The Central Michigan Chippewas were a top-25 team on offense in 2022, averaging 443.4 yards per game and averaging 32.3 points per game.
They did so on the back of the nation’s leading rusher in Lew Nichols III, whose 1,818 yards on the ground in 2022 was over 400 yards more than the nearest returnback (Syracuse’s Sean Tucker had 1,496 yards).
Given Nichols’ pedigree, it might surprise viewers that CMU was just as, if not more, explosive in the passing game. The chips were the second-best airstrike in the Mid-American Conference, averaging 265.4 yards per game in 2022, good enough for 29th place in the NCAA.
2022 will bring its handful of challenges, but with the plethora of options available to Jim McElwain as he enters his fourth season in Mt. Pleasant, CMU should still be seen as in danger of going for a dark horse run in the MAC West .
Daniel Richardson returns as the undisputed starter in 2022 after taking the starting job from Washington-based Jacob Sirmon (who is now at FCS Northern Colorado). Richardson was the starter in the 2020 COVID-19 year after David Moore was declared ineligible by the NCAA. and made good use of himself, going 63 of 99 for 714 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions.
Richardson was pushed into duty after Sirmon struggled against FIU in Week 4, leading a double-digit comeback against his hometown program and never looking back and finishing 7-2 as a starter with 191 completions on 316 attempts for 2,633 yards and 24 touchdowns on only six interceptions.
A true pocket passer despite his diminutive height, weighing in at 5’6″ and 205 pounds, Richardson displays a remarkable ability to put the ball down with an excellent arm capable of completing 60-yard passes in game situations bring. He is considered one of the better returning QBs in the MAC and should have a chance to prove himself a full year behind Center.
Backup options are less announced and experienced as Sirmon’s departure leaves redshirt rookie Tyler Pape, true rookie Jase Bauer and former Army Ranger Bailey Smith.
You can’t talk about the Chippewa offensive without addressing Lew Nichols III, the nation’s leading rusher in 2022.
Nichols’ first season as a full starter was one to remember fondly, as he torpedoed the rock 341 times for 1,848 yards and 16 touchdowns while also notching 40 receptions for 338 yards and two points. His carries, total yards, and yards per game (141.1) all led the NCAA last season.
Nichols, who stands at 5’7″ and 220 pounds, would have had Power Five programs vying for his services had he entered the transfer portal in the off-season and it would have been easy to see why he would have left. But Nichols is betting on himself and choosing to stay in Mt. Pleasant to finish his career.
Nichols should be one of the nation’s top NFL prospects at the running back position in 2022, with all eyes on him every time CMU takes the midweek stage in November.
Nichols will have to assume the majority of the running mantle early on until his backup is decided as Kobe Lewis, his former running mate, announced his departure via the transfer portal last month and ended up in Purdue. Also the transmission specialist Darius Bailey relocated to the state of Middle Tennessee after being asked to return to his original cornerback position during spring training.
Marion Lukes (22 rushes, 94 yards) and Myles Bailey (30 rushes, 114 yards) will likely fight for the vacancy left by Lewis, with both players being former three-star contenders. De’Javion Stephney was traded to cornerback despite piling up 103 yards on 13 carries in 2022.
Wide receivers and tight ends
Replacing two All-MAC staffers in a season is never easy, but the Chippewas will do their best in 2022.
CMU will be without its leading receiver at receptions (62) and yards (960) in Kalil Pimpleton, who was picked up by hometown Detroit Lions as the UDFA in April, while also including former first-team All-MAC receiver JaCorey Sullivan (49 receptions, 687 yards), who led the team with 10 touchdowns.
Former Northern Michigan transfer Dallas Dixon will take the mantle after being the second-biggest receiver in 2022 with 45 receptions, 701 yards and eight touchdowns.
All eyes will be on Maryland transfer Carlos Carriere, who had 316 yards on 24 receptions for five touchdowns for the Terrapins in 2022. At 6ft 5 and 195 pounds, Carriere is an instant Sullivan replacement on the outside and will serve as a big-bodied presence with sideline speed.
Dixon and Carriere are about the only safe options for a Chippewa roster that has a lot of uncertainty at the receiver position. There will be several positional battles for the slot receiver position and backup roles as Lavar Gumms and Remi Simmons departed during the off-season.
Promising undergrads Alec Ward, Irone Jackson and Finn Hogan are expected to battle for game time, with transferee Kenny Brewer III of 2021 and Northwood University (D-II) Noah Koenigschnekt (23 rec., 413 yards, three touchdowns). in 2021) also transfer in the mix.
The tight end is safe in single TE sets, with the 6-foot-4, 250 lbs. Junior Joel Wilson back in Maroon and Gold after catching 31 receptions for 367 yards and four touchdowns. Wilson had an excellent season in his first fully healthy campaign, finishing third on the team in touchdowns, fourth in yards, and fifth in receptions.
Northwood University (D-II) Bryant Kieft could play a role as a second tight end after piling up 25 yards, 505 yards and three touchdowns in two full seasons with the Timberwolves. Other names who could see time in the fight include Alec Paellela of Barlett, Illinois, who made four appearances in 2022 — the most FBS reps of any current CMU backup option.
There are some intriguing names that could make hay at camps, including two six-foot-tall prospects in freshman Lucas Dailey of Holland, Michigan and sophomore Jayden Evans of Eastvale, California.