Western Michigan football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Broncos, best players and season prediction.
Head coach P.J. Fleck took the program from the doldrums and a disastrous first season to two very fun, very interesting 8-5 campaign with two bowl appearances. Last year the Broncos even won a share of the West title, but a loss to Northern Illinois kept them out of the MAC championship game.
Is this the Get Over The Hump Year? Is this when Western Michigan makes the turnaround complete and takes the MAC title?
It had better be, because Fleck probably isn’t long for Kalamazoo.
A rising star, he’s on the short list for every coaching opening – at least every Top 5 Options article seems to include him – and he’s probably one more good season away from taking the next step up. If that happens, that probably means WMU came up with the year it was supposed to.
This is a dangerous, loaded team with QB Zach Terrell back along with star WR Corey Davis and a high-octane attack that should be among the best in the MAC. There’s no excuse for the offense to not outbomb everyone on the conference slate, while the defense should be just strong and experienced enough to hold serve in key games.
The talent is there, the veterans are in place, the coach is destined for huge things, and Northern Illinois and Toledo are home games. Everything is set up perfectly for Western Michigan to win its first MAC title since 1988.
The program has been built. Fleck and the team have to finish it off.
What You Need To Know About The Western Michigan Offense
Offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca has a plenty of toys to play with. The offense that finished sixth in the nation in passing efficiency and 17th overall gets back veteran QB Zach Terrell along with all-star WR Corey Davis and several promising other targets. Daniel Braverman left early for the NFL, but Terrell and the offensive style will make receivers shine. The line gets four starters back – it has to be better in pass protection – to pave the way for the deadly 1-2 rushing punch of Jarvion Franklin and Jamauri Bogan – probably the best rushing tandem in the MAC outside of Toledo.
Biggest Key To The Western Michigan Offense
Pick your poison with what you want this offense to kill you with – the skill players are as strong as any in the MAC – but to go to a whole other level, the line needs to be a rock. Four starters might be back, and this group knows how to pave the way for the running game, but the pass protection has to be better. Zach Terrell has to be kept upright behind a front five that allowed 31 sacks on the year, but cranked out over five yards per carry.
What You Need To Know About The Western Michigan Defense
Just okay last season, it should be the best yet in the P.J. Fleck era. The line needs a little bit of retooling after losing Cleveland Smith on the inside and Jarrell McKinney outside, but the linebacking corps returns intact with Caleb Bailey and the rest of the starters back from a group that was okay against the run, but not fantastic. The pass defense needs to make more big plays, the pass rush has to be better, and some key playmakers have to emerge up front, but the D should be just good enough considering the offense will do the heavy lifting.
Biggest Key To The Western Michigan Defense
Can the defensive front come up with a pass rush? The Broncos got 5.5 sacks out of end Keion Adams, and that was about it for the production with the rest of the team coming up with just 11.5 sacks and not generating enough pressure against the better passers. That’s why …
Western Michigan Will Be Far Better If …
The run defense works. The Broncos dominated the time of possession – finishing second in the nation – but they struggled on third downs and had problems against the run. Without enough of a pass rush or big plays in the backfield, teams were able to run amok averaging 5.25 yards per try while going 2-5 against teams that ran for 196 yards or more. WMU went 6-0 last year – and 14-0 over the last two seasons – when allowing teams to run for fewer than 196.
Best Western Michigan Offensive Player
WR Corey Davis, Sr. – Flip a coin on Davis or QB Zach Terrell for the best player honor, but Davis is more dynamic. After a tremendous first two seasons, Davis was unstoppable in an all-star junior campaign averaging 16 yards per catch with seven straight 100-yard games to close out the season. He could’ve turned pro early, but he chose to stick around and should be in the hunt for All-MAC and even All-America honors.
Best Western Michigan Defensive Player
CB Darius Phillips, Jr. – S Asantay Brown is right there, too, after leading the team in tackles, but it’s Phillips who’s the ball-hawking speedster who’s terrific as a kick returner and a ball-hawker. He led the team with five tackles, taking one for a score, and he’ll have to be even stronger this season with two key starters gone from the secondary. Quarterbacks might stay away from him, but he’ll draw the assignment of the No. 1 receiver.
Key Player To A Successful Season
PK/P Derrick Mitchell, Soph. – Will he handle all the kicking duties? Can he excel in just one spot? J Schroeder was a great punter for a long time averaging over 41 yards per try last year – Mitchell hit his one punt for 39 yards. Andrew Halderman hit 17-of-22 field goals to close out a tremendous four-year career. Mitchell can be tried out as a placekicker, but he’s a punter – and an old one. The 29-year-old played minor league baseball in the Philadelphia Phillies farm system, and now he’ll at least handle kickoffs again after a strong year.
The Western Michigan Season Will Be A Success If …
It ends with a MAC championship. There’s no excuse. The team is full of talent and experience, and the schedule works out well. If the Broncos can beat Central Michigan on the road early on, it gets all the breaks the rest of the way hosting Northern Illinois and Toledo and getting most of the other key games are at home. Coming up with a double-digit win season is must – finishing with a title.
Toledo, Nov. 25 – The battles with Central Michigan and Northern Illinois matter – obviously – but the season should come down to the massive battle against the Rockets that might just be big enough for national attention. WMU won last year 35-30 – keeping Toledo out of the MAC title game – but lost the previous five games.
2015 Western Michigan Fun Stats
– Time of Possession: Western Michigan 34:33 – Opponents 25:27
– Fourth Down Conversions: Western Michigan 13-of-21 (62%) – Opponents 7-of-22 (32%)
– Punt Return Average: Western Michigan 8.8 yards – Opponents 4.3 yards