TEAM: Western Michigan Broncos
2015 RECORD: 8-5, 6-2 MAC (Part of four-way tie atop MAC West)
HEAD COACH: P.J. Fleck
MAC MEDIA PRESEASON POLL RANK: (1TH in West and MAC title game winner)
After a shaky (1-3) non-conference run last year, Western Michigan regrouped to reel off five straight Mid-American Conference victories. With a 54-7 drubbing of Ball State, the Broncos appeared to be in good shape for a MAC West title.
Western managed to win just one of the three remaining regular season games, however, and fell short in a title game ticket tiebreaker. Northern Illinois, physically battered at season’s end, got the trip and was handily dispatched by Bowling Green in the championship game.
It’s a do-over for Western Michigan in 2016. But . . .
BIG PICTURE STAT OVERVIEW
Scoring offense: 2nd (36.0 ppg)
Scoring defense: 8th (28.3 ppg)
Total offense: 2nd (490.8 ypg)
Total defense: 8th (413.7 ypg)
Turnover margin: 8th (+1/0.08 per game)
Eight of 13 returning starters line up on offense, and there is talent across the board. Opposing defensive coordinators won’t sleep well knowing the Broncos own diverse weapons that allow them to be adept running or throwing the football.
Western Michigan, in fact, is actually diverse within its running attack. Junior Jarvian Franklin (6-1, 220), MAC Offensive Player of the Year as a freshman in 2014, is one of the tougher MAC running backs to bring down. Jamauri Bogan (5-7, 174) burst onto the scene last year and led the team with 16 TDs and 1,051 rushing yards. Not only was he the 2015 MAC Freshman of the Year, Bogan earned Popeyes Bahamas Bowl MVP honors after rushing for 215 yards and four touchdowns against Middle Tennessee.
Sophomore Levante Belamy (5-9, 185) registered 493 rushing yards (149 vs. Ohio) last season.
WMU is also flush with talent in the passing game. Zach Terrell earned Third Team All-MAC honors after throwing for 3,526 yards and 29 TDs. He was seventh nationally and second in the MAC in quarterback efficiency.
Our offense will always start with the run game -- period. It will (then) open up play action ... downfield." -- Head Coach P.J. Fleck
There are four returning starters along the line, but the one that got away was First Team All-MAC tackle Willie Beavers (Minnesota Vikings, fourth round). Guard Taylor Moton returns after garnering Third Team All MAC accolades.
Obviously, the line opened some running lanes last year and Terrell put up terrific passing numbers. However, he was also sacked 31 times. Given that he is hardly a statue back there, the sacks are certainly an area which WMU hopes to improve.
Conversely, Western sacked opponents 18 times, tying Eastern Michigan for ninth among MAC teams.
Senior DE Keion Adams (5.5 sacks, 10 TFL) is a playmaker up front. Juniors Robert Spillane and Caleb Bailey return at the linebacking level. The latter finshed second among Bronco tacklers with 80 stops.
Safety Asantay Brown led the way with 103 tackles (56 solo) and is one of two All-MAC players in the Western Michigan secondary. Brown was a Third Team selection, while cornerback Darius Phillips made the Second Team after recording a team-high five interceptions in 2015 and was also a Second Team All-Conference kickoff return specialist.
"We have a very competitive league. It's up for grabs." -- P.J. Fleck
WMU will be undergoing considerable turnover among the kicking contingent. All-MAC third team member Andrew Haldeman has completed his placekicking career. Freshman Butch Hampton – an early enrollee -- takes over and showed some promise in spring practices. Kickoff specialist Derrick Mitchell could move into the punter spot.
Western Michigan has some of the MAC’s best talent on offense and will once again be among league leaders in several offensive categories. Defense is the big question.
One scheduling plus is that the Broncos get both Northern Illinois and Toledo at home this year. That Rockets-Broncos matchup is the regular season finale and could well punch somebody’s ticket to Detroit.