Western Michigan Broncos 2016 Preview and Prediction
COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25
#69 Western Michigan Broncos
MAC West PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: P.J. Fleck, 17-21 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Kirk Ciarrocca | DEF. COORDINATOR: Ed Pinkham
Previewing Western Michigan’s Offense for 2016
Western Michigan lost one-half of its dynamic receiving duo to the NFL. And Corey Davis easily could have followed Daniel Braverman to the draft. Instead, the nation’s active leader in receiving yards returns for his senior season, giving the Broncos a big-play weapon to feature in an offense that should again be among the most potent and balanced in the Mid-American Conference.
“I think he’s got to win the ball more, and he’s got to be able to play stronger, which sounds crazy,” WMU fourth-year coach P.J. Fleck says of the 6'3" Davis, who caught 90 passes for 1,436 yards as a junior. “I think he understands that. And I think that’s why he came back.”
It’s unclear who will emerge as a second option, though there are other proven weapons elsewhere on an offense that was second in the MAC in scoring and total offense a year ago.
Quarterback Zach Terrell, with 32 career starts, returns for his senior year after throwing for 3,526 yards, 29 touchdowns and nine interceptions last season. He’ll be protected by three returning starters on the offensive line and more depth up front than in any of Fleck’s previous three seasons.
The Broncos’ top two rushers from a year ago — diminutive sophomore Jamauri Bogan (1,051 yards, 16 TDs) and junior Jarvion Franklin (735 yards) — both return, having helped WMU averaged better than 200 yards per game on the ground last season. Bogan, last year’s MAC Freshman of the Year, is ahead of Franklin on the depth chart, though two years ago Franklin rushed for 1,551 yards and 24 touchdowns during a dazzling season.
Previewing Western Michigan’s Defense for 2016
If the Broncos hadn’t allowed two second-half scores against both Bowling Green and Northern Illinois last season, they would have played for a MAC championship. Fleck believes he finally has the difference-makers and maturity on defense to avoid those late-game swoons. “There’s a ton of depth and a ton of competition,” he says. “We’ve never had that.”
Safety Asantay Brown and linebacker Robert Spillane, both juniors, are the catalysts. Spillane, who played outside linebacker a year ago, moves inside. Brown anchors a secondary that also returns junior Darius Phillips, whose play at corner is starting to catch up to his electrifying returns. The Broncos are less proven at the other two spots, which are expected to be occupied by a pair of freshmen.
Previewing Western Michigan’s Specialists for 2016
Phillips has become an All-MAC corner, but he’ll play in the NFL because he’s a threat to score every time he touches the ball in the return game. He’s expected to handle both punt and kickoff returns. Freshman Butch Hampton, who enrolled early, takes over the kicking duties with high expectations after a stellar spring. Former minor league baseball player Derrick Mitchell, who tied the school record with 36 touchbacks as a 28-year-old freshman last season, will also punt this year.
WMU took a major step by winning eight games for the second straight year. The Broncos finished in a three-way tie atop the MAC’s West Division, then picked up the program’s first bowl win, keeping momentum despite a schedule that featured Ohio State and Michigan State in non-conference action and road dates against MAC West rivals Northern Illinois and Toledo.
This year, WMU has a legitimate chance at its first conference championship since 1988 and first double-digit-win season in program history. The Broncos get Northern Illinois and Toledo at home, and they have more manageable non-conference games against Northwestern and Illinois.
“We’re closer than we’ve ever been since I’ve been here,” Fleck says.