NCAA Football Preview - Western Michigan Broncos
By Lucas Gulotta, Associate College Football Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: Bill Cubit's Broncos had a lot to build on as they came into the 2012 campaign following a 7-6 season that ended with a close loss to Purdue in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. Unfortunately, WMU did not return to the postseason in 2012 as its once reliable offense faltered and its defense was average at best.
Cubit's squad began its season with a 24-7 loss at Illinois and won its home opener at Waldo Stadium, 52-21, over Eastern Illinois. The Broncos then suffered a loss to another Big Ten school when they dropped a 28-23 decision at Minnesota. They defeated a BCS conference program the next week when Connecticut (30-24) paid a visit, but lost four of their first five MAC games with the only victory coming from their bout with Massachusetts (52-14), which was in its first season at the FBS level. WMU was defeated by Toledo (37-17), Ball State (30-24), Kent State (41-24) and Northern Illinois (48-34).
It picked up one more win at Central Michigan (42-31) but lost its last two at Buffalo (29-24) and Eastern Michigan (29-23). Cubit was fired at the end of the disappointing season. WMU hired P.J. Fleck to rebuild the program. At 32 years of age, he will begin the season as the youngest head coach in the FBS. He previously worked as the wide receivers coach for Northern Illinois, Rutgers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
OFFENSE: The Broncos had the most potent passing attack in the MAC in 2011 and were expected to be one of the best in the nation in 2012 with Alex Carder back under center. Carder's senior campaign was disappointing as he was replaced mid season by Tyler Van Tubbergen. The backup went 159-of-261 for 1,825 yards with 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in his first year of significant action.
"I'm really comfortable and I am miles ahead of where I was when I was first introduced," said Van Tubbergen. "I'm anticipating that I keep getting better and more comfortable. Hopefully that translates well on the field."
Van Tubbergen should have more confidence built up for his senior year with his top two targets, Jamie Wilson and Josh Schaffer, both back at wideout. Wilson was one of the MAC's busiest receivers in 2012 with 67 catches. He also placed among the conference leaders in yards (792) and touchdowns (six), despite struggling near the end of the season with a groin injury that also kept him out one game. Schaffer finished second on WMU with 43 receptions and Justin Collins (401 yards, five TDs) and Daniel Braverman (135 yards) give the team more depth.
Senior tailback Brian Fields earned the starting job in the spring after tallying 259 yards and two scores on 68 attempts last year. He has amassed over 1,000 yards on the ground in his career. Fields will have trouble maintaining his impressive career average of 5.3 yards per carry behind an offensive line that has only one returning starter.
Senior Terry Davidson (6-6, 297) is moving from the outside to center to give redshirt freshman Taylor Moton (6-5, 291) and sophomore Willie Beavers (6-4, 309) a chance to develop at tackle. Moton was an all-state player in Michigan as a high school senior. He has plenty of potential to be a four-year starter.
DEFENSE: The unit that finished fifth in the MAC in total defense with 395.9 allowed yards per game and seventh in scoring defense with 29.7 allowed points per contest lost some of its key pieces up front. Deauntay Legrier was the most aggressive lineman, with a team-high 4.5 sacks and his graduation leaves WMU without a big pass rushing threat. Senior tackle Trevonte Boles (5-10, 295) is going to have to step up his performance. He made 9.5 tackles for loss in 2012, good for 12th in the conference.
The Broncos also have back Johnnie Simon, who was the heart and soul of the defense with a team-high 103 tackles and one interception. Senior linebacker Desmond Bozeman also returns after registering 90 total tackles, 5.5 TFL, four sacks and a fumble return for a score.
Simon appeared to be a confident leader at the MAC Media Day.
"My personal goal is to make as many plays as I can," said Simon. "I hate missing tackles, I like to make sure I don't miss any during the game. My team goal is to win the MAC Championship. That's something we haven't done in a while and that's something I'd like for us to get."
The secondary has a couple of capable players in junior cornerback Donald Celiscar and junior safety Justin Currie. Celiscar is the only player coming off a season with multiple interceptions and made 79 tackles as a sophomore. Currie recorded 98 total stops, forced one fumble and broke up three passes.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Sophomore Andrew Haldeman proved he was one of the most accurate place kickers in the conference last season as he made 27 consecutive extra point attempts to conclude the year. He also went 10-of-16 on field goal tries.
Sophomore J. Schroeder averaged 40.8 yards per punt as a rookie. He had an impressive career-long 82-yard punt and 11 of his kicks traveled further than 50 yards. Fields will most likely forfeit his kick returning duties to become the team's primary running back. Braverman's speed makes him a strong candidate to become the Broncos' new return specialist.
OUTLOOK: WMU's non-conference schedule could put it in an early hole as it has three road games versus Big Ten schools. The popular belief is that the Broncos will struggle in MAC play as well. They were picked to finish fifth out of six teams in the West Division standings at the annual MAC Media Day.
"The poll results don't surprise me. I was hired to build a program, and we have a lot of work to do to get to where we want to be, to be elite," said Fleck. "These young men, these coaches and I won't rest until this program is competing for, and winning, MAC titles."
WMU begins its 2013 campaign at Michigan State for an in-state battle. It welcomes Nicholls to Waldo Stadium the following week before road trips to Northwestern and Iowa. The Broncos do not have an easy start to their quest for a MAC title. They will host Kent State and visit Toledo to begin their league slate. WMU also has matchups against Buffalo, Ball State, Massachusetts, EMU, CMU and the two-time defending champion NIU Huskies.
Fleck has brought energy to the program that could trigger a big turnaround. WMU has its most important players returning on both sides of the ball, but the quick adaptation to starting roles of the new crop of players will be vital in improving upon 2011's 4-8 finish.
08/19 11:46:05 ET