For the first time since 2010, a Group of Five program finished a regular season 12-0. P.J. Fleck led Western Michigan to a 55-35 victory over Toledo in the rain in Kalamazoo on Friday evening — the Broncos’ third win over a team with a winning record this season. With Boise State and Houston falling on Saturday, Western Michigan looks to be situated atop of the Group of Five hopefuls. What else did we take away from Friday’s contest between the conference’s top two records?
- Adding Jamauri Bogan back increases the offense’s firepower. The two-back system, when effective, works like a well-oiled machine. Although the duo of Jarvion Franklin and Jamauri Bogan has not matched the recognition of Reggie Bush and LenDale White, the two weapons prove to be a magnificent tandem when healthy. Bogan missed the last two games, but excelled against the Rocket defense, earning 198 yards and a touchdown. He broke free on many carries, quickly accelerating down the field with impressive speed. Franklin had his share as a feature back in recent weeks, but was vital as a second-option in the victory, scoring two touchdowns on 10 carries, including a momentum-swinging score that notched the Broncos ahead 24-14 right before halftime. Western Michigan has two games left, and alternating carries between the quick Bogan and powerful Franklin might be a great way to puzzle opposing defenses.
- Kareem Hunt is one of the greatest MAC running backs that has ever stepped on the field. In his final regular season game, Hunt summarized his entire college career on the wet grass in Kalamazoo. The senior halfback became Toledo’s all-time leading rusher, breaking Chester Taylor’s record (4,646 yards) in the process, and now ranks fourth in conference history. Hunt ran 20 times for 200 yards, scoring one touchdown on the ground. He also finished with 73 receiving yards, doing his best effort to drive Toledo’s offense down the field from the first possession to the last. It was Hunt’s third 200-yard game in his career, a career limited to one final bowl game. He tore apart a tough Western Michigan running defense on Friday and will have the opportunity to do so once more. Hunt has been dominant in bowl games, with a combined 350 yards and seven touchdowns in his last two postseason performances.
- Turnovers won and lost the game for Western Michigan. There is nothing more draining in football than throwing a pick-six on the first offensive play of the game. Toledo’s Logan Woodside knows this feeling after committing a costly error to begin the contest. After Asantay Brown returned the interception, Western Michigan had seven points on the board — causing Toledo to play from behind on the road for the contest’s entirety. Toledo tied the score at seven apiece, but only earned one drive with an opportunity to take the lead. The Rockets failed, and the Broncos finally built the lead on the seven-point cushion that resulted from the pick-six. Western Michigan also recovered a fumble off of a sack in the third quarter, locking the game up and preventing any chance of a Toledo comeback. As usual, Western Michigan — continuing to lead the FBS with only five turnovers — played mistake-free football, which is crucial when facing an explosive offense like that of Toledo.
- Western Michigan’s star player is... the front five. The five big guys in the trenches have been significant in preserving the Broncos’ undefeated record all season. And the unit put on a clinic tonight, boosting the run game, allowing time for pass plays to develop, and preventing sacks. Zach Terrell faced almost no pressure in Waldo Stadium, leading to an accurate 19-of-25 passing day. Most notably, he was sacked zero times. The aforementioned running game was as stellar as ever, earning a total 249 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Offensive tackles Chukwuma Okorafor (left) and Taylor Moton (right) prevented defensive end John Stepec and the Toledo defense from becoming a nuisance to Terrell. Okorafor left the game with injury, but if on the field for the MAC Championship, Ohio — second in sacks in the nation — can expect a challenge in navigating past the line to Terrell.
- The committee should absolutely be convinced Western Michigan is the real deal. Western Michigan finally matched up against the MAC’s second-top team. But the outcome looked rather one-sided, in favor of Fleck’s undefeated squad. The Broncos led by as much as 31 in a battle versus the 9-3 Rockets and maintained the 11-game streak of winning games by at least two touchdowns. The playoff committee should take note for multiple reason. For starters, the game was placed in an ESPN2 slot during a slate of blowouts such as TCU-Texas, Washington-Washington State, and Texas Tech-Baylor. Increased viewership helps, but so do the losses of Boise State and Houston — other Group of Five schools ranked ahead of Western Michigan. With their upset losses, it should be easier to understand how difficult it is to win every game in a long, arduous season. The two remaining undefeated teams in college football are separated by 20 spots in the polls, the Broncos should find themselves rowing higher in the rankings with an impressive victory on Friday.