State of Michigan on top in Division 1 football
Texas? Florida? California? Ohio?
When it comes to state supremacy in college football, it’s actually Michigan that’s on top.
Michigan’s five Division I football programs are a combined 13-1 through three weeks, and it’s an overall record not just built on cupcake schedules — four of the five teams are in the top 50 RPI (Western Michigan and Central Michigan), including two in the top 10 (Michigan and Michigan State).
Only Maryland (Maryland and Navy, 6-0), Nebraska (3-0), Wisconsin (3-0) and Minnesota (2-0) have a better winning percentage than Michigan.
“Somebody pointed that out to me on the plane ride home,” said Chris Creighton, whose Eastern Michigan team beat Charlotte last weekend. “There should be a massive amount of pride among Michiganders.
“There’s great football in this state, and that’s one of the ways we’re seeing it.”
When it comes to football in the state, it starts with Michigan and Michigan State.
Both entered this season with lofty expectations — and both have lived up to the hype.
Michigan handled its first bout of adversity, coming back from 14 points down to beat Colorado and improve to 3-0. The Wolverines are No. 4 in the nation.
Michigan State, meanwhile, had a stunning performance in a victory over Notre Dame last weekend to move to No. 8.
Western Michigan (3-0) and Central Michigan (3-0) received votes in the AP poll, as well, while Eastern Michigan has started 2-1, matching its most wins in a season since 2011.
“There’s nothing by coincidence,” Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck said Monday. “I think you have incredible cultures in the state of Michigan. High school football is very important. There are some of the best high school coaches in America in the state.”
Fleck is an Illinois native who never lived in Michigan before becoming coach in 2013. He never overly recruited the state at previous stops.
Fleck said in his short time at Western Michigan, he’s seen more coaches from Power 5 conferences coming to Michigan, especially the Southeastern and Pac 12. Central Michigan coach John Bonamego has noticed it, too, with the Atlantic Coast and Big 12.
Michigan typically has been Big Ten country when it comes to recruiting, but it’s becoming known more as Mid-American country, too.
“You know, look, I’m a proud graduate of (Central Michigan) and I’m a proud product of Michigan high school coaching (Paw Paw),” said Bonamego, in his second season at Central Michigan. “Close to 80 percent of our roster is in-state. When I was a player, it was closer to 100. I had two teammates in my five years that weren’t from the state of Michigan.
“We’ve always prided ourselves in that. High school football in Michigan is very, very good.”
On Central Michigan’s roster, 83 players are from Michigan. Michigan is second with 49, followed by Michigan State and Western Michigan with 48 apiece, and Eastern Michigan with 38.
And those rosters are making headlines early.
Western Michigan, for one, has beaten two Big Ten teams (Northwestern and Illinois), collecting $1.6 million in the process.
“Most of their experience is from failing,” said Fleck, noting many of his players were around for the 1-11 season in 2013. “A lot of things we’ve built have been built from ashes, turning those ashes into fertilizer.”
Central Michigan also has found success against Power 5 schools, especially then-No. 22 Oklahoma State on a Hail Mary and lateral that was the program’s first victory over a Top 25 team in 25 years. It followed that with a victory over UNLV as it heads to winless Virginia this weekend.
Then there’s Eastern Michigan, the only Division I school in Michigan not in the top 50 in RPI.
The Eagles, who haven’t had a winning season since 1995, are 5-22 under Creighton since 2014.
The program, in fact, is lucky to be around. School officials spent much of the offseason fighting off criticism of the athletic department, which is heavily subsidized by student tuition dollars — as much as $1,000 per student per year. There were calls to shut down the program.
On the field, though, Eastern Michigan has victories over Mississippi Valley State and Charlotte, sandwiched between a blowout loss at Missouri. Next up is Wyoming.
“We’re continuing to slowly improve,” Creighton said.
And by doing so, Eastern Michigan is doing its part to help boost the state’s profile.
“It’s a state where football is important,” Bonamego said. “It’s always been there.”
A look at Michigan’s Division I football teams so far in 2016:
■Central Michigan (3-0): d. Presbyterian, 49-3; d. Oklahoma State, 30-27; d. UNLV, 44-21
■Eastern Michigan (2-1): d. Mississippi Valley State, 61-14; l. to Missouri, 61-21; d. Charlotte, 37-19
■Michigan (3-0): d. Hawaii, 63-3; d. Central Florida, 51-14; d. Colorado, 45-28
■Michigan State (2-0): d. Furman, 28-13; d. Notre Dame, 36-28
■Western Michigan (3-0): d. Northwestern, 22-21; d. N.C. Central, 70-21; d. Illinois, 34-10