I must admit going from the conference-only schedule of 2020 to the usual eight SEC games and four non-conference opponents is a bit of a letdown.
The good news is that the greatest environment in all of sports, Saturday nights in Death Valley, will be back to normal and Tiger Stadium will be at 100 percent capacity to welcome in the Central Michigan Chippewas who are led by a familiar face.
Central Michigan Chippewas
2020: 3-3 (3-3 MAC)
2021 S&P+ Projection: 82nd
2021 Recruiting Class: 87th
Head Coach: Jim McElwain (11-9 through two seasons)
Offensive Coordinator: Kevin Barbay
Defensive Coordinator: Robb Akey
That’s right folks, Jim McElwain is coming back to Baton Rouge. The former Florida Gator head coach was taken out to pasture after the 2017 season. He spent 2018 as the receivers coach under Jim Harbaugh at Michigan before landing on his feet at CMU.
McElwain had a heck of a debut season in 2019, as the Chippewas improved upon a 1-11 2018 season to an 8-6 year in ‘19 complete with an appearance in the MAC Championship game. But the Chippewas, like LSU, crashed back down to Earth in 2020 going 3-3. There’s reason for optimism however, as CMU brings back a wealth of experience on both sides of the ball.
Offensively Central Michigan brings back its quarterback, top two running backs, top four receivers, and all five offensive line starers. The challenge for McElwain and his staff will be getting more out of the quarterback position. Neither Daniel Richardson nor Ty Brock lit the world on fire last season which opened the door for Jacob Sirmon, an incoming transfer from Washington to snag the QB1 job.
Sirmon, a former four-star recruit, was a top-100 prospect in the 2018 class. But Sirmon only threw four passes in two years with the Huskies before ultimately putting his name in the transfer portal and landing with McElwain in Mount Pleasant.
Scoring points won’t be a problem for the Chippewas. CMU averaged 31 points a game last year and—like LSU— brings back literally all the talent along the line and at the skill positions. More importantly, Kalil Pimpleton is back and is a true force with the ball in his hands. Pimpleton was Central Michigan’s leading receiver with 26 catches for 277 yards, got 16 carries and picked up 134 yards and three scores; he even completed five of eight passes for 149 yards and thew a touchdown.
The issue will be on third downs, the Chippewas converted a paltry 28 percent of third downs; CMU also struggled inside the red zone, scoring 14 touchdowns on 24 trips.
Defensively Central Michigan again mirrors LSU. The Chippewas gave up an average of 30 points a game but 10 starters return including All-MAC selections Troy Brown and Troy Hairston. The entire secondary is back too which should lead to some improvements for a unit that gave up nearly 300 yards a game through the air.
As for the special teams, Central Michigan is set for the next few years. Luke Elzinga is back for his redshirt sophomore season, while place kicker Marshall Meeder is entering his sophomore season. Meeder was a perfect 8-8 on field goals last year, including hit both attempts from 50+ yards out.
Central Michigan Schedule
September 4 @ Missouri
September 11 vs. Robert Morris
September 18 @ LSU
September 25 vs. FIU
October 2 @ Miami, Ohio
October 9 @ Ohio
October 16 vs. Toledo
October 23 vs. Northern Illinois
October 30 BYE
November 3 (Wednesday) @ Western Michigan
November 10 (Wednesday) vs. Kent State
November 17 (Wednesday) @ Ball State
November 26 (Friday) vs. Eastern Michigan