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COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
#102 Western Michigan
MAC West PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: P.J. Fleck, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Kirk Ciarrocca | DEF. COORDINATOR: Ed Pinkham
Quarterback Tyler Van Tubbergen waited four years for this — to be the starter entering the season, for the offense to be his. Only it’s not the offense the fifth-year senior thought he’d be running. Western Michigan fired coach Bill Cubit in November after eight seasons, hiring 32-year-old P.J. Fleck in his place.
Fleck is installing what he describes as a multiple offense, different in terminology and system from his predecessor’s. He’ll have some talent and experience to operate it, especially at the skill positions.
That begins with his strong-armed senior quarterback, who started six games last season in place of the injured Alex Carder, passing for 1,825 yards, 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 11 appearances.
MAC Freshman of the Year Jaime Wilson remained with the team through the coaching change and figures to be WMU’s top target again, after catching 67 passes for 792 yards and six touchdowns in 10 games in 2012. Enigmatic senior wideout Josh Schaffer (43 catches, 570 yards) also has big-play ability.
The Broncos’ ground game will rely on the same four-man crew it has the last three seasons, with leading rusher Dareyon Chance, Tevin Drake, Brian Fields and Antoin Scriven vying for carries. The diminutive Chance rushed for 947 yards last fall, gaining 5.4 yards per carry.
The concern is with what’s in front of them. WMU returns only one starter along its offensive line, center Terry Davisson. Beyond that, its projected starters are light on experience.
The Broncos were better defensively in 2012, but not enough to pick up an injury-depleted offense. Their most glaring weakness was their inability to create turnovers, forcing just 10 during league play. Only Eastern Michigan and Akron forced fewer.
New coordinator Ed Pinkham will return WMU to a 4-3 defense after a year in a 3-3-5 base. The Broncos’ five leading tacklers are back, with senior Johnnie Simon (103 tackles in 2012) moving from safety to linebacker.
Second-team All-MAC safety Justin Currie headlines a seasoned secondary. The only issue is at one cornerback spot, where WMU has to replace three-year starter Lewis Toler, who left the program.
There are potential problems in the front seven, where injuries are testing limited depth, especially at linebacker. The Broncos do have senior Travonte Boles to anchor the line. Boles, with his bowling ball frame, is the sort of stout defensive tackle MAC programs often lack.
Andrew Haldeman struggled with consistency and distance during his freshman season, making 10-of-16 field goal attempts and only 2-of-6 from beyond 40 yards. Fleck brought in Brett Scanlon to push Haldeman, though he said Haldeman had a nice spring.
For eight seasons, the Broncos produced exciting offense and tantalizing moments under Cubit, but never quite put it all together. Carder’s hand injury early last fall led to a 4–8 season, the worst of Cubit’s tenure.
Fleck has fewer years on earth than Cubit does as a coach. But he’s made a number of stops in a short time — coaching in the MAC, at the BCS level and in the NFL. The former All-MAC wideout at Northern Illinois is selling to his players that he’s been exactly where they are and where they want to be.
“We’ve got to prove to them why we should be trusted, why this scheme will work for us. It’s a two-way street,” Fleck says.
Trust is only part of the equation. Like with most of Cubit’s teams, there are a few big-time weapons on the roster. But depth and defense are in question.
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