Central Michigan head football coach Jim McElwain talks to reporters during the MAC football media day at Ford Field on Tuesday, July 20, 2021.

Jim McElwain suffers seizure, but ‘doing fine’

Central Michigan coach Jim McElwain suffered a seizure on Sunday, the coach said on social media and the Central Michigan athletic department retweeted on Monday.

“I’m doing fine and all the tests have come back good,” McElwain wrote on Twitter Monday afternoon. “The doctors have asked that I stay in the hospital for a few days, so I won’t be at MAC Media Day.

“I know Coach (Robb) Akey, Lew and Jamezz will do a great job. I can’t wait to get camp started.”

McElwain, 60, led the Chippewas to a 9-4 season in 2021, which was capped with a 24-21 bowl win over Washington State in the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl, Central Michigan’s first bowl win since 2012.

A former offensive coordinator under Nick Saban at Alabama (2008-11) and head coach at Colorado State (2012-14) and the University of Florida (2015-17), McElwain has coached the Chippewas since 2019, compiling a record of 20-13.

–Field Level Media

Central Michigan's Lew Nichols III runs for yardage against Washington State University during the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl game at University of Texas El Paso on Dec. 31, 2021.

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Central Michigan holds off Washington State in Sun Bowl

Lew Nichols III rushed for 111 yards and a touchdown as Central Michigan ended its strange postseason odyssey with a 24-21 Sun Bowl victory against Washington State on a rainy Friday in El Paso, Texas.

Marshall Meeder added three field goals for the Chippewas (9-4), who were originally scheduled to play in the Arizona Bowl until Boise State pulled out Monday due to a COVID-19 outbreak. With Miami having to exit the Sun Bowl for the same reason, Central Michigan struck a deal to bus 300-plus miles from Tucson, Ariz., to El Paso to meet the Cougars.

Nichols scored on a 1-yard run with 57 seconds left in the first quarter to give CMU a 13-0 lead. That followed 49- and 52-yard field goals by Meeder.

A 45-yard punt return by Kalil Pimpleton to WSU’s 9-yard line set up a 15-yard touchdown pass from Daniel Richardson to tight end Joel Wilson with 1:48 remaining in the second quarter. A two-point conversion gave the Chippewas a 21-0 halftime lead.

The Cougars (7-6), who were without their top two running backs and three starting offensive linemen between opt-outs, transfers and injuries, finally got going late in the third quarter behind backup quarterback Victor Gabalis, who replaced the injured Jayden de Laura at the half.

The Chippewas had a chance to extend their lead in the third, but a red-zone fumble and a missed field goal thwarted drives.

WSU got on the board with 4:02 left in the quarter on a 5-yard run by wide receiver Travell Harris out of the wildcat formation. That came after the Chippewas were called for roughing the passer on an incomplete pass on fourth-and-4 to extend the drive.

Travion Brown’s interception gave the Cougars the ball at CMU’s 23-yard line. They took advantage, with Gabalis hitting De’Zhaun Stribling on a 5-yard slant on fourth-and-goal to make it 21-14 with 2:24 left in the third.

WSU’s Ron Stone Jr. blocked a 25-yard field-goal attempt to keep it a one-score game with 12:40 remaining.

The Cougars were stopped on fourth-and-1 from their own 32 on their next possession and Meeder connected from 43 yards to make it 24-14 with 9:11 left.

Gabalis threw a 13-yard scoring strike to Lincoln Victor to cap the scoring with 3:13 remaining.

–Field Level Media

Sep 4, 2021; Columbia, Missouri, USA; Central Michigan Chippewas running back Lew Nichols III (7) runs the ball against the Missouri Tigers during the game at Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

CMU winds up at Sun Bowl vs. Wazzu in last-minute shuffle

Just a couple of hours after the Washington State football team landed Sunday in El Paso, Texas, it learned its opponent in the Sun Bowl, the University of Miami, had been forced to pull out of the Friday game because of coronavirus concerns.

Cougars coach Jake Dickert took to Twitter to issue a plea.

“Our team is in El Paso and willing to play any opponent,” Dickert wrote. “Our team just wants one more chance to finish this storied 2021 season.”

A little more than 24 hours later, Dickert got his wish.

When Boise State pulled out of the Arizona Bowl on Monday because of its own pandemic problems, that left Central Michigan sitting in Tucson, Ariz., with nobody to play Friday.

With Tucson and El Paso only about 300 miles apart on Interstate 10, a deal was struck for the Chippewas to bus eastward to meet Washington State in the Sun Bowl, with the Arizona Bowl being canceled.

Terms of the agreement weren’t announced, but Central Michigan should be in for a windfall. The Sun Bowl, one of the oldest in college football, has a payout of more than $4.5 million per team and is broadcast on CBS. The Arizona Bowl offered a $350,000 payout per school and was going to be streamed online.

“We are grateful for the diligent work of the Sun Bowl Association, the Pac-12 Conference, the Mid-American Conference and Central Michigan University to ensure the 2021 Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl will be played,” Washington State athletic director Pat Chun said in a statement.

The Chippewas (8-4) feature the Football Bowl Subdivision’s leading rusher, Lew Nichols III, who gained 1,710 yards and scored 15 touchdowns on the ground. Nichols also had 300 yards and two TDs receiving.

Despite being the MAC’s freshman of the year in 2020, Nichols was supposed to be a secondary option this season until Kobe Lewis sustained a knee injury in summer camp.

“I kind of just pulled (Nichols) aside and said, ‘Look, here we go, let’s jump on your back and ride,’” McElwain said. “I’ve been at some pretty good places, had a Heisman Trophy winner (Mark Ingram Jr. in 2009, when McElwain was an assistant at Alabama) and had some other things.

“But to lead the nation in rushing, that’s a heck of a feat.”

The Chippewas won their final four regular-season games, a span in which they averaged 41 points per contest, to tie Northern Illinois for the MAC’s West Division title.

The Cougars (7-5) have won six of their past eight games, including snapping a seven-game Apple Cup losing streak with a 40-13 victory against rival Washington. Max Borghi rushed for 129 yards and two TDs in that game but is skipping the bowl game and entering the NFL draft.

Cougars right tackle Abraham Lucas and cornerback Jaylen Watson also didn’t make the trip to prepare for their pro futures.

“We had a lot of conversations about it, and we obviously wish them the best of luck, and we support them,” said Dickert, who took over at midseason after Nick Rolovich was dismissed for not following the state’s vaccine mandate. “Everyone has their own individual situations.”

–Field Level Media

Sep 29, 2018; Laramie, WY, USA; A general view of the Boise State Broncos helmet against the Wyoming Cowboys at Jonah Field War Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

Boise State backs out of Arizona Bowl

Boise State announced Monday it was backing out of this week’s Arizona Bowl at Tucson after COVID-19 issues within the program.

The Broncos were set to face Central Michigan in Friday’s game, which was still scheduled to be played Monday when Boise State withdrew.

Arizona Bowl options to replace the Broncos include finding another opponent to face Central Michigan or to have the Chippewas face Washington State, who are in limbo after Miami backed out of the Sun Bowl.

Tucson and El Paso, Texas — site of the Sun Bowl — are about 300 miles apart, making it feasible for one team to travel by bus to face the other.

Boise State began COVID-19 testing procedures Sunday, according to the Arizona Daily Star, with some positive cases. Testing continued into Monday before the team announced it would not make its scheduled Tuesday trip to the desert.

Central Michigan arrived at Tucson on Sunday.

Three bowl games already have been canceled: Fenway Bowl, Military Bowl, Hawaii Bowl. The Gator Bowl was in limbo after Texas A&M backed out, with Rutgers added as a replacement to face Wake Forest.

–Field Level Media

Sep 4, 2021; Columbia, Missouri, USA; Central Michigan Chippewas running back Lew Nichols III (7) runs the ball against the Missouri Tigers during the first half at Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Boise State hopes to slow CMU’s Lew Nichols III in Arizona Bowl

The Arizona Bowl won’t be found on ESPN or any other networks that typically air college football bowl games.

Instead, the Dec. 31 Boise State-Central Michigan matchup at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, home the Pac-12’s Arizona Wildcats, will be seen on the controversial Barstool Sports, the title sponsor of the game this year.

According to USA Today, it will be the first major college football bowl game in at least 40 years that will not be shown on traditional television, cable or satellite TV channels.

People with ties to both schools have expressed concern over the website’s involvement, but at this point, the only thing that could stop the game from being played is an abundance of the positive COVID-19 tests that are all over sports at present.

Central Michigan (8-4) won four straight games to end the regular season, but the Chippewas are only 3-9 all-time in bowl games. They are led by running back Lew Nichols III, who was named the MAC Offensive Player of the Year after leading the nation in rushing yards (1,710), carries (311) and yards per-game average (142.5). Nichols also leads the nation in all-purpose yards with 2,010.

The Chippewas leaned hard on Nichols down the stretch of their season. He rushed 43 times for 215 yards and four touchdowns against Kent State, then had 32 carries for 219 yards and three touchdowns at Ball State before ending the year with 194 yards and a score on 44 attempts against Eastern Michigan.

“I kind of just pulled him aside and said, ‘Look, here we go, let’s jump on your back and ride,’” Central Michigan coach Jim McElwain said, according to the Detroit News. “I’ve been at some pretty good places, had a Heisman Trophy winner (Mark Ingram Jr. in 2009, when he was an assistant at Alabama), and had some other things.

“But to lead the nation in rushing, that’s a heck of a feat.”

Boise State (7-5) is a perennial contender in the Mountain West with a fan base that typically travels well, especially to games in the western United States. First-year head coach Andy Avalos, a former star linebacker for the Broncos, guided them to a bowl game despite a tough schedule.

Boise State defeated eventual Mountain West champion Utah State and Top 25 teams BYU and Fresno State this season.

The Broncos are making their 19th appearance in a bowl game in the past 20 years, after players voted not to play in a bowl game last season.

“I think that was a learning experience for a lot of the people that were here,” Avalos said, according to the Idaho Statesman. “That goes back to living in grace and being thankful for the opportunity to continue to be around each other.”

Boise State hopes to get back quarterback Hank Bachmeier from an injury sustained in the final game of the regular season. Bachmeier threw for 3,079 yards and 20 touchdowns with eight interceptions in 12 games this season, averaging 256.6 passing yards per game.

–Field Level Media

Sep 18, 2021; Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA;  LSU Tigers wide receiver Kayshon Boutte (1) makes a 2 yard touchdown reception against Central Michigan Chippewas defensive back Donte Kent (19) during the first half at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

LSU leans on passing game, breezes past Central Michigan

Max Johnson threw five touchdown passes and host LSU raced to a 35-7 halftime lead on its way to a 49-21 victory against Central Michigan on Saturday night.

Johnson completed 26 of 35 passes for 372 yards and five touchdowns passes in less than three quarters of play. Freshman Deion Smith totaled 40 receiving yards and two scores. Kayshon Boutte caught his sixth touchdown this season. Freshman Jack Bech and junior Devonta Lee also hauled in touchdown passes.

Johnson threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to Lee to complete a nine-play, 93-yard drive on the Tigers’ first possession of the third quarter, increasing their lead to 42-7.

The Chippewas (1-2) answered when Devonni Reed intercepted Johnson and returned the ball 20 yards for a touchdown that cut the lead to 42-14 at the end of the third quarter.

Freshman Garrett Nussmeier replaced Johnson on the next LSU series, just as he did in the fourth quarter last week when a 34-7 victory against visiting McNeese State was similarly assured.

Daniel Richardson’s 18-yard touchdown pass to Joel Wilson pulled CMU within 42-21 before Corey Kiner’s 5-yard touchdown run for the Tigers completed the scoring with 7:19 left.

Johnson hit Smith with a 28-yard touchdown pass on the first possession of the game.

On the ensuing possession Andre Anthony returned a fumble 32 yards for a touchdown and a 14-0 Tigers lead.

The Tigers made it back-to-back takeaways when Major Burns intercepted Jacob Sirmon, but a fumble and two penalties pushed them backward until the punted.

Johnson and Smith teamed on a 40-yard touchdown pass and a 21-0 lead.

Sirmon bounced back with a 78-yard touchdown pass to JaCorey Sullivan that cut LSU’s advantage to 21-7 at the end of the first quarter. Sirmon completed 17 of 24 for 156 yards before giving way to Richardson late in the third quarter.

Johnson tossed a 2-yard touchdown to Boutte and a 20-yarder to Bech to increase the lead to 35-7 at halftime.

— Field Level Media

Sep 4, 2021; Columbia, Missouri, USA; Missouri Tigers running back Tyler Badie (1) scores a touchdown as Central Michigan Chippewas linebacker Nick Apsey (32) attempts the tackle during the first half at Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Missouri gets past Central Michigan to win season opener

Tyler Badie compiled 224 all-purpose and scored two touchdowns to lead the Missouri Tigers past the Central Michigan Chippewas 34-24 Saturday in Columbia, Mo.

Missouri quarterback Connor Bazelak completed 21 of 31 passes for 257 yards and two touchdowns.

The Chippewas played without head coach Jim McElwain, who underwent an appendectomy earlier in the week. Assistant head coach Tim Skipper guided the team in his absence.

Jacob Sirmon, a transfer from Washington, completed 23 of 46 passes for 292 yards and one touchdown in his first start for Central Michigan. Lew Nicholls III rushed for 135 yards and a touchdown.

Central Michigan piled up 465 offensive yards, but two interceptions and 10 penalties for 80 yards undermined its upset bid.

Missouri scored just 29 seconds into the game. After Bazelak hit a 63-yard pass to D’ionte Smith, Badie scored on a 12-yard run.

Central Michigan immediately countered with a five-play, 75-yard drive to tie the game 7-7. Sirmon capped it with a 7-yard touchdown pass to JaCorey Sullivan.

The Chippewas moved ahead 14-7 with 6:08 left in the first half. Nicholls got the 88-yard drive rolling with a 27-yard run and he capped it with an 18-yard TD burst.

The Tigers responded with Bazelak’s swing pass to Badie for a 30-yard touchdown. Then Harrison Mevis hit a 53-yard field goal to put Missouri up 17-14 at the half.

Elijah Young’s 32-yard touchdown run pushed Missouri’s lead to 24-14 in the third quarter.

With Sirmon knocked out of the game for one play, back-up quarterback Daniel Richardson threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Sullivan to cut the lead to 24-21 with 11:52 left.

Bazelak’s 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Niko Hea restored Missouri’s 10-point lead.

Marshall Meeder’s 51-yard field goal cut Central Michigan’s deficit to 31-24, but Mevis answered with a 44-yard field goal with 59 seconds left.

–Field Level Media

Dec 21, 2019; Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA; Central Michigan Chippewas head coach Jim McElwain reacts in the fourth quarter against the San Diego State Aztecs during the New Mexico Bowl at Dreamstyle Stadium. San Diego State defeated Central Michigan 48-11.  Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Central Michigan coach Jim McElwain (appendectomy) may miss opener

Central Michigan coach Jim McElwain is likely to miss Saturday’s game at Missouri after undergoing emergency appendectomy surgery on Wednesday.

Assistant head coach Tom Skipper is leading preparations for Central Michigan’s season opener.

There is no timetable for McElwain’s return, though Skipper would love to see the 59-year-old make a swift recovery.

“We are hoping, praying it’s one of those 24-hour deals and then he gets back with us, we get on the plane and we go play the game,” Skipper told reporters. “But Coach Mac has prepared us for situations like this. I’ve been with him a long time, and he’s always talking about ‘setbacks are temporary.’ So we’re moving forward as a team.”

Skipper also coaches the team’s linebackers.

McElwain is in his third season with the Chippewas. He went 3-3 in the shortened 2020 season and is 11-9 at the school.

McElwain is best known for his 2 1/2-season stint as coach of Florida, when he went 22-12 and was forced out at midseason in 2017. He also coached Colorado State from 2012-14.

McElwain has a 55-37 career mark in nine seasons.

–Field Level Media

Dec 31, 2018; Annapolis, MD, USA; Cincinnati Bearcats quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) and quarterback Hayden Moore (8) and quarterback John Keller (16) pose with the Military Bowl Championship trophy after the game against the Virginia Tech Hokies at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

Central Michigan QB John Keller out of hospital after shooting

Central Michigan quarterback John Keller was released from the hospital on Friday, nearly four weeks after being shot in the chest.

Keller was shot after a fight broke out at an off-campus party in Mount Pleasant, Mich., early April 24 and transported by helicopter to Hurley Medical Center in Flint, about 90 miles away.

“Very thankful to be heading home today,” he tweeted. “First, I have to thank god and I want to thank all of you for the prayers and support as they have been answered on this tough road. Thank you Hurley for saving my life. Blessed”

His stay in the hospital included being placed on a ventilator and several days in the intensive care unit.

Kenneth Thomas, 21, of Detroit, was arrested April 27 and charged with 10 felony counts, including two counts of assault with intent to murder. It is alleged that after he was asked to leave the party he retrieved a gun from a vehicle, then returned to the apartment and fired multiple times.

Keller, of North Canton, Ohio, began his college career at Cincinnati before transferring to Pearl River Community College in Mississippi. He announced his commitment to Central Michigan in January 2020 and sat out last season due to NCAA requirements. He has three years of eligibility remaining.

Fellow student Tyler Bunting was shot in his side and was released from the hospital earlier.

–Field Level Media

Sep 9, 2017; Lawrence, KS, USA; General view of the Central Michigan Chippewas helmet before the game against the Kansas Jayhawks at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Arrest made in shooting of Central Michigan QB

An arrest was made in the weekend shooting of Central Michigan quarterback John Keller, who remains in critical but stable condition at a Michigan hospital.

Kenneth Thomas, 21, of Detroit, was arrested Tuesday and arraigned Wednesday in Isabella County on 10 felony counts, including two counts of assault with intent to murder, according to mlive.com.

The charges stem from an incident early Saturday at an apartment complex in Union Township, Mich., where CMU football players were having a party.

A fight apparently broke out after a group that included Thomas was kicked out of the party. Witnesses told police that Thomas returned to a vehicle and retrieved a gun and fired multiple times into the apartment, according to the criminal complaint.

Keller, 20, was shot in the chest. He was airlifted to a hospital in Flint and his condition is said to be improving, per an update to a GoFundMe page set up to help with medical costs.

“John continues to fight for his life at Hurley Medical Center and prayers are needed now more than ever,” said Lauren Rhodes, who organized the GoFundMe account. “John took heroic actions to prevent (the assailant) from entering into the building to shoot other individuals. John is a hero and he deserves our support and prayers during this time.”

Keller, of North Canton, Ohio, began his college career at Cincinnati before transferring to Pearl River Community College in Mississippi. He announced his commitment to Central Michigan in January 2020 and sat out last season due to NCAA requirements. He has three years of eligibility remaining.

Fellow student Tyler Bunting, 23, was shot in his side and is expected to be released from the hospital soon, Sheriff Mike Main told reporters.

–Field Level Media