COLUMN: Where I was right, wrong with preseason football predictions
I was once told that it takes a big man to admit he was wrong -- but it takes a bigger one to not be wrong in the first place.
And when it comes to predicting Central Michigan's 2020 football season, I was wrong a fair amount.
There were certainly a fair share of circumstances that led to CMU's underwhelming 3-3 finish, a season that coach Jim McElwain called "unacceptable" in his final postgame press conference. Whether it be taking the field significantly shorthanded in each game, losing the presumptive starting quarterback before the season or struggles to find consistency in the secondary, the Chippewas spent most of the season trying to answer questions with solutions from within.
Now, before we turn the page to the 2021 season, lets take a look back to see where I was right and wrong with my six preseason bold predictions:
Prediction one: David Moore takes advantage of returning skill players, takes offense to new heights
Well, not exactly. Moore never took a snap for the Chippewas in 2020 after reportedly testing positive a second time for an NCAA banned substance. He won't be back in 2021, as he recently announced that he was foregoing the rest of his eligibility and entering the NFL Draft.
In Moore's absence, CMU turned to redshirt freshman Daniel Richardson. Statistically, the offensive production was similar to 2019, where the Chippewas averaged 30.9 points and 439 yards of offense. This season, CMU scored 31 points and averaged 420 yards per game.
Richardson showed flashes of success in his debut season, showing good touch on his deep ball. Richardson had struggles with pocket awareness and his height showed itself at times as well. There's still a lot of potential to be unlocked with him, but the arrival of Washington transfer Jacob Sirmon will create an interesting competition.
As far as skill position guys returning, juniors Kobe Lewis and Kalil Pimpleton were both as advertised. Lewis ran for 468 yards over the course of six games and Pimpleton did a little bit of everything, catching two touchdowns, running for three and throwing another. Senior JaCorey Sullivan didn't get many touches, and sophomore receiver Tyrone Scott played in just two games.
On the other side, the Chippewas appeared to strike gold with a pair of newcomers. Redshirt freshman running back Lew Nichols (more on him later) led the team in rushing and established himself as a building block for the future, while junior wide receiver Dallas Dixon showed himself as a deep threat and reliable option.
Prediction two: Trio of transfers will lead the secondary
The tandem of Richard Bowens III, Dishon McNary and Brian Edwards did see the majority of reps at cornerback this season. However, they weren't exactly the shut down unit that I may have anticipated based on what we heard before the season.
McNary was the most impressive of the three, posting high marks in pass coverage. All three struggled at the beginning of the campaign, but a lot of that comes with playing together for the first time in a shortened season. By the end of the year, McNary and Bowens were playing their best ball.
Edwards, meanwhile, saw less action as the season progressed. In the season opener, he started and played 55 snaps, a number that would end up being his season-high. In the finale at Toledo, Edwards played just seven snaps.
Outside of those three, the Chippewa secondary had its moments. Creating three turnovers late in a road win over Eastern Michigan and a second half shutout of Ohio in the season opener served as highlights. Outside of that, struggles against Western Michigan and Ball State grounded a unit that otherwise was solid.
McNary and Bowens will likely get the first crack to start next season, with Edwards vying for playing time with late-blooming freshman Donte Kent in a backup role. Kent's emergence served as a foil to Edwards, as his snap count rose each and every game.
Prediction three: A pair of freshmen will be active on the offensive line
My predictions ran before learning that 14 Chippewa freshmen gray shirted. Two of the 14 were offensive guards Braden Doyle and Keegan Smith. Had the pair come to Mount Pleasant, they would almost certainly have seen significant time given the injuries that the Chippewa offensive line dealt with.
Each will join the team in the spring, and I expect them to compete for playing time right away. Sophomores Danny Motowski, Tyden Ferris and Deiyantei Powell-Woods all gained valuable experience in 2020 and hold the advantage at guard. Doyle and Smith are both physically ready, for that reason, I expect them to contribute similarly to how Motowski and Ferris did as true freshmen in 2019.
Prediction four: Troy Brown emerges as legitimate pro prospect
Another year, another appearance on the Mid-American Conference's First Team for Brown. The junior linebacker from Flint was second on the team in tackles and did a good job shoring up the run defense for the Chippewas. There was no more telling moment of his importance than in the first half of CMU's 52-44 lost to WMU where, with Brown sitting due to a targeting penalty the previous week, the Bronco rushing attack cruised all over the Chippewa defense.
The Chippewas played on national television five times in 2020, so Brown had plenty of opportunities to show off how talented he is. Pro Football Focus graded him with a 77.0 in rush defense, a solid mark that helps to offset some of his struggles in pass coverage.
Prediction five: Lew Nichols carries strong workload in redshirt freshman campaign
Nichols did carry a strong workload in his first full year of eligibility. He was the perfect change of pace for Lewis, and he ended up leading the team in rushing yards. A 197-yard performance against EMU served as his highlight, but there were countless other bright moments for the MAC Freshman of the Year.
Now, heading into his "sophomore" (or redshirt redshirt freshman) campaign, expect more of the same from Nichols. His superb footwork and strength will lead to more carries and, in a full season, the tandem of he and Lewis could create loads of problems for MAC defenders.
Prediction six: McElwain gets signature win over Western Michigan
The return of WMU's D'Wayne Eskridge and a poor assessment of Kaleb Eleby's experience on my part led to a bad prediction for the 2020 Battle for the Victory Cannon. CMU missed Brown in a first half that saw the Broncos score 31 unanswered after the Chippewas opened with two scores in five minutes.
Playing with an injured Richardson behind center and a banged up offensive line, the Chippewas were stagnant for much of the first half before exploding in the third quarter and tacking on a late score in the fourth to bring the game within eight.
McElwain was emotional after the loss, likely wishing he could have one or two calls back in a game that saw a valiant comeback effort fall an onside kick short. Now, with 2020 in the rear view mirror, McElwain will try to make the third time the charm as he works toward knocking off the rivals from Kalamazoo.