Goedeke started all 14 games for the Chippewas at right tackle and was the team's highest graded player according to Pro Football Focus. He committed just five penalties throughout the season and played a large part in CMU having a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in Jonathan Ward and Kobe Lewis.
Goedeke came to Central Michigan in 2018 as a walk-on after one season at UW-Stevens Point. He switched from tight end to tackle and flourished. He was named preseason First Team All-MAC by PFF and Second Team by Athlon Sports.
A pair of Chippewas have moved to offensive tackle to replace him: junior tight end Bernhard Raimann and junior defensive lineman Keegan Cossou.
Two players opt out
Crawford and junior defensive lineman Deron Irving-Bey are the lone two players who have decided to opt-out of the 2020 season due to coronavirus concerns.
Players taking part in social conversation
McElwain and his staff helped every member of the Chippewa roster register to vote. He emphasized the importance of allowing his players to share their voices and opinions on social conversations.
"There's a lot of great lessons we've learned and should have learned a long time ago," McElwain said. "Your voice can be heard through voting and doing something. It doesn't sound like a lot, but I think it was an important lesson for all of us."
Originally, sophomore defensive lineman Jacques Bristol and redshirt freshman safety Trey Jones had also opted out. However, they returned when the season was revived in September.