Mount Pleasant — It will be hard for Cooper Rush to duplicate last year's bowl performance, but a 300-yard effort through the air in the Quick Lane Bowl will put him in great company in MAC history.
Rush, a 6-foot-3, 230-pound junior quarterback, has already become the Chippewas' all-time single-season record holder for passing yards (3,703), surpassing the mark held by Dan LeFevour (3,652) set in 14 games in their MAC championship season in 2007.
Rush and the Chippewas (7-5) will play Minnesota (5-7) in the Quick Lane Bowl at Ford Field on Dec. 28. He can become the seventh quarterback in MAC history to throw for 4,000 yards with a big effort.
"It would be pretty cool to be in the same class as those guys statistically," Rush said of the possibility of joining the likes of Ben Roethlisberger, Byron Leftwich, Keith Wenning, Tyler Sheehan, Omar Jacobs and Matt Johnson. "It shows the strength of our receiving core. Up front, those guys are giving me enough time, and then all of those receivers are making plays and getting the big yards after the catch, sometimes turning 10-yarders into 50-yarders.
"Our two speed guys are (Mark) Chapman and (Corey) Willis, those guys can really get down the field, scary after the catch. Jesse Kroll and Anthony Rice have been around for a while and they're extremely smart. They know how to find windows and make big-time catches, and our tight end Ben McCord is always in the middle, a nice big target (at 6-4, 245)."
The Chippewas have five receivers with 500 or more receiving yards, led by Kroll (59 receptions, 856 yards, four TDs) and followed by Rice (56, 584, four), Chapman (43, 559, four), McCord (37, 570, five) and Willis (33, 513, five).
If Rush matches his average (308.6) game, he will reach the 4,000-yard mark. He has thrown 25 TD passes while being intercepted 10 times, completing 67.2 percent of his passes.
Last year, Rush threw for 493 yards and seven TDs in a 49-48 Bahamas Bowl loss to Western Kentucky, rallying the Chippewas from a 49-14 fourth-quarter deficit by completing 13-of-17 for 263 yards and five TDs during the final quarter.
It was Rush's 47-yard toss to Kroll which led to the final TD in last year's bowl game, with Kroll starting the first of three laterals which led to Titus Davis slipping into the end zone after going the final 15 yards to pull within a point. Rush's 2-point conversion toss fell incomplete.
"That was crazy," Rush said. "When it's going on you really never realize it. You're literally thinking let's just get the ball again, and the next thing you know we score, then again and again and look up and it's, 'Wow, maybe we can to this!' Then, that crazy play happens and you actually have a chance to win. It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It was a crazy experience, but unfortunately we didn't win."
Rush is proud of how the Chippewas have been competitive this season under first-year head coach John Bonamego. They finished 6-2 in MAC play to earn a share of the West Division title. It was their best finish in conference play since 2009, when they finished in the Top 25.
Rush scored on a TD run in the third quarter of the season opener to give Central a lead over Oklahoma State in an eventual 24-13 loss. The Chippewas lost 30-27 in overtime at Syracuse, then pulled within 17-10 in the fourth quarter at Spartan Stadium before falling to Michigan State, 30-10.
"We battled all year and this team showed a lot of fight and grit," Rush said. "We have a group of guys who feel we can compete with anybody. We were right in those games, we just wish we could have pulled a couple out. Still, we showed a lot about ourselves and how hard we work.
"We're really excited to play Minnesota, another Big Ten team. They are going to be a very good football team and a great challenge for us. The guys can gain confidence. I think there's something about learning how to win and the more you win, you also learn how to win close games and we've won a few close games this year."
The Chippewas finished the regular season with five wins in their last six games, including a 23-21 win at Ball State, a 14-6 victory at Akron and a 35-28 win over Eastern Michigan at Kelly/Shorts Stadium in the finale. Their lone loss was against Toledo 28-23 on Nov. 10, ultimately the difference between earning an outright West Division title and a share of the crown.
Senior offensive lineman Nick Beamish, a two-time All-MAC first-team center, feels fortunate to be playing with Rush.
"We know if we give him time good things will happen," Beamish said of Rush, who is on pace to break LeFevour's MAC career record for passing yards (12,905), entering the bowl game with 9,209. "He's amazingly smart. He knows the ins and outs of every position on the offense. He knows exactly what the defense is doing. He's a freak in the film room, just always in there watching stuff and that shows on the field.
"The way he spreads it out is another of his strengths. He doesn't need one guy to have a standout game. He can get it to anybody else to make things happen."
Cooper Rush file
Hometown: Charlotte, Mich.
Year, Att., Comp., Pct., Yds, TD/INT
2013, 177, 312, 56.7, 2,349, 15/15
2014, 243, 382, 63.6, 3,157, 27/13
2015, 309, 460, 67.2, 3,703, 25/10
MAC's 4,000 club
Quarterbacks in the Mid-American Conference who have passed for more than 4,000 yards in a season:
Matt Johnson, Bowling Green: 4,700 (2015)
Ben Roethlisberger, Miami: 4,486 (2003)
Byron Leftwich, Marshall: 4,268 (2002)
Keith Wenning, Ball State: 4,148 (2013)
Byron Leftwich, Marshall: 4,132 (2001)
Tyler Sheehan, Bowling Green: 4,051 (2009)
Omar Jacobs, Bowling Green: 4,002 (2004)
Quick Lane Bowl
Central Michigan vs. Minnesota
Kickoff: 5 p.m., Ford Field, Detroit
Records: Central Michigan is 7-5, Minnesota is 5-7
Line: Minnesota by 4
Series: Minnesota leads 1-0