The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 119 Western Michigan.
Previewing Western Michigan’s Offense for 2014:
Name the position on Western Michigan’s offense, and second-year coach P.J. Fleck will explain the uncertainty surrounding it. And at almost every spot, the 33-year-old Fleck is expecting a freshman to challenge to start, or at least to play. It’s a product of having the MAC’s top-rated recruiting class join a program that finished last season 1–11. “I’ve never been on a team like this, where every job is open,” Fleck says.
That includes quarterback, where the competition is between sophomore Zach Terrell and incoming freshman Chance Stewart. A local product from Sturgis, Mich., the 6'6" Stewart is a pro-style quarterback who originally committed to Wisconsin. The less-heralded Terrell isn’t likely to give up the gig quietly. Little was expected of him as an injury sub last season. But Terrell’s first career pass went for a touchdown at Michigan State, and in passing for 1,602 yards and eight touchdowns, he wound up having a better year than oft-injured starter Tyler Van Tubbergen.
MAC Freshman of the Year Corey Davis gives WMU a go-to target. The 6'2" Davis, who Fleck says has added 10 pounds of muscle, caught 67 passes for 941 yards and six TDs in his first go-round. Second-leading receiver Kendrick Roberts (23 catches) also returns, but the Broncos’ second option this fall might be freshman Darius Phillips, redshirted last season for academic reasons. Phillips is considered the fastest player on the team.
Diminutive running back Dareyon Chance, last season’s leading rusher with 692 yards, was granted a medical redshirt for a fifth season. However, three touted true freshmen — Jarvion Franklin, Jamauri Bogan and Leo Ekwoge — are expected to be in the mix.
Whether they have anywhere to run will be up to an offensive line woefully short on depth. Four starters return, including junior center/guard James Kristof and junior left tackle Willie Beavers, but behind them is mostly a list of freshmen.
Previewing Western Michigan’s Defense for 2014:
The strength of the entire team is its secondary, a crew highlighted by All-MAC senior corner Donald Celiscar and hard-hitting senior safety Justin Currie, the MAC’s fourth-leading tackler in 2013. Celiscar and Currie accounted for six of the Broncos’ eight interceptions last season. Safety Rontavious Atkins started three games last season before a knee injury forced him to redshirt.
In front of this secondary, however, are a plethora of questions and youth, beginning at linebacker. There, WMU is counting on junior Devon Brant — coming off ACL surgery — in the middle.
Nose guard Richard Ash, a graduate transfer from Michigan, gives a defensive line heavy on freshmen and sophomores a needed infusion of experience and Big Ten beef.
Previewing Western Michigan's Specialists for 2014:
Amid these countless uncertainties, the Broncos catch a break on special teams, where placekicker Andrew Haldeman and punter J. Schroeder, both juniors, return. Haldeman made 16-of-20 field goals last season, including 3-of-4 from beyond 40 yards, on a team that couldn’t afford to miss out on points. Schroeder averaged a modest 39.7 yards per punt.
Fleck strolled into Kalamazoo with plenty of bravado, ignoring critics of his age and his “Row the Boat” mantra. A humbling season did nothing to slow recruiting — Rivals ranked his 2014 class No. 59 nationally, ahead of Iowa, Northwestern, Purdue and Illinois — or his optimism for the future.
In the short term, Fleck sounds more realistic than a year ago, and more comfortable in his skin, aware that the odds are stacked against a team with only 29 upperclassmen, not enough of them up front on either side of the ball. “It’s a patient process, which in college football isn’t the friendliest process,” he says.