The Mid-American Conference will kick off with a bang tomorrow night when the perennial power in the MAC West (Central Michigan) gets matched up with the up and coming power in the MAC East (Temple). Last season, the two teams combined to go 21-6, although the Owls were tripped up in week 12 at Ohio and did not represent the MAC East in the MAC Championship. Temple was named the preseason MAC favorite back in late July and Central Michigan was picked to finish second in the MAC West after winning the MAC three of the past four years. Needless to say, Thursday's game is a pivotal early season showdown and should provide plenty of answers.
And the entire country will get a chance to see the game as it will be aired live in ESPNU beginning at 7pm tomorrow.
"We've challenged our players and told them they have a great opportunity," said CMU head coach Dan Enos. "It's a high profile game in a great environment early in the season. Temple is coming off a nine-win season, and Coach Golden and his staff have done a tremendous job with that program."
Central Michigan has never lost to Temple, going 2-0 against the Owls since they joined the MAC. The two programs last played in 2008 when the Chippewas held off Temple 24-14 at Kelly/Shorts Stadium
It's no secret that Temple is looking to establish the run, heck you could look at the preseason Heisman campaign for tailback Bernard Pierce and figure that out, but to live up to their MAC hype, the Owls will need to throw the ball. That responsibility will fall on quarterback Chester Stewart, who last saw Central Michigan in 2008 when he started and promptly completed 15-32 passes for 163 yards with 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions. Now it's been two years since that start and Stewart had a solid day against Villanova completing 16-27 passes for 200 yards 1 touchdown, but he still has a lot to prove. While the Chippewas saw Stewart two years ago in their last meeting, they have not seen sophomore running back Bernard Pierce. Pierce is touted as the top back in the MAC and at 6-foot an 220 pounds, he can run over or around people. But, shockingly, it wasn't Pierce who had a ton of success against Villanova last week, it was 5-foot-5 and 170 pound sophomore Matt Brown who averaged 5.4 YPC to Pierce's 3.8. Regardless of the stats, it appears Temple has two backs who can complement each other's style and keep defenses guessing. Helping both Stewart and the rushing attack is an experienced offensive line that returns five players who had at least 5 starts last season. Both OT Darius Morris and guard Colin Madison were 1st team All-MAC performers last year.
At wide receiver, the Owls are led by 6-foot-2 and 202 pound senior Michael Campbell, who caught 8 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown in the opener. Junior Rod Streater also caught 4 passes for 46 yards in that game, and freshman Deon Miller and junior Joe Jones provide depth behind the two starters.
Offensively the Owls have some question marks, namely at quarterback, but like Hampton in the previous week, Central Michigan will be squaring off with an opponent that is strong defensively. In fact, Temple returns four 1st team All-MAC selections on defense in: DE Adrian Robinson, DT Muhammad Wilkerson, S Jaiquawn Jarrett and linebacker Elijah Joseph. Robinson led the MAC in sacks last season with 12, and Wilkerson posted 6.5 of his own. Jarrett tallied 76 tackles and 3 interceptions while Joseph added 63 tackles, 2 sacks and 6.5 TFL. Together, those four form a solid quartet of talent on the Owls defense, but they are not alone. Other players to look out for include LB Amara Kamara and CB Marquise Liverpool.
Last week Temple have up a total of 311 yards to Villanova (139 on the ground and 172 through the air), and surrendered 24 points to the defending FCS national champion.
KEY TEMPLE STATS
* 0-2 all-time vs. Central Michigan * CMU and Temple did not play last season * Allowed 226.4 YPG passing last season * Stewart completed only 40% of his passes last year * K Brandon McManus hit 4-5 FG's last week against Villanova, including the game winner. * Only 1 sack registered against Villanova (A. Robinson)
HOW IT SHAKES OUT
Temple likes to run the ball, CMU boasted one of the top rush defenses in the MAC last season. Temple has had some issues in pass coverage, CMU is breaking in a new quarterback and loses two starting wide receivers. While Central Michigan may try and establish the run game, the Chippewas past success against the Owls has come through the air. Similarly, Temple may find it hard to run on a stout CMU defense. So this one may come down to the two quarterbacks who both have to prove they can lead their respective teams to a MAC Championship. Stewart has had his struggles in the past, but has game experience and will have the comfort of home field advantage. Ryan Radcliff will be making his first road start, and what better opportunity to make his mark then against the preseason MAC favorite. Individually, neither QB can afford to make many mistakes because with strong defenses on both sides, field position could become a major factor. Special teams could also play a key role, not only in field advantage and hidden yardage, but the field goal kickers themselves. McManus proved himself to be on of the MAC's best kickers last week by hitting 4-5 FG's, and on the other side CMU will be starting true freshman Paul Mudgett who was 1-4 in his debut last week.
With so much up for grabs, this game has all the makings of a low scoring contest highlighted by two strong defenses being ahead of the offenses early in week two. Although I feel it will be close, Temple gets the nod through special teams and a few big plays from Pierce, but a big game from Radcliff could easily sway the game in favor of CMU.