WMU, CMU prepare for battle of potent offenses

Tony Paul, The Detroit News

No, ESPN’s “College GameDay” won’t be in Mount Pleasant on Saturday.

But that won’t take the luster off one of the most anticipated games in the history of the state’s second-biggest football rivalry — Western Michigan and Central Michigan.

“We have an elite opportunity in one of the top-10 greatest rivalries in college football,” fourth-year Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck said ahead of the 7 p.m. kickoff at Kelly/Shorts Stadium. “They’ve got a lot of tradition. We’re writing our tradition.”

Western Michigan, which is 4-0 for the first time since starting 5-0 in 1995, has nonconference victories over two Big Ten schools, Northwestern and Illinois.

Central Michigan suffered its first loss, 49-35 last weekend to Virginia, but showed some resolve, rallying from a 28-0 deficit to tie the game.

“The emphasis is always how you finish,” second-year Central Michigan coach John Bonamego said of his team, which counts then-No. 22 Oklahoma State among its victories. “It again shows the determination and the fight.”

There will be plenty of both Saturday in the Mid-American Conference opener for both teams, who have played for the Victory Cannon trophy since 2008.

Bonamego knows all about the rivalry, having grown up in Paw Paw, 10 miles outside of Western Michigan’s campus in Kalamazoo, and then playing at Central Michigan.

“There’s a familiarity with a lot of them, they competed against each other in high school, a lot of their kids are kids we recruited, and a lot of our kids are kids they recruited,” Bonamego said. “There’s a definite familiarity with the two schools.”

And just for kicks, the 86th edition of the rivalry will be under the lights.

Both teams have received Associated Press votes this season, with Western Michigan checking in 37th this week.

Its offense is dynamic, averaging nearly 44 points and 468.5 yards offense (245.3 rushing). Redshirt sophomore running back Jamauri Bogan, fifth-year senior quarterback Zach Terrell and deep and talented receiving corps lead the way.

Central Michigan’s offense is dangerous, too, averaging nearly 40 points and 476 yards offense (339.8 passing). Senior quarterback Cooper Rush, who’s started 40 consecutive games for the Chippewas, has 10,713 career passing yards, moving him past former Marshall quarterback Chad Pennington and into ninth in conference history.

“It’s the beginning of the (MAC) season and (our goals) are still in front of us,” said Rush, who hasn’t beaten Western Michigan since his sophomore season. “It’s time, when you have the rival coming to your place.”

Central Michigan, however, could be missing some key players.

Two defensive starters missed the Virginia loss, and during the game, junior right tackle Derek Edwards and senior wide receiver Jesse Kroll left and didn’t return.

Asked for specifics on the injuries and updates on Kroll and Chapman, Bonamego had nothing to offer.

“That’s to be determined,” he said.

Western Michigan at Central Michigan

Kickoff: 7 p.m Saturday, Kelly/Shorts Stadium, Mount Pleasant

TV/radio: CBSSN/1270

Records: Western Michigan 4-0, Central Michigan 3-1

Line: Western Michigan by 3

Series: Western Michigan leads 47-37-2 (Western Michigan 41-39, Oct. 10, 2015)