After the 2015 schedule came out, I was flooded with questions about how well the 2015 Western Michigan Broncos will do. From non-conference, to conference play, to if they could win the West, but one in particular caught my eye....
@broncofitz so what's the over/under on wmu wins this season? Let's say over/under 8?— Colin Graham (@cpgraham5) February 27, 2015
At first glace, saying the Broncos will finish with 8 wins seems low. I mean, they made a 7-win jump from 1-11 to 8-5 in P.J. Fleck's second season behind solid play from their offense and a swarming defense. So naturally, they should win more games, right?
Then the schedule came out, and reality struck. 8 actually might be the magic number. But to answer Colin's question more accurately, let's look at the schedule as a whole, going week-by-week to see if the Broncos can finish the job and win the West this season.
NOTE: This is a projection based off of what we know today. There still has to be spring practices and fall preparation.
Friday, September 4th - vs Michigan State (11-2, #5 in final AP poll in 2014)
So when the Broncos signed the contract with the Spartans way back when to agree to the three away, one home deal (that CMU and EMU also signed and have already gotten their home game out of against admittedly weaker MSU teams), they likely did not expect to be playing a Michigan State team that has won back-to-back "Playoff" bowls and has finished in the top 5 of the final AP polls in each of the last two seasons. Alas, that is the case as it will be for their home opener against the Spartans this year.
If they were to play the Spartans more mid-season (as in, any game that isn't first) and against teams like CMU and EMU got at home for their contracted game, I would honestly think the Broncos would have a shot after their run last year. However, even without Pat Narduzzi, this Michigan State squad is lethal. Now, they lose some key defenders along with Narduzzi and Jeremy Langford is gone, but Connor Cook is a solid quarterback and will be a senior going into the game. Waldo will be rocking but Michigan State is just too good to overcome. Broncos lose.
Saturday, September 12th - @ Georgia Southern (9-3, ineligible for bowl season [FCS jump])
Ok, so after Michigan State, the Broncos surely have a cupca.....OH MY GOD ARE YOU KIDDING?
That's right, the Broncos get the defending Sun Belt champions who have their own fun opener in a trip to West Virginia. Sure the Eagles lost to NC State and got pounded by Navy, but the Broncos also lost to Purdue (albeit they never took a true beating like the GSU-Navy game towards the end of the year). This should be a fun game between two teams that shocked a lot of people last year.
Now, the Eagles return most of their offense, but really rely heavily on the run, which would bode well for the Broncos since they lose most of their defensive secondary from last year. They should have more experience and depth in the box this year, so that Air Force game shouldn't happen again. On the other side of the ball, the Broncos have a perpetual have a bottomless well of running backs themselves to go to, led by defending MAC Player of the Year Jarvion Franklin. They also have Corey Davis and Zach Terrell. My gut tells me to go with the Broncos here, so I am. Broncos win a squeaker.
Saturday, September 19th - vs Murray State (FCS)
If you really need a reason why, remember that the Racers were the 3rd opponent in last year's schedule when the team was still very unpolished still (they had just given up 33 points to Idaho after losing two weeks prior to that to Purdue). That game finished 45-14, and Murray State only scored one offensive touchdown.
Saturday, September 26th - @ Ohio State (14-1, #1, National Champions)
I really don't want to break down why they will lose, just that Urban Meyer just wins. I don't know what he does, but he wins. BG, Utah, Florida, OSU. Check, check, check, check. By now, the Buckeyes will have (probably) settled on their quarterback, and have seemingly endless supplies of weapons on either side of the ball.
However, IF the Broncos do manage to win this game, I ask that you start a collection for my bail because I'm going to burn everything to the ground in a massive riot of celebration.
Week 5 - BYE
This is a great place to stop and analyze where we are thus far. I have the Broncos at a very tough 2-2, but that seems reasonable, no? Obviously, having not only the top two Big Ten teams, but two of the top teams in the nation on your schedule makes it incredibly tough to say you're going to go 2-2 no matter who you are, or who your other two games are (looking at you Alabama). However, I think the Broncos can hang with the Jags, especially with an extra day to look at game film (or watch the game live). That extra win could be crucial down the stretch when the real season comes around, with a 7-5 Bronco team likely to make it into a bowl game over a 6-6 one.
2015 Mid-American Conference football schedules released
16 midweek games, and they'll all be nationally televised. The MAC will also play against the defending national champions Ohio State twice.
Saturday, October 10th - vs Central Michigan (7-6 [5-3])
If you really are looking for my prediction here, you might want to remember who you're reading. It's ok, I'll wait.
Enos is gone. Rawls is gone. Titus is gone. Everyone is gone. And I don't think early October is soon enough for this Chip team to get everything together. I also think that EMU will be the second best Michigan MAC team next year.
Too much in a small paragraph? OK, grab your oxygen mask and then we'll continue the breakdown. Oh, and Broncos win.
Saturday, October 17th - @ Ohio (6-6 [4-4])
I was at this game at Waldo Stadium last year. It was a great weather day, the only one of the season, and WMU killed the Bobcats. I expect an older Bronco team to follow up that win with a road win. Which reminds me, did you know the Broncos went 4-0 on the road in MAC play last year? Yeah, they beat CMU (bowl team), Bowling Green (MAC East Champs [and bowl team]), Ball State, and Miami. Not a bad resume. Broncos win
Saturday, October 24th - vs Miami (2-10 [2-6])
I will admit, Miami played a lot better last year than I expected. However, without Hendrix to lead the offense, I don't know if this team has enough to beat WMU. ALSO, Miami was the first team to force a Jarvion Franklin fumble last year. It occurred in their November 1st game. I was outside watching CMU kill EMU because Alex doesn't believe in blankets for his "friends" while he works in a warm press box. (jk, he said the pressbox was freezing too). Broncos win
Thursday, October 29th - vs EMU (lol)
Could EMU be the WMU from last year? Doubtful. The Broncos at least put up a fight in their 2013 games against their rivals. EMU laid an egg in just about every game but the Buffalo one. Still, Creighton has to be slowly working some magic in Ypsi. Maybe. Either way, Broncos win.
I also now have WMU at 6-2, with a 4-0 MAC record by the turn to November and two trophies back in the showroom (Michigan MAC and Victory Cannon). However, this schedule is a proverbial sandwich with the "bread" being hard as a rock.
Thursday, November 5th - vs Ball State (5-7 [4-4])
See? Ball State was no gimme last year. They nearly beat the Broncos before a furious 2nd half comeback downed the Cardinals. I don't know why, but WMU vs Ball State games seem to always entertain. This year should be no different, with the Cardinals also coming back to Kalamazoo to ring in the first weeknight game at Waldo since........2009 against Ball State. That game was a disaster, with a 5-6 WMU team losing to a 1-10 BSU team on ESPN2. I was freezing.
By this point in the season, one would hope that Lembo has a quarterback that has settled into his system nicely. Last year, Mann and Milas never really found the exact groove, but Milas showed promise. Even without Quake, they will be a solid dark horse to make it to Detroit. Still, right now, I have to give this game to the Broncos. Broncos win
Wednesday, November 11th - vs Bowling Green (8-6 [5-3], MAC East Champs)
I honestly don't know what to think of Bowling Green. They won the MAC East, but went 0-4 in all against MAC West foes (only avoiding 4th place CMU and 6th place EMU). They also won big games in Indiana and a bowl game against South Alabama. They did all of that without Matt Johnson, who should be back and better than his lone showing - a pitiful all-around performance in Game 1 of the Dino Babers Era.
Another factor that remains to be seen, can the Falcons actually play defense this year? The knock on them is their defense was pedestrian at best, allowing about 27 points per game in conference play, good enough for 8th overall (in the East mind you), before getting a 50-spot put on them in Detroit by NIU (and they could've been 9th had Buffalo had a shot to shut down a relatively awful Kent State offense). The Broncos had the best scoring offense in the MAC in conference play, and don't really lose a thing on that side of the ball.
In a toss-up, I have to give the tie to Western Michigan, at home, on Senior Night. These seniors have been through a lot. The redshirt seniors alone were part of the 2011 Pizza Bowl team (with Jordan White), Bill Cubit's final year, the 1-11 season, and the rise of P.J. Fleck. Holy cow, I can't imagine them dropping their final game at Waldo. Broncos win
Wednesday, November 18th - @ NIU (11-3 [7-1], MAC Champions)
Death. Taxes. NIU home wins. Broncos lose.
It also helps that the Huskies have very little in their schedule around this to really call this a "trap" game of any kind. Although, that quick turnaround to the Ohio game should be interesting if both teams are 6-1 heading into the final week.
Friday, November 27th - @ Toledo (9-4 [7-1])
Last year, the Broncos had the Rockets beaten, and then they lost. Up 13-10 with 1:33 to go, the Rockets ran down the field, hit a field goal, and then had Andrew Haldeman miss the game-tying PAT to end the first overtime (and the game). That, Fleck has stated, was the driving force behind the subsequent six-game winning streak. While the Broncos have grown, I'm not sure that back-to-back road games against the MAC West's best are the best way to prove it. Only one other team has to face the same hellacious stretch is EMU (who then gets that home game against WMU). Broncos lose
So overall I have Western Michigan finishing 8-4 (6-2). For some flex games, I could see the Toledo, Bowling Green, Ball State, and Georgia Southern games going either way right now. 8-4 will easily make a bowl game with that schedule, provided they don't completely crap the bed in the two B1G game. Even then, however, they should make a bowl with five bowls having MAC tie-ins.
As for the MAC West, NIU has to go to Toledo this year, so we'll make the Rockets the early favorites for the West. They have to go to UMass in the middle of the season and have to play at Bowling Green in a huge rivalry game before hosting the Broncos to end the year. That could open the door for a possible Western Michigan jump, but when it's all said and done, unless the three teams go 7-1 in conference play, my MAC West winner is probably the Rockets. Should the three tie, Western Michigan would be heavy favorites right now to go to Detroit (tiebreaker is strength of cross-overs). Why? WMU and NIU have nearly identical cross-over schedules with one difference: the Huskies go to Buffalo while the Broncos host Bowling Green. Toledo and WMU have two differences, but in the end, if Kent State struggles again this year, the Broncos should advance.
But to answer the question posed at the top of the article, under could be favored over the over. However, if we aren't counting a possible MAC title game or bowl win, 9+ wins is doable. 8 wins, is about perfect right now, so place your bets and send me the winnings.