For the second straight year Central Michigan football team will meet a member of the Sun Belt conference, but this time it will be outside the home state confines of Ford Field. The Chippewas and Troy Trojans will meet tomorrow night in Mobile, Alabama for the GMAC Bowl in a matchup of conference champions. Look below for a full preview and prediction brought to you by ChippewaCountry.
Bowl Opponent: Troy Trojans
Troy comes in at 9-3 overall and had an unblemished record in their conference, going a perfect 8-0. They have been the class of the Sun Belt as of late, haven't missed a bowl since 2005, and have had only three losing seasons since 1992. Couple that with successful NFL players such as Demarcus Ware, Leotis McKelvin and Osi Umenyiora, and the Trojans have developed quite a football history. But, for all the success they had this season, Troy struggled out of conference and went 1-3, with their lone win a 27-14 win over UAB. They started the season out 0-2, including a 31-13 loss at MAC member Bowling Green, but hit their stride in conference play.
It all starts on offense for Troy this season. They feature the top scoring offense in the Sun Belt by averaging 33.1 points per game and do much of their damage through the air. Behind senior quarterback Levi Brown, the Trojans average 331 yards through the air and Brown has thrown for 3,868 yards on a 64.7% completion percentage. He has a 22-7 touchdown to interception ratio and was the top QB in the Sun Belt with little competition. Freshmen Shawn Southward has been the top rushing threat for Troy this season to the tune of 574 yards and 10 touchdowns, despite starting just two games. DuJuan Harris started eight games and racked up 471 yards and 8 touchdowns, but averaged just 3.4 yards per carry. At wide receiver, Troy features a balanced attack with seven players having 20+ receptions. The clear leader of the group is 5-foot-9 junior Jerrel Jernigan. Jernigan caught 62 passes for 947 yards and 4 touchdowns and also proved to be a threat on the ground as he had 227 yards on 34 carries. 6-foot-1 and 204 pound Tebarious Gill is the other major receiving threat having caught 44 passes for 553 yards and a team high 6 touchdowns. Zack Markum, Chip Reeves, Patrick Cherry and Jason Bruce are the other receiving threats. On the offensive line, Troy features a solid group that has allowed only 20 sacks all season. Sophomore left tackle James Brown is a mammoth 6-foot-4 and 346 anchor while senior center Danny Franks and senior guard Steven Adams provide veteran leadership.
Despite their pass heavy stats, Troy actually has scored more touchdowns (25 to 23) on the ground and have an 84% redzone scoring percentage. They also like to get the scoring going early, outscoring opponents in the first quarter 96 to 38.
Based on their history of sending talented defensive players to the next level, Troy has always fielded a strong defense…but there was clearly a drop off this season. The Trojans allowed an average of 28.6 points per game and allowed 417.9 yards per game. They have been steady against the run, but are last in the Sun Belt in pass defense despite racking up 31 sacks on the year. Troy has allowed opposing offenses to complete 62.1 percent of their passes for over 3000 yards and 28 touchdowns. Needless to say, they have proven susceptible to the pass, and in a conference that doesn't feature many great quarterbacks. Two young corner anchor the outsides for Troy in 5-foot-9 freshman Bryan Willis and 5-foot-11 sophomore Barry Vaclin. A safety, senior Chris Bowens will man one spot while junior [db]Bryan McKissic[/db] will take the place of the injured Courtland Fuller.
While the secondary may have some issues, there is no denying the Trojans talent in the front seven. Linebackers Bear Woods and Boris Lee have been Troy's own version of the killer B's and have been flat out studs. Woods led the Trojans in tackles (138) and tackles for loss (18) while Lee added 122 tackles, 13 TFL and 3 sacks. All-Conference defensive ends Brandon Lang (6-foot-4, 256 pounds) and Cameron Sheffield (6-foot-2, 249 pounds) have been terrors off the edge and have combined for 14.5 sacks and 21 tackles for a loss in their senior campaigns and JUCO defensive tackle Eugene Kinlaw has helped solidify the inside his first season with the program.
While much has been made about the quarterback matchup between CMU's Dan Lefevour and Levi Brown, the game may be decided in the secondaries. CMU has seen a down slope in their passing defense since starting the year out strong and have allowed 2696 yards through the air during the season while Troy's has the worst pass defense in their conference. For two teams that are looking to air it out, the play in the back of the defense will be key and both teams will be looking to eliminate the big play.
The other key matchup will be the CMU offensive line, which has allowed just 15 sacks all season, against the strong pass rush of Troy which has tallied 31.
The Chippewas are coming into this game without a permanent head coach in place and must play in the Trojans home state of Alabama. Troy features a solid quarterback in Brown, and the Chippewas have struggled against good QB play in the past (See: Curtis Painter, Nate Davis, Cullen Harper, Todd Reesing, Andy Schmidt, Tim Hiller, Rusty Smith, Matthew Stafford etc.). That said, this years squad has seen dramatic improvements on defense and they are led by a group of seniors who have set the bar for the entire program. Expect a close game, but expect CMU to pull away late and keep their place in the top 25.
Central Michigan: 38