University of Kansas

What to watch for, keys to victory, prediction for KU football vs. Central Michigan

Kansas cornerback Derrick Neal (7) held the ball as Jayhawks linebackers Joe Dineen Jr. (29) and Osaze Ogbebor (31) congratulated him on breaking up a pass in the second quarter during the Univerisity of Kansas and Southeast Missouri State football game at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, September 2, 2017.
Kansas cornerback Derrick Neal (7) held the ball as Jayhawks linebackers Joe Dineen Jr. (29) and Osaze Ogbebor (31) congratulated him on breaking up a pass in the second quarter during the Univerisity of Kansas and Southeast Missouri State football game at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, September 2, 2017. skeyser@kcstar.com

Central Michigan at Kansas

When: 3 p.m. Saturday

Where: Memorial Stadium in Lawrence

TV: Fox Sports KC Plus

Radio: WHB (810 AM)

Line: KU by 5  1/2

The Lowdown: One could easily make the argument this is the most important game in Kansas’ season. Move to 2-0 — KU hasn’t done that since 2011 — and the Jayhawks would have the remaining 10 games to improve upon last season’s 2-10 record. A home loss against a Mid-American Conference school, meanwhile, could quickly create doubts about the progress of the program in Year 3 under coach David Beaty. Unless something drastic changes over the course of the season, this should be KU’s last 2017 contest where it comes in as a Vegas favorite.

KU key to success: Avoid turnovers. Central Michigan picked off six passes last week in a 30-27 triple-overtime victory over Rhode Island, and while that number is definitely an outlier, the point remains that the Chippewas likely won’t drop passes that are thrown their way. KU was minus-two in turnovers in the opener against Southeast Missouri (two interceptions and a fumbled punt), and those types of mistakes will be more costly if they reappear against a better opponent in Week 2.

CMU key to success: Get the receivers going. The Chippewas’ strength is their returning wideouts, though they all had relatively quiet games against Rhode Island. Corey Willis is the top guy, posting 1,091 yards and nine touchdowns a season ago, though he only had 43 yards in the opener. Mark Chapman (5 for 88 against Rhode Island) and Brandon Childress (4-20, TD) are strong secondary receivers who should test KU’s inexperienced secondary.

CMU player to watch: Shane Morris is the primary quarterback after coming to CMU from Michigan as a graduate transfer. His first start was shaky — 25-for-49 passing for 226 yards with a touchdown, interception and fumble — but he’s still someone that once was rated by Rivals as the fourth-best quarterback in his class and also a top-100 recruit overall.

Key Matchup: KU quarterback Peyton Bender vs. CMU’s secondary. Central Michigan allowed 7.1 yards per pass attempt at home to FCS Rhode Island last week. That’s not good. Meanwhile, Bender was able to find receivers for five 30-plus-yard passing plays a week ago — a number that tied for best in the nation. If Bender can continue to make good reads as he did in Week 1, big plays should be available again.

Prediction: KU 31, Central Michigan 21. Statistical studies consistently tell us that we should overreact to Week 1 results in college football, and it’s difficult not to do so here. Central Michigan needed triple-overtime to beat a team KU steamrolled last year, while the Jayhawks showed improved offense in taking a solid victory over Southeast Missouri last week. That doesn’t mean the thinking on this game should change much from what was expected before the season. The Chippewas are a strong mid-major program, having won at least six games in each of the last five seasons. KU, meanwhile, looked good offensively in Game 1 but still needs to repeat a few more times to prove it’s truly improved following seven years of futility. In the end, KU’s offense should make enough plays to win as long as it can avoid devastating turnovers.

Jesse Newell: 816-234-4759, @jessenewell

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