Coach Butch Jones took the Central Michigan football program to new heights. He won’t be around to fully enjoy the fruits of his labor.
With the first national ranking in their history but without the coach who led them there, the No. 25 Chippewas will face Sun Belt Conference champion Troy on Wednesday night at the GMAC Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
Central Michigan (11-2) is champion of the Mid-American Conference for the third time in four seasons, with the last two titles coming under Jones. The coach posted a 27-13 record in his three seasons, marked by a spread offense that averaged 32.6 points during his tenure and exceeded 45 points five times in 2009. A 20-10 victory over Ohio in the MAC championship game vaulted the Chippewas into the Top 25 for the first time.
After that success, No. 4 Cincinnati came calling. Faced with a coaching vacancy after Brian Kelly left for Notre Dame, the Bearcats tabbed Jones for the job.
“We are very thankful for the contributions Butch Jones has made to our football program, our university and our community,” athletic director Dave Heeke said. “Any opportunity that arises for him is a reflection of the high-quality student-athletes and strong tradition that Central Michigan has enjoyed. We are excited to be a Top 25 program preparing for our fourth consecutive bowl game. We wish him and his family all the best at the University of Cincinnati.”
Associate coach Steve Stripling will lead the Chippewas on an interim basis.
“I’m very excited about the opportunity to lead this program,” Stripling, who has 30 years of coaching experience, told the school’s official Web site. “We want to make this a winning experience and have an enjoyable experience as well. This team has accomplished a lot already this season, and we are looking forward to achieving our goals of being bowl champions and finishing in the Top 25.”
The Chippewas may no longer have the coach who installed their high-powered offense, but they still have the record-setting quarterback who makes it run.
Four-year starter Dan LeFevour has thrown for 27 touchdowns and run for 14 to bring his career total to 147 TDs passing, rushing and receiving. That sets the major college football mark, previously shared by Hawaii’s Colt Brennan and Texas Tech’s Graham Harrell.
“It’s pretty cool,” LeFevour said. “When you play four years in a spread offense, you’re going to get a shot at some of those.”
Having a record-setting receiver to target also helps. Senior Bryan Anderson has caught at least one pass in an NCAA record 53 consecutive games, and has 57 receptions for 700 yards and six touchdowns this season. Junior Antonio Brown, meanwhile, has team highs of 97 catches, 1,020 yards and nine scores.
Troy’s offense may be able to keep pace. The Trojans (9-3) averaged 33.1 points - 41.2 over their last six games - en route to winning at least a share of the Sun Belt title for the fourth consecutive year.
They also boast a record-setting quarterback of their own. Senior Levi Brown ranks second in the nation with 322.3 passing yards per game, and his 3,868 yards were the most in the history of both Troy and the Sun Belt.
“Levi is certainly deserving of all the recognition he has received,” said coach Larry Blakeney, whose 153 wins are the most in Troy history. “This honor is a testament not only to the kind of player Levi has become, but also to the perseverance he displayed to put himself in position to succeed.”
When Brown isn’t throwing the ball, he’s often handing it off to Shawn Southward. The running back ranked fifth in the nation among freshmen with 10 rushing touchdowns and gained 574 yards on 100 carries. He’s taken some of the workload away from junior DuJuan Harris, whose production fell from 1,077 rushing yards in 2008 to 471.
Troy lost in overtime to Southern Miss in the New Orleans Bowl following last season. The Trojans earned their lone bowl victory in three tries in 2006, beating Rice at the New Orleans Bowl.
The Chippewas are 1-4 in bowl games, defeating Middle Tennessee in the 2006 Motor City Bowl. This is the first time they’ve ventured out of state in postseason play since 1994, when they fell to UNLV in the Las Vegas Bowl.
This is the first meeting between these schools.