Central Michigan head football coach John Bonamego faces a giant challenge ahead of him this fall.
Bonamego, an enthusiastic but untested head coach, is not only losing some of CMU’s most important offensive playmakers and dealing with a weak recruiting class brought on by former head coach Dan Enos’ departure. He’ll also have to deal with a strong schedule that could make topping last year’s seven-win mark tough to do.
The football team, which begins spring practice this month, will play the the second-toughest schedule in the Mid-American Conference, according to an analysis of each team’s schedule by CMU Insider.
Many basic preseason strength of schedule rankings focus almost exclusively on a given team’s opponents’ records from the previous season. This, however, fails to account for the difference between, say, a 7-5 team from the SEC and a 9-3 team from the MAC. The MAC team might have a better overall record, but it is likely that the 7-5 SEC team, in most cases, is superior.
Therefore, Insider examined CBSSports.com’s ranking of all 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams, last updated on March 23. To be sure, polls are subjective and can underrate some teams while overrating others. (Fans of TCU football got a taste of that last year.)
But, generally speaking, they can be useful in determining which teams are better than others. So, Insider took the average of each MAC team’s opponents and found that CMU’s schedule trails only rival Western Michigan (who plays two Top Five teams) for toughest in the conference.
Strength of schedule MAC rankings
(This list uses the average ranking of each team’s opponents, according to CBSSports.com’s expert rankings.)
- Western Michigan (64)
- Central Michigan (73.7)
- Miami (Ohio) (75.5)
- Kent State (76.1)
- Ohio (77)
- Ball State (78.1)
- Bowling Green (79.9)
- Northern Illinois (80.2)
- Eastern Michigan (81.9)
- Toledo (83.7)
- Buffalo (86.1)
- Akron (88.9)
- Massachusetts (90.1)
(Note: Each team except EMU, BGSU and UMass faces one FCS opponent which was not ranked in the CBS poll.)
CMU’s schedule features No. 5 Michigan State and No. 43 Oklahoma State in the non-conference schedule, in addition to No. 98 Syracuse, which beat the Chippewas at home last year.
In addition, the No. 82 Chippewas face tough in-conference competition, as well. Bonamego’s squad will play each of the three highest-rated teams in the MAC: No. 32 Northern Illinois, No. 57 WMU and No. 56 Toledo.
Take a look at CMU’s schedule below, with CBS rankings and 2014 final records.
- Sept. 3: Oklahoma State (No. 43, 7-6)
- Sept. 12: Monmouth (N/A, 6-5)
- Sept. 19: at Syracuse (No. 98, 3-9)
- Sept. 26: at Michigan State (No. 5, 11-2)
- Oct. 3: Northern Illinois (No. 32, 11-3)
- Oct. 10: at Western Michigan (No. 57, 8-5)
- Oct. 17: Buffalo (No. 94, 5-6)
- Oct. 24: at Ball State (No. 91, 5-7)
- Oct. 31: at Akron (No. 96, 5-7)
- Nov. 10: Toledo (No. 56, 9-4)
- Nov. 18: at Kent State (No. 117, 2-9)
- Nov. 27: Eastern Michigan (No. 122, 2-10)
If CMU is not careful, it could easily find itself off to a 1-5 start to the Bonamego era. While CMU will likely be a heavy favorite against FCS Monmouth, the lower-ranked Syracuse clobbered CMU last year. And the only two in-conference games that seem as close to sure-fire wins as is possible in March are the Kent State and EMU games. Barring a huge leap forward or backward by any team, CMU will enter as underdogs against NIU, WMU and Toledo, while its games against Buffalo, Ball State and Akron could be seen as virtual toss-ups.
The good news for CMU, though, is that the season is still more than five months away, meaning Bonamego and his staff have time to build up the current roster and get them ready. The bad news is that they appear to have a long way to go.