Last Monday, spirits were high in Kalamazoo. For the first time in the 81-year history of the Associated Press poll, the Western Michigan Broncos found their name etched in it. And with a 41-0 victory in Akron, Ohio on Saturday, the ranking should be on the rise. Here are takeaways from only the seventh FBS-FBS shutout of the 2016 season:
- Western Michigan embraces the spotlight. Oftentimes, Group of 5 teams grind their way into the polls, but fold after achieving a ranking and garnering national attention. For instance, San Diego State, when 19th in the nation, lost a road game to South Alabama on October 1. But P.J. Fleck and Broncos zipped by Akron in their potential trap game. Akron entered at home with a 4-2 record, but were clearly no match for a ranked Western Michigan team on a mission. The Broncos’ schedule eases up until their November 19 date with Toledo. But for Western Michigan to stay in the spotlight, it must embrace it with the demeanor they entered InfoCision Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
- Akron is still a MAC East contender. Despite joining Central Michigan, Illinois, and Georgia Southern in the group of teams pummeled by Western Michigan, Akron still has hope. With Ohio’s loss to Eastern Michigan, the MAC East is wide open with no team owning a better record than 4-3 (Akron and Ohio). Losing 41-0 to Western Michigan should not define the Zips’ season. Look no further than Central Michigan, a 5-2 squad with a victory at Oklahoma State. Even the Chippewas lost by 39 points at home to their in-state rivals. Positive takeaways for Akron were limited after failing to score and yielding 41 points, but the Zips should find comfort in the fact that a trip to the MAC Championship Game is still in-play. Only one problem: it likely involves a rematch with Western Michigan.
- These Broncos are road warriors. Over the last three seasons, Western Michigan fares 12-5 in true road games. This season, the Broncos are 4-0, against arguably four of their toughest opponents in 2016. After a narrow one-point win over Northwestern in Evanston, P.J. Fleck has brought his A-game when away from Kalamazoo. Against Illinois, Central Michigan, and Akron, the Broncos sport an average point differential of 34.7 points per game. In these three contests, the Broncos have allowed only 20 total points. And the defense continues to improve. Against Akron, the defensive unit only allowed 283 yards, posted nine tackles for loss, and forced two turnovers. Western Michigan’s future road games are very winnable: Ball State and Kent State. With the dominance they have shown on the road this season, the Broncos could trek to a 6-0 road record, an impressive feat for any college football team.
- Western Michigan’s running attack is impeccable. Whether it’s Jamauri Bogan or Jarvion Franklin, the Bronco running back is destined to dominate. The tandem leads a top-10 rushing game, averaging 265.6 yards per game. For the first four games of the season, Bogan led the charge with four consecutive 100-yard, touchdown performances. After filling in for Bogan following an ankle injury, Franklin has been unstoppable. The junior has registered three-straight 100-yard games with four touchdowns in the span, but his greatest statement was concocted in Akron. Franklin rushed for a school record 281 yards on 33 carries against the Zips. The field was a highway for the former All-MAC running back, and he cruised right down it without regard for the Zips’ defense. For Franklin’s dominance, credit is due to Outland Trophy candidate Taylor Moton. The senior offensive tackle leads the offensive line in Kalamazoo and has paved pathways for Bogan and Franklin all season long. Behind a controlling offensive line, expect dominance for the Broncos’ run game whether it is Bogan or Franklin in the backfield.
- P.J. Fleck’s team is human. It’s true. Despite absolute superiority on both sides of the ball for 60 minutes on Saturday, Western Michigan finally committed an error. The Broncos fought to the midpoint of the regular season with zero turnovers, but that all changed when freshman running back Davon Tucker fumbled the ball in the early second quarter. In a 41-0 victory, the mistake is definitely excusable, but does not take away from the high level Fleck’s offense performs at. Quarterback Zach Terrell has been the model of efficiency, the running game is impactful, and Corey Davis keeps snagging touchdown passes and navigating his way into the record books. But despite the authoritative shutout win, Fleck had one request pregame. The spirited coach asked his team to be the best versions of themselves.
And the rest was history.