I wanted to wait until the entire football season was over to do this. I like to let the entire 4 1/2 month process decompress for a little bit so I can get a full perspective on it. It's fun to watch a playoff in action that is structured in a way that Western will almost certainly never get to participate. (Oh God, the self-deprivation has started already.)
But I'm not here to rant about the weird purgatory that mid-major football programs find themselves in. What I really want to do is talk about a Western season that was lots of fun, a huge relief, and gives me hope for the future of the program.
Let's start with the relief factor of this year. After the 1-11 campaign of 2013, I was terrified. Obviously, right? How could you not be scared that you were headed to the basement of the MAC West for the foreseeable future after that result? But as P.J. Fleck provided the most impressive recruiting class in program history, a glimmer of hope appeared.
And then once our season started, we saw results on the field. Yes, we lost that first game to Purdue, but there was something different about the loss. We were in the game. We were competitive and had a chance to win. That was something quite rare in 2013 and was reason for even more hope. Games are just a bit more entertaining when you're scoring and what not.
Also with that game, we saw the immediate impact of Fleck's recruiting with true freshman Jarvion Franklin. A guy with incredible talent right off the bat. Now of course Franklin's productivity diminished as the year moved on, but he didn't win both MAC Freshman and Offensive Player of the Year for nothing. This kind of talent was amazing to see for Western. And personally, seeing the Broncos with a bruiser was just AMAZING. Bowl ‘em over, God damnit! This new-found running game led to one the most balanced Bronco offenses in recent memory, finishing with 29 rushing TDs and 26 passing.
We also got to see a more confident Zach Terrell at quarterback. In 2013 Terrell was plagued by inconsistencies and mistakes. But with that tough year under his belt, he came out and performed. He was helped supremely by his surrounding cast too. Corey Davis and Daniel Braverman led the way for the Bronco receiving corps. Braverman sticking to his shifty crossing and post routes and Davis fulfilling the pro-style big man. Braverman was three yards short from both receivers gaining 1000+ yards on the year.
The conference season brought important, but not necessarily incredible results. We beat the teams we should have, and on the way took down both Eastern and effing Central. Beating CMU in Mt. Pleasant is absolutely delectable. The defense played tough all year, especially standing tall against Ohio and Bowling Green, and the offense got the job done, shinning particularly brightly against Ball State.
But we still lost to the MAC West's best teams in Toledo and NIU. The Toledo loss was a 1-point heartbreaker in overtime, while in the NIU game, Western played probably its worst half of the entire season. And one year, for the love of God, we will win a bowl game. I really just wanted to win this year so I could get a t-shirt that said "POTATO BOWL CHAMPIONS."
So we sit in a hopeful yet familiar position. The improvements between this year and last were vast and the 8-5 record was impressive, but we still need to start beating the teams that consistently ruined our seasons under Bill Cubit. I think with another solid Fleck recruiting class and another year of experience with this squad, next year we'll be really close to gathering that first conference title since '88. But as we all know, anything can freaking happen in the MAC. Predictions are worthless until week one, y'all.
And this team will get tested early next year. We start by hosting Michigan State. Then a few weeks later we play against the defending national champion Buckeyes and whatever quarterback they decide to field. Then we run the MAC gauntlet. God, I seriously can't wait. Is it September 4 yet?