Head coach: Butch Jones
Last season: It was quite a season for the Chippewas. They lost their first two games to national powerhouses, but it was OK because they were breaking in a new quarterback, an unheralded recruit from Illinois. Dan LeFevour turned out to be a polished gem. He led the MAC's best offense with 26 touchdowns, 3,031 yards and only 10 interceptions. He was not only the conference's best freshman, but its best quarterback. CMU, springboarded perhaps by a 24-21 win over Akron, won 10 of its last 12 games, including the MAC Championship and Motor City Bowl. After the season, head coach Brian Kelly moved on to Cincinnati.
Best returning player: Sophomore quarterback Dan LeFevour
Offense: Quarterback is not a question. Nor is running back, where Ontario Sneed returns after averaging 5.7 yards per carry in 2006. Justin Hoskins, a transfer from Notre Dame should get the ball, too. Two of LeFevour's favorite targets are gone, but two remain. The biggest question is how the offensive line will perform without NFL first rounder Joe Staley and solid center Drew Mormino. Was it their blocking that propelled CMU to achieve the MAC's best offensive stats? Probably a little, but this offensive would be adequate even if I suited up at left tackle (5-foot-10, 155 pounds).
Defense: Defensive end Dan Bazuin made an impact on almost every play. CMU's other end was decent, too. They're both gone. And those holes are crucial to the Chips' defense, which tallied the second-most sacks in the MAC last season. The linebackers should be very good, led by Red Keith, who paced the Chips in tackles the past three seasons. Three members of the secondary also return, but the key to their effectiveness will be the line's ability to hurry the passer.
How the Zips match up: The real problem about LeFevour for Akron is that he can run, too. He looks like the next great MAC quarterback. For Akron to win these late-season games, a defensive lineman or two will need to emerge from these recent recruiting classes. Despite this being a home game for the Zips on Nov. 23 -- an 11 a.m. start on Friday -- with a bowl berth possibly on the line, CMU has too many offensive weapons.
Way-too-early prediction: Central Michigan 31, Akron 21