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2011 MAC Football Preview: Western Michigan Broncos

Now that summer is winding down, football season winds up. While NFLers were negotiating, college programs have been practicing and filing down their depth charts in preparation for Labor Day weekend when the season begins. The weather outside is heating up and that must mean it's time for us to begin previewing the MAC, one team at a time...

The Broncos are perennially a slightly-above-average program. In fact, they have an all-time win percentage of .546, almost exactly par. This year, however, the Broncos have the ability to do some serious damage in the MAC. Coach Bill Cubit's offense will certainly be feared, but the Broncos are still a step away from a conference title, with some missing components on both sides of the ball. 

Last Season: The team went an unremarkable 6-6 last season, beating the teams they should have and losing to higher echelon MAC opponents and non-conference foes. There were some silver linings to their clouds, though. The Broncos finished strong against Eastern, Kent, and BG, showing resolve and perseverance (and obtaining bowl eligibility). The Broncos also made a respectable showing in South Bend, holding their ground in the first half against the Irish, but eventually losing steam.

The season included two heart-breaking loses: One to rival Central Michigan in which the Chippewas stood tall (despite a below-average season) and the Broncos fumbled away the game winning TD with under two minutes in the fourth. The other to NIU in which a fourth quarter game tying drive was stopped short with an interception.

Returning Players: Look out for QB Alex Carder. He had an impressive first starting year with 3,334 yards and 30 touchdowns. The guy is smart, mobile, passionate about the game, and has a solid receiving corps to throw to. This includes Jordan White, who received a medical redshirt and will back for a sixth year and already holds the school record for receiving yards and 100-yd receiving games in a season. I'm also expecting fifth year senior Robert Arnheim to have a massive year. He's been a quiet but consistent contributor who, with another year to get comfortable with Carder, could have a huge impact on games.

Brian Fields and Tevin Drake made some exciting plays at running back last season, but with a new and rearranged line, it will be interesting to see how the ground game gets going. Luckily, big men Anthony Parker and Dan O'Neill will bring some experience to the front five. Parker has 35 starts and, on a side note, has surprisingly good side-line celebration dances.

New Faces: Several three-star players were netted during the off-season, though they probably won't see much action this year. At strong safety there's Rontavious Atkins, but senior Doug Wiggins already had that spot down solid with the most starts of any player in the secondary, at 17. Three star receiver recruits included A.J. King, Timmy Keith, and Kendrick Roberts. The Broncos are already plenty deep at receiver, however. Another pleasant three-star addition was guard Dustin Pringle.

Games to Circle: The Broncos start the season at Michigan. It will be an interesting challenge both as a confidence builder for WMU and a test for new U of M coach Brady Hoke. September 17 is the big one against Central. Not only is this game a matter of pride for Bronco Nation, but coach Bill Cubit has to prove that he can beat the Chippewas, something that Western hasn't done since '05. The two weeks after CMU, there are road trips to Illinois and Connecticut, both providing interesting chances for upsets. I witnessed the defeat of Illinois in '08 and another win of that type could really get the team going for the rest of the year. Naturally, the two biggest conference games will be against West Division heavyweights NIU and Toledo.

Did You Know: WMU has a major recruiting pipeline in Florida. 30 Broncos hail from the Sunshine State, making it the largest home state for players (9 more than from Michigan). I'm not sure how this came about, but I don't really care as long as we keep bringing talent to Kalamazoo.

Did Also You Know: Alex Carder is the highest rated MAC QB in NCAA Football '12. I'd like to thank this very website for pointing that out. Maybe that's a good sign for the Broncos. Unless of course it means some kind of Madden-esque curse. Because if Carder gets injured, it could be a long season.

Prediction: I'll go with 8-4 (7-1). The conference loss will come to Toledo, who I feel will go on to win the MAC title. I don't think this year's team can pull off any major conference upsets. The defense has some growing to do, although the secondary did see improvement near the end of last season. But you never know, the Broncos have beaten the likes of Iowa on the road. There is definitely enough talent on this team to hold their own in the MAC however. With the way the team is balanced though, a lot of games may end up 45-35. Hopefully the defense will develop during the course of the season and we Bronco fans will get to go bowling.