#69 Western Michigan Football 2017 Preview

Western Michigan Broncos
Overall Rank: #69
#2 Mid-American
Following their breakout season in 2016, Western Michigan is looking to rebuild and rebrand. The Broncos gained a lot of attention under former coach PJ Fleck, who is now at Minnesota. Coach Fleck also recruited brilliantly and built up the Broncos into a team that went undefeated last year before falling to Wisconsin in a competitive Cotton Bowl. WMU opted to attempt to make another big splash by hiring former Bronco quarterback great Tim Lester to the head coaching spot. Coach Lester spent a couple years at Syracuse and last season at Purdue as the quarterback coach. It is a big step up to head coach.
2016 Record: 13-1, 8-0
2016 Bowl: Cotton Bowl vs. Wisconsin (L 16-24)
Coach: Tim Lester (0-0 at Western Michigan, 0-0 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Kevin Johns, Jake Moreland
Defensive Coordinator: Tim Daoust, Lou Esposita
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Jarvion Franklin, RB, 1,353 yards
Passing: None
Receiving: Jarvion Franklin, RB, 288 yards
Tackles: Robert Spillane, LB, 111
Sacks: Eric Assuoa, DL, 3.5
Interceptions: Darius Phillips, CB, 4
Other Key Returnees: RB Jamauri Bogan, OL Chukwuma Okorafor, OL John Keenoy, LB Asantay Brown, DB Justin Tranquill, LB Caleb Bailey
Key Losses: QB Zach Terrell, WR Corey Davis, WR Michael Henry, WR Carrington Thompson, OL Taylor Moton, DE Keion Adams, S Justin Ferguson
The Broncos offense will have to rebuild the passing game. Zach Terrell is gone after throwing for 3,533 yards and 33 touchdowns with just four interceptions during his senior season. Also gone are Corey Davis, who caught 97 passes for 1,500 yards and 19 touchdowns and was the fifth overall selection in 2017 NFL Draft, and fellow receivers Michael Henry and Carrington Thompson. Tom Flacco is the most experienced option to take over at quarterback, but he threw just one pass last year. The brother of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, Tom has a nice arm and can put up big numbers if given the opportunity. He will be pushed by sophomore Jon Wassink throughout the fall though. D’Wayne Eskridge, who caught just 17 passes for 121 yards, is the team’s top returning receiver. Finding a player or two that can be a consistent threat downfield will be a challenge. But while the passing attack reloads, the Broncos will rely on a couple proven running backs. Jarvion Franklin and Jamauri Bogan combined to rush for 2,276 yards and 20 touchdowns. It should not take long for the passing game to come around, but Western Michigan can certainly spend even more time on the ground if necessary.
The defense returns six starters and none are more important than Robert Spillane. The linebacker considered transferring after Coach Fleck left, but ended up back in Kalamazoo. He recorded 111 tackles, including 3.0 sacks and 10.5 tackles-for-loss and added three interceptions, four quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles. Caleb Bailey and Asantay Brown round out a very good group of linebackers. Andre Turner and Eric Assoua will anchor a line that has three starters to replace. It was the consistent pressure in the backfield that led to so many big plays for the rest of the defense last year and that could be difficult to replicate. But the secondary still has some big time playmakers, led by Darius Phillips who picked off four passes. Fellow cornerback Sam Beal is an experienced junior and sophomore Justin Thompson leads a young group of safeties after tallying 89 tackles as a freshman.
The Bottom Line:
As usual in the MAC, when a successful team loses a young coach to a major program, they take a step back. Western Michigan will want to throw away the oars forever and let the folks in Minneapolis worry about rowing the boat while they reload under Coach Lester. The success will not come like it did in 2016 for a very, very long time, but the program must take advantage of that exposure on the recruiting front and start building a consistent MAC contender right now.
Projected Bowl: Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
2016 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 228.9 (24th in nation, 2nd in conference)
Passing Offense: 252.4 (49, 5)
Total Offense: 481.2 (19, 2)
Scoring Offense: 41.6 (9, 1)
Rushing Defense: 153.6 (49, 4)
Pass Defense: 200.1 (25, 3)
Total Defense: 353.6 (26, 2)
Scoring Defense: 19.8 (15, 1)
Turnover Margin: 1.29 (1, 1)
Sacks: 2.00 (68, 3)
Sacks Allowed: 1.14 (13, 4)