Hello, Bronco fans. I've heard a rumor that we're a bit unhappy with Wednesday's result. That's okay, I hope I can make a case for optimism once again.
Put down the panic button
I don't like that this is becoming familiar territory. A few weeks ago following a gut punch dealt by Georgia Southern, who, by the way, regardless of what anyone has told you is not an FCS school, I wrote that all is well in Bronco Nation and that the brown and gold were primed to start MAC play 5-0 , thus controlling their own destiny for a MAC West crown. And wouldn't you know it, that's exactly what happened, which has less to do with me knowing a damned thing about football and more to do with the team that calls Kalamzoo home being a really good football team.
The problem is Bowling Green is a really, really good football team, and they beat Western because on November 11th, 2015, they were better. That's actually all I have for you, because that's all you should take away from the game. It, like the Georgia Southern loss before it, means absolutely nothing in the big picture. P.J. Fleck said as much following the 14 point loss to the Falcons, telling David Drew at Mlive.com, 'that game mattered a lot, but in the West that had no (impact)." He's spot on. The task for the Broncos on Thursday morning is the same as it was in August: Beat NIU and Toledo, win a division championship. Sure, beating Bowling Green would have been fantastic, but beating them in Detroit is what matters.
The Broncos still have a very real shot of earning that rematch with Matt Johnson and his goatee, which I'm convinced holds the source of his power. Come to think of it, it's probably no coincidence Bowling Green is so good in "Movember." It's a conspiracy theory I haven't the energy to look into, but from a football standpoint there was probably no beating Bowling Green on short rest in a rainstorm even if Corey Davis hauls in that touchdown pass. But there's no reason to turn down the optimism dial, and the same people we seem eager to blame for last nights loss are precisely why.
Sure, Terrell played what was perhaps his worst game in nearly two years this week, and it surely played into the result of the football game. However, we are foolish if we believe that what we observed Wednesday was Terrell coming back to Earth, as opposed to simply a poor game among a string of excellent performances. We've seen him against great defenses. We know what he is capable of. The criticisms of Terrell in a poor performance are identical to those in an average or good outing. He holds the ball longer than most would like, and he too often stares down receivers for long periods of time. Bowling Green knows that. Western Michigan knows that, and I'll bet everything I own (which is like, an Xbox and 65 cents in my pocket) that Zach Terrell knows that. Great quarterbacks improve over the course of the season, which you may have heard is not yet over. He's an outstanding quarterback, and we've not yet seen the last of his great play in 2015.
MAC West Division Championship Scenarios
With the West going down to the wire, any one of three teams could win the divisional championship. We break-down the tie-breakers if they are needed
Trust the Boat Rower himself
Coach Fleck is a lightning rod, and I'm convinced there exist many fans that will constantly be dissatisfied with the team's results so long as he's running the program. That's fine. What isn't fine is believing for a second that Wednesday's loss was a result of inadequacies in the coaching staff. The Fleck "experiment" isn't toast, and the idea that the coaching is somehow disadvantaging the players on the field is as inaccurate as it is unimaginative. Kirk Ciarocca didn't miss the throw on the wonderful play call on a late second and goal. Fleck certainly didn't drop a touchdown pass - but he did drop one on the sidelines at EMU, which, fire away, that criticism is fair - and Mike Hart didn't fumble a read option. The mistakes on the field are equal parts correctable and uncharacteristic. We shouldn't have any doubt the team will be fine.
Be confident in this staff's ability to set the team up for victory. The talent amassed on the WMU sidelines wearing headsets instead of helmets are perhaps as big of an asset to the team as those who are. We should feel lucky for that, because even if we've only watched one weekend of college football in our lives we know that's not always the case. Like it or not, Fleck is the leader of a program molded in the image of himself and the players he and the staff have recruited, and it's a program off to it's best start since 2000, coincidentally the season of its last MAC West title. We're along for the ride, and its one that could end in a division title very soon. Let's enjoy it while it lasts.
But the schedule!
Nobody said this would be easy, and if a program is going to get its first "big" win on the road, then what better way to start than with a trip to Detroit on the line? But while this is the toughest stretch of the conference schedule, it isn't looking as daunting as just a couple of weeks ago.
Not your father's NIU
NIU fans may take issue with this, but Jordan Lynch isn't back there quarterbacking the Huskies, and neither is Drew Hare. Nobody should ever sleep on the Huskies (right Toledo?), but this isn't a Huskie team that should keep you up all night - maybe just a few hours. The Belt's power rankings had WMU as the second ranked team in the conference headed into the Veteran's Day showdown with Bowling Green, and it would be ill advised for us to just assume they are far worse than that based off a loss to Bowling Green, the best team in the conference. With NIU sporting a backup quarterback, this is the best opportunity in years for WMU to steal a win from the top dog, and we aren't crazy to expect it.
Too high on Toledo?
I know I was. But the Rockets should be concerned about Phillip Ely's current level of play. He's missing open receivers, often overthrowing them in spots, and hasn't been able to put away teams like we once thought they were capable of. I suppose my question to everyone is why can't WMU beat Toledo? What have we seen that suggests otherwise? Of course you'll have to win in a shootout, but this is the MAC. Were you expecting something else?
Beat the best. Be the best.
This program undoubtedly has to take down the big kids on the block to officially turn the corner, but we seem to be reacting to every WMU loss like its a team that has already turned it. Conference titles don't come overnight, and while it may hurt to admit, this is a program that, if there is a corner to turn, has been stuck at a red light for nearly 20 years.
Championship team's rebound, they don't start over. NIU has lost to Central Michigan two years in a row, and Rod Carey isn't on the hot seat, rather, NIU could be four quarters away from all but wrapping this division up for the 100th year in a row. Toledo dropped a heart breaker to NIU at home, but went on the road to win on the very field in Mount Pleasant that NIU failed to.
NIU fans following the loss to CMU adamantly (and annoyingly) cautioned to the rest of the MAC that the road to a MAC title still went through Dekalb. They were right. And in front of a national audience next Wednesday, Western Michigan University's football team travels to the suburbs of Chicago where its head coach made a name for himself, with the opportunity to halt the Huskie dynasty on a national broadcast. Remind me why we're unhappy right now?