2013 MAC Football Season Preview: Western Michigan

Can Dareyon Chance and the Broncos return to the middle of the MAC West this season? - Marilyn Indahl-US PRESSWIRE

After a disappointing 2012 campaign, the Broncos replaced 8-year head coach Bill Cubit with the young, energetic P.J. Fleck. A slight roster turnover and numerous pre-season injuries have the outlook looking shaky.

Last year at this time, the Broncos had Bill Cubit, Alex Carder, and Lewis Toler all leading WMU in hopes of an ever elusive MAC West Title.  The crew dropped a pair of heart-breakers to two Big Ten teams (bad ones at that), but rebounded in a win against UConn, their second victory over the Huskies in as many seasons.  In that win, however, all three of those men's futures seemed to change drastically.

In order of dominoes:

  • Carder, considered the pre-season top NFL draft prospect in the MAC, broke his pinky in his throwing arm.  He struggled early in the season, but seemed to maybe be turning things around.  He would miss the next 6 games recovering before coming back and looking horrible against Buffalo and EMU.  He went undrafted, and was cut from the Lions Summer Camp.
  • Cubit, forced to play Tyler Van Tubbergen, may have dialed down the offense a bit too much, as the Broncos failed to muster anything early.  TVT struggled, but the Broncos looked listless on the field.  After a come-from-behind victory at rival Central Michigan, Cubit replaced TVT, who led said comeback, with Carder, and was promptly released from head coaching duties just hours after the season finale versus EMU.  He now is the offensive coordinator for Illinois.
  • Toler was picked on at times all season, but still held the lock-down corner spot.  The junior was expected to be a top NFL draft prospect this season after stellar showings in his first and second seasons.  After the coaching change, Toler apparently didn't like the path the program was going down and transferred to Rutgers.

So insert P.J. Fleck and the new crew.  TVT returns, Donald Celiscar (who played good last year) replaces Toler at the lock-down spot, and Jaime Wil...........oh, damnit.

Offense

As stated, Tyler Van Tubbergen will start his senior season with full reigns of the offense after playing second fiddle to Alex Carder his first three seasons.  Now, "The Cannon" controls the Broncos offense and has played against both good (NIU, Toledo, Kent State under Hazell) and bad (Akron) opponents and has had mixed results.  Again, he led the comeback against CMU, but will be without some key targets for most or all of this season.

Yes, at wide receiver, graduation and injuries has all but decimated this core.  Eric Monette, the hero WR of that CMU game is gone.  Jaime Wilson, last year's MAC Freshman of the Year is out with a broken ankle, leaving many Bronco fans to almost seemingly redshirt him.  Justin Collins, another huge target is also out for the season.  Daniel Braverman and A.J. King also suffered injuries and will miss the season.  At tight end, Blake Hammond has graduated as well.

So who is left?  The Broncos' 3rd leading receiver Josh Schaffer returns as the new number one.  After that, running back Dareyon Chance, last year's 6th best receiver is the highest returning player followed by fellow RBs Brian Fields (8th) and Antoin "One Yard" Scriven (9th).  No other player had more than 50 yds over the entire year, including new TE Clark Mussman.  However, Kendrick Roberts, Timmy Keith, and other new faces should step up and provide TVT with some good targets.

And if passing doesn't work, running the ball shouldn't be an issue.  Even with Tevin Drake getting arrested, Chance, Scriven, and Fields all lead a platoon of senior running backs looking to continue to improve on last year's decent showing on the ground (despite that 4-8 record).  Chance nearly finished with 1,000 yards, and will surely look to hit that mark this year.

As for blocking, well I'm just going to be brief here.  Lots of turnover, huge injury in Terry Davisson, and just little to no experience on the line.  Let's move on before I hurl.

Defense

Crap.

OK, so where to start?  Ummmmm......pros!  Yes, good stuff.  The secondary returns a boat-load of experience despite losing Toler.  Celiscar has a good core around him in Justin Currie, Demetrius Petway, and Leo Alba, among others.  The secondary, named the "No Fly Zone" by themselves, should look to build on a decent showing the past couple of seasons keeping the passing games down (hit and miss there, so sue me).

Now for the bad.  The D-Line loses a ton of talent.  Paul Hazel, Freddie Bishop, and Woody Legrier are all gone.  Only Travonte Boles remains.  Cory Sueing and Jonathon Harden should step up though to fill the spots, but again, youth.  Going to the linebacker position, it is injuries that has decimated the Broncos.  Terry Easmon and Devon Brant both are out for the season, but 2-time defending leading tackler Johnnie Simon moves from safety/rover to OLB this season, so that should help.  Kyle Lark and Desmond Bozemond both will be counted on next to him to keep the run game from not getting too far out of hand.

Special Teams

J Schroder has the best name in the MAC, and punted a ball 82 yards last season.  Yeah, I saw him do it with my own eyes.  In a game.  Top that Brian Schmeidaibuasldgadshdasch. He still is just a sophomore, but if he can corral his game, he could be a Ray Guy Watch Lister in a year or two.  Take that statement to the bank (please remember that "but" condition).

As for place kicking, that's a different story.  Andrew Haldeman struggled last season, going 2-6 from 40+ yds out (oddly enough, making his lone 50+ yarder to send the Ball State game into overtime after missing his lone 20-29 yd bunny).  This season, his spot is not guaranteed.  The Broncos secured a great kicker in Brett Scanlon, from my local rival Dowagiac.  Scanlon, according to my scouting report, has 50+ yard range in game, and has a few Michigan kicking records.  However, he is still just a freshman, and could be redshirted to adjust to the pressures and speed of the college game.  We'll see how that position battle plays out as the season progresses.

Returning kicks might be Timmy Keith.  I mean, he returned one last year, and then shattered his knee and missed the rest of the season, so that's what I'm going on.  I honestly don't know.  Wilson returned punts and kicks last year, but clearly can't do that this year.  Best of luck to whoever has that job.

Schedule

C'mon guys, do I really have to keep going?!?  [Bryan cocks gun]

OK.  So here is the Broncos' schedule.  It is very difficult.

Date

Opponent (with prediction)

8/30 @ Michigan State (Loss)
9/7 vs Nichols State (Win)
9/14 @ Northwestern (Loss)
9/21 @ Iowa (Loss)
9/28 vs Kent State (Loss)
10/5 @ Toledo (Loss)
10/12 vs Buffalo (Loss)
10/19 vs Ball State (Loss)
10/26 @ UMass (Win)
11/9 @ EMU (Win)
11/16 vs CMU (Win)
11/26 @ NIU (Loss)

So, yeah.  Starting out with 3 Big Ten road games in 29 days is never easy.  Especially when two of those teams are Michigan State and Northwestern.  Both of those teams are expected to be very competitive this season with Northwestern running a very effective spread/run-and-gun offense.  Very fast.

After that it starts to get easier.  Iowa on the road is tough, but somewhat winnable (I mean, hey, CMU did it.  Anyone can.  Right NIU? [hides]).   They get Dri Archer and Brandon Oliver's Kent State and Buffalo teams at home with a trip to Toledo sandwiched in between.  Then they face Keith Wenning and Ball State at home.

Right as hockey season is hitting full swing, the truly winnable games hit.  The Broncos will get UMass before a bye week to prepare for their two rivals.  The order couldn't be more perfect as they can prepare for the always hostile Rynearson Stadium before playing CMU on senior night the next week.  If there was ever a time to turn around the season and build momentum, it would be that 3-game stretch as the Broncos travel to NIU to end their season.

I'm considered a pessimist in the Bronco circles, as many fans are predicting 5-7, 6-6, and even 7-5 or better.  Can the Broncos overcome a tough schedule and go bowling?  Can they finish better than last year?  Is P.J. Fleck just Jim Carrey on red bull and going to crash midway through the 2nd quarter of a game?

We'll find out.  Comment below with your thoughts.

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