The top 10 Central Michigan football players you need to know for the 2016 season.
1. QB Cooper Rush, Sr.
Rush went from very good over his first two seasons to outstanding in his junior campaign completing 66% of his throws for 3,848 yards and 25 touchdowns with 11 picks, while adding a little bit of mobility running for 48 yards with three scores. There wasn’t any running game to rely on, so the offense was all on his shoulders throwing for over 300 yards eight times including 430 against Syracuse and 391 against Eastern Michigan.
However, when he was off, the production just wasn’t there, and it was all about the completion percentage. The two games he hit fewer than 62% of his throws came in the two games he didn’t throw for 200 yards – Northern Illinois and Minnesota. The 6-3, 227-pound veteran has the experience, he has the arm, and he has the smarts. Can he grow into a decent NFL prospect? First, he needs to carry the team again and be a MAC Player of the Year candidate.
2. S Tony Annese, Sr.
The 6-1, 209-pound veteran earned All-MAC honors two years ago after making 74 tackles, but he was snubbed last season despite having a better year, coming up with 84 stops with two interceptions and five broken up passes. A steady, dependable tackler, he came up with best game of the season against Minnesota in the bowl game making 11 tackles – all solo stops – and now he should carry the performance into being the defensive leader and star of a good back seven. He’ll get on the All-MAC team this year.
3. LB Malik Fountain, Soph.
Will he be back with the team? He was suspended for a “violation of team rules” after being charged with aggravated assault after allegedly punching two women. If he’s back with the team, he’ll be one of the MAC’s best linebackers. As a freshman, Fountain came up with a huge first year finishing third on the team with 67 tackles with 4.5 tackles for loss. The 6-2, 233-pounder out of Chicago is a big hitter with terrific range, he was good against the run – making ten stops against Michigan State – but he also worked as a hybrid able to turn into a nickel back at times on passing downs. Now he’ll be turned loose more as a pass rusher with the speed to get around the edge. The skills are there to become a statistical superstar in his second year.
4. DE Joe Ostman, Sr.
The Third Team All-MAC star two years ago did a phenomenal job of holding up on the line despite getting beaten on. He’s just 250 pounds on his 6-3 frame, but he held up incredibly well – until he didn’t. He hurt his ankle early on in the season and was out the rest of the way, finishing with just 11 tackles before having to pack it in. When he’s right, he’s one of the quicker linemen in the MAC and can be one of the league’s most disruptive forces. He should be ready to roll after having more than enough time to heal.
5. RB Devon Spalding, Jr.
Can Spaulding save the woeful CMU running game? He got knocked out for the season with a broken clavicle suffered in the Northern Illinois game in early October just as he was heating up. He ran for 83 yards against Syracuse and 77 against NIU, but just as everything started to click, he got hurt. The 5-11, 203-pounder has the toughness to be a workhorse – when he’s not breaking bones – and he has the speed to make big things happen if he can get into the open. If he’s 100%, he could be the difference-maker the ground game needs.
6. WR Anthony Rice, Sr.
It’s his time to shine. The 6-0, 180-pound senior finished second on the team with 57 catches for 595 yards and four scores, but he has the talent and experience to do a so much more. He didn’t explode last season, but he came up with nine catches for 105 yards and a score against Akron and was decent the rest of the way. An Indiana state-champion level track star, the wheels are there, and he has the ability to stretch the field. If he’s Cooper Rush’s favorite target, the stats should rock.
7. WR Mark Chapman, Jr.
Third on the team in receptions, Chapman was a nice midrange target catching 43 passes for 559 yards and a score, highlighted by a six-catch, 100-yard game against Ball State. At 6-0 and 181 pounds he has decent size and the quickness to turn into a big Yard After Catch guy. Smart, athletic, and with enough talent to be the 2012 Michigan Gatorade Player of the Year, the opportunities will be there to shine.
8. PK Brian Eavey, Sr.
The Second Team All-MAC performer might not have the biggest leg, but he was reliable enough when he needed to be. 11-of-11 inside the 40, three of his eight misses came from beyond 50 yards, and the other five came from beyond 40 including two whiffs against Eastern Michigan that didn’t matter. In the 23-21 win over Ball State, he connected on all three of his chances including a 47-yarder. As long as he hits the easy ones, he’ll be doing what CMU needs.
9. CB Josh Cox, Jr.
The 5-11, 190-pound junior turned in a terrific season on the outside making 50 tackles with a pick and eight broken up passes. A good hitter, he forced three fumbles and was a nice open field tackler, but he didn’t come up with his lone interception until the bowl game against Minnesota. With his size and toughness he could turn into a good safety, but he has the coverage ability to be an all-star corner.
10. DE Chris Kantzavelos, Jr.
While he wasn’t a starter, he was a key part of the rotation up front coming on late in the season with 4.5 tackles for loss in his last three games as he turned into a factor. The line needs more playmakers up front, so can the 6-3, 265-pounder become a key part of the puzzle inside and out? He’ll get his shot to build on his big finish.