A few weeks back I was on the Dj Cleary Show on 99.5 the fan in Paducah, Kentucky to preview the MAC. The subject of biggest non-conference games came up and I dismissed the Western Michigan game against USC. My initial gut reaction was that the Trojans will smash the Broncos. For that reason I went with Toledo against Miami, where I believe the Rockets have a chance to knock off a potentially ranked team.
Well, I have changed my mind. While I still believe in the Rockets, my opinion of Western Michigan’s chances have changed a bit. Last night I was watching the Browns beat the Giants. There were a number of MAC players in the game, which is never really a surprise. There is plenty of talent in this league. As we at Hustle Belt were deciding on our top 30 players in the MAC(which we will be breaking out very soon), I was reminded just how much talent the Broncos return. Obviously losing Terrell, Davis, and Moton is huge but the cupboard is far from bare.
This returning talent is in a lot of key places for this contest. USC is known for their offense more than anything. When we last saw the Trojans, they were in a shoot out with Penn State. Their play makers ran up and down the field against a good Penn State defense. To beat a team like that, I believe Western Michigan will have to punch them in the mouth when the Broncos have the ball. They return Chukwuma Okorafor and John Keenoy on the offensive line. Also returning is the two headed monster at running back, Jamauri Bogan and Jarvion Franklin.
When the Trojans have the ball, it will be key to keep them from big plays. Robert Spillane at linebacker should be a calming presence. Justin Tranquill will need to have a huge game, in my opinion. Last year he showed his unbelievable talent but it was also blatantly obvious that he was a freshman at times. He needs to make sure he takes the safe angle to avoid huge, backbreaking plays by the many USC playmakers.
The giant elephant in the room is the departure of P.J. Fleck. Well, around the country it’s talked about plenty but it’s a touchy subject for WMU fans. However, if there is one silver lining, Tim Lester is a quarterback whisperer. I think the play of Jon Wassink in such a hostile environment will be a key to the game. Lester might be better than Fleck in this regard. One of Fleck’s strongest abilities is motivating the troops. A game against USC should do that all on it’s own.
I am not going out on a limb and predicting a Broncos win. In fact, I am not even willing to guarantee that this will be a close game. However, I do believe Western Michigan has a chance to shock the world here. If WMU beat Wisconsin last season, there would have been some that said the Badgers weren’t trying. This season, many would be saying that the win hasn’t really changed anything because Fleck is now in Minnesota.
With a victory against USC, there will be no doubt about the ascension of the Broncos football program. Many are proclaiming USC playoff contenders. While there may be a few whispers that USC was looking past WMU, that will mostly fall on deaf ears as WMU was a New Year’s Six team the year before. It will also prove that life after Fleck isn’t so scary.
Editors note, article changed to show it is not at night game. It’s a 2:15 local start time.