116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
WESTERN MICHIGAN BRONCOS
• Conference: Mid-American Conference (Finished 4-8, including 2-6 and fifth place in the MAC West last season)
• Returning offensive starters (5): QB Tyler Van Tubbergen, RB Brian Fields; WR Jaime Wilson; WR Josh Schaffer; C Terry Davisson
• Projected starting offense: QB Tyler Van Tubbergen (6-3, 198, Sr.); RB Brian Fields (5-8, 194, Sr.); WR Justin Collins (6-2, 212, Sr.); WR Jaime Wilson (5-11, 196, So.); WR Josh Schaffer (6-2, 219, Sr.); TE Clark Mussman (6-3, 233, Sr.); LT Willie Beavers (6-4, 309, So.); LG James Kristof (6-3, 296, So.); C Terry Davisson (6-5, 301, Sr.); RG Greg Peterson (6-5, 282, Sr.); RT Taylor Moton (6-5, 291, #Fr.)
• Returning defensive starters (7): DT Travonte Boles, WLB Kyle Lark, MLB Desmond Bozeman, RVR Johnnie Simon, CB Donald Celiscar, SS Demetrius Pettway, FS Justin Currie
• Projected starting defense: DE Mick Dubose (6-0, 242, #Fr.); DT Travonte Boles (5-11, 290, Sr.); DT Jabari Bothwell (5-11, 284, #Fr.); DE Roosevelt Donaldson (6-1, 276, #Fr.); WLB Kyle Lark (6-0, 230, Sr.); MLB Desmond Bozeman (6-0, 220, Sr.); RVR Johnnie Simon (6-0, 197, Sr.); CB Donald Celiscar (5-11, 183, Jr.); SS Demetrius Pettway (5-10, 187, Sr.); FS Justin Currie (6-2, 204, Jr.); CB Ronald Zamort (5-10, 157, So.)
• Returning specialists (2): P J. Schroeder (6-0, 205, So.); K Andrew Haldeman (5-10, 168, So.)
• Key losses: QB Alex Carder, DE Freddie Bishop, DE Paul Hazel, DE Deauntay Legreir, RT Dann O'Neill
• Top 5 additions: DL Khairi Bailey (6-3, 251); LB Caleb Bailey (5-11, 221); QB Cameron Thomas (6-2, 179); OL Jackson Day (6-3, 279); TE Mario Rodriguez (6-3, 265, Jr.)
• 2012 review: After five winning seasons in eight years, the Broncos crashed to 4-8 in 2012 and that cost head coach Bill Cubit his job. Cubit finished with an overall record of 51-47 at Western Michigan, with a 36-27 mark in the Mid-American Conference, where his best finishes were a second place finish in the West Division in 2006 and a tie for second place in the division in 2008. He led WMU to three bowl appearances, including the International Bowl in 2006, the Texas Bowl in 2008 and the Little Caesars Bowl in 2011, though the Broncos lost all three. He also led the Broncos to victory over Iowa at Kinnick Stadium in 2007.
Enter new coach P.J. Fleck, who metaphorically throws the Broncos into the role of "nekton," which are small aquatic organisms with the ability to move independently of currents. He preaches that and the team and campus seem to be enthralled. On the night of WMU's final spring practice, the 32-year-old first-time head coach hosted NEKTON Neon Night for students, who were asked to use social media outlets to win prizes and dance along to the football program's new DJ.
That spawned this little piece of danceable dub-step:
Fleck has spirit, yes he does. He also has a returning part-time starter at QB in Tyler Van Tubbergen. The 6-3 senior averaged 291 yards passing in his six starts, but finished with just a 2-4 record. So, Fleck has a QB and Nekton Mentality.
Also, Cubit is now offensive coordinator at Illinois.
• 2013 schedule: A30 -- at Michigan State; S7 -- Nicholls State; S14 -- at Northwestern; S21 -- at Iowa; S28 -- Kent State; O5 -- at Toledo; O12 -- Buffalo; O19 -- Ball State; O26 -- at UMass; N2 -- off week; N9 -- at Eastern Michigan; N16 -- Central Michigan; N23 -- off week; N26 -- at Northern Illinois
• Key stretch: With the Big Ten going to a nine-game schedule in 2016, don't be surprised if schools like Western become sort of the new "Notre Dame" in Big Ten circles. Times are changing and of course you know that Notre Dame won't be playing Michigan and Michigan State in B1G non-conference games. The Irish might stick with Purdue because of the in-state thing, but don't be shocked if that goes away, too. So, enter WMU and other MAC schools who are 1) relatively close and 2) won't require a home-and-home. This season, the Broncos are playing three Big Ten teams -- opening at MSU and then traveling to Northwestern and Iowa in back-to-back weeks. Right now, WMU has Purdue in '14 and MSU in '15. For this year and the Broncs' MAC goals, the final three games will loom large -- at Eastern Michigan, Central Michigan and then at Northern Illinois.
• Trap game: Kent State might be tricky for the Broncos. They travel to Iowa, face Kent and then travel to Toledo, which is regarded as one of the '13 heavyweights in the MAC West. The Rockets return 13 starters, including a talented duo at WR in Bernard Reedy and Alonzo Russell and talented running back David Fluellen. The Broncos will have had three Big Ten road games under their belt by the time they travel to Toledo, but this will be the first road test where they feel the weight of the MAC race. Big first game.
• Glass half-full: The '13 Iowa and WMU editions have closes losses in common. Iowa dropped five games by a total of 16 points. The Broncos lost four games by a total of 22 points, including a 28-23 loss at Minnesota. One way to read that is WMU isn't that far off. Van Tubbergen didn't win a lot, but got valuable experience and showed he can move the team. He completed nearly 61 percent of his passes. The Broncos also return seven players on defense, always a plus especially when one is rover Johnnie Simon, who was a second-team MAC pick in '12. One thing that has to turnaround for WMU is turnover margin. Last season it finished minus-14, 114th in the nation. You don't have to look very far for the anomaly to this stat. The Hawkeyes finished plus-12 and No. 14 in the country while also finishing 4-8.
• Glass half-empty: Fleck is 32-years-old. He's at the age where his hiring either explodes and he takes WMU to a string of bowls and ends up in the Big Ten or he flames out because it's too much, too soon. He's a coach who espouses the "Nekton Mentality." He also sleeps just a few hours and swims in below-freezing water. You have to love the energy, but if you're an AD, you hope it's focus. Right now, there's no reason to believe it's not. Van Tubbergen has a big, pro arm, but he also threw 11 interceptions in his six starts (he also had 15 TD passes, including four against Central Michigan, a team that won at Iowa last season). Here's a factoid that will affect Van Tubbergen and the offense: The Broncos will try to replace four O-linemen. Also, right now, three of the four projected starters on the D-line are redshirt freshmen. (Odd factoid there: WMU's tallest projected starter on DL is just 6-1. Both inside guys are listed at 5-11.)
• The Iowa angle: The appearances were seven years apart, but WMU is 2-0 in two trips to Kinnick Stadium. In 2000, the Hawkeyes fell 27-20. In 2007, WMU beat back Iowa and sent the Hawkeyes to a bowl-less 6-6 record. The Insight Bowl representative was in the Kinnick press box and was giddy about grabbing the Hawkeyes for the Arizona bowl. The Broncos snuffed that. If you're looking at trap games, this might be it for the Hawkeyes. Iowa will be playing for the Cy-Hawk Trophy the week before in Ames. The week after, the Hawkeyes will be on the road at Minnesota, playing to keep the Pig and for their first win at TCF Bank Stadium. Oh, and it will be Iowa's Big Ten opener. If you had to compare this game to any from last season, you'd have to immediately leap to Central Michigan. Iowa faced the Chippewas between Northern Iowa and Minnesota and fell asleep in a loss at Kinnick.
Quotable: "We want them to get a new perspective of a new era of Bronco football, of what it's going to be like at a game day. We're creating an entertainment value. It'll be different than just watching a game, it'll be interactive. We have a DJ now. It's a way for our student body to be a part of our football program and a way for our football program to be a part of our student body." - WMU coach P.J. Fleck, on Neon #Nekton Night, a spring stadium party at WMU.
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