Thursday, July 6, 2017
Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Western Michigan Broncos
Western Michigan Broncos
The Broncos are starting a new era after their most successful season in school history closed out with a Cotton Bowl loss to Wisconsin. PJ Fleck is gone as head coach, but now WMU gets one of their own in charge in the form of former QB Tim Lester. Lester has a lot to live up to in his first season as coach of the Broncos, but there should be enough talent on hand to keep the Broncos relevant, even if they slip some from the heights of last fall. Will there be enough on hand to challenge Toledo in the MAC West?
What To Be Excited About: Offense
The run game should be a major strength for the Broncos in 2017, as Jarvion Franklin returns after rushing for 1353 yards and 12 TDs. He averaged 5.46 yards per carry, and 96.64 yards per game last fall. Jamauri Bogan is also back after rushing for 923 yards as the primary backup last fall, and that total was before he was injured. LeVante Bellamy also returns after missing all but three games last fall.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
There is no clear cut QB as of now, as Zach Terrell has moved on. Tom Flacco, brother of Joe Flacco, is the only QB on the roster with game experience, and he has a scant amount of that. He is in a battle with Joe Wassink that will carry over into fall camp.
Corey Davis, the record setting WR, is gone, as are the top three WRs from last season's roster. The most experienced WR returning is D'Wayne Eskridge, who had all of 17 receptions as a freshman last fall. He now steps into the role of being the lead man. Keishawn Watson and Anton Curtis, also both sophomores, have the leads at the other two starting spots.
Only one starting lineman returns in LT Chukwuma Okorafor. Curtis Boyle has the lead at LG, John Keenoy has the lead at C, Luke Juriga at RG, and Elliott Jordan has the edge at RT.
Even PK Butch Hampton has departed to go and play soccer, and that is 19 FGs coming off the board.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
Two starting LBs will return this fall in Caleb Bailey and Robert Spillane. Spillane led the team last fall with 111 tackles, and also added 10.5 TFLs, while Bailey finished with 71 tackles as well, and added an additional 9.5 TFLs.
Three starters return in the secondary as well. Darius Phillips and Sam Beal are both back at CB, while Justin Tranquill is back at Safety. Phillips finished with nine PBUs, and Beal added another eight. Phillips also led the team with four INTs. Tranquill finished third on the team in tackles with 89. Expect senior Asantay Brown to have the edge at the open OLB spot, while Devontae Ginwright is the current leader at the open Safety spot.
Derrick Mitchell got some decent work in at Punter last season, and averaged 41.38 yards per punt.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
DT Andre Turner is the lone returning starter on the line. He finished with 35 tackles and four TFLs last fall. Eric Assoua and Tony Balabini are the leading candidates to start at the DE spots, while Ken Finley has the edge to start at DT.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 at USC, 9/9 at Michigan State, 9/16 Idaho, 9/23 Wagner, 9/30 Ball State, 10/7 at Buffalo, 10/14 Akron, 10/21 at Eastern Michigan, 11/1 Central Michigan, 11/8 Kent State, 11/15 at Northern Illinois, 11/24 at Toledo
Western Michigan, with a new offense, and a new head coach, in principle, has enough left in the tank to make another seriously nice run in MAC play, but to repeat what they did last season would not be in the cards with as much as they have to adjust to in changes. I still see WMU covering eight or nine wins this season, and a bowl is more than reachable, but this is a new era, and so we have to wait and see how Tim Lester will place his stamp on his former school. Still, I see good things ahead for this program.