Western Michigan looks to reload offense

first_imgPhoto Courtesy of Wiki CommonsSaturday’s season opener will mark the first time in program history that USC has ever faced a team from the Mid-American Conference. Western Michigan finished last season 13-1 and as MAC Champions for the first time since 1988. They also made an appearance in the Cotton Bowl this January, where they lost to Wisconsin by eight points. The Broncos suffered several key departures from last season, but also have several key pieces remaining. The most noticeable difference is at the head coaching position. For the last five years, the Broncos were coached by P.J. Fleck, the youngest head coach in Division I football. Fleck’s energy and ability to recruit top players were vital factors in the Broncos’ rise. Fleck took WMU from the bottom of the MAC to the Cotton Bowl in five years. He singlehandedly changed the culture of  both the team and Western Michigan University before leaving to the Big Ten to coach Minnesota.With Fleck exiting, WMU alum Tim Lester steps in. Lester is a former Western Michigan quarterback himself, finishing his college career then ranked fourth all-time in passing yards and sixth in touchdowns. He also set 17 WMU and MAC records as a Bronco. Lester has been coaching college football since 2004, including a stint at Western Michigan, but his most recent coaching position was at Purdue University in 2015.Lester is focused on making the program his own in a variety of ways. He made waves by choosing not to name any captains of the team for this season, instead allowing team leaders to naturally emerge and picking players for the coin toss on a game-by-game basis.“I know the captain thing is a big deal, but the way I’ve done it is that I don’t feel like four people is enough leaders on the team,” Lester said in a press conference. “Four people to lead 103 doesn’t make any sense to me. We have a leadership group of 20 guys, and we’ll rotate captains every week.”Offensively, the Broncos lost arguably the best wide receiver in college football last season in Corey Davis. Davis finished his WMU career with 5,278 yards, making him the Football Bowl Subdivision all-time leader in receiving yards. He was drafted fifth overall by the Tennessee Titans. Along with Davis, the Broncos also lost starting right tackle and second-round draft pick Taylor Moton and WMU’s all-time leading passer in quarterback Zach Terrell. The quarterback position will be filled by redshirt sophomore Jon Wassink, who led his high school to two state championships before committing to Western Michigan. “I have a lot of experience playing young quarterbacks,” Lester said. “You have to play defense and run the ball to keep them out of bad situations, so there is a lot our team can do to help Jon. I don’t think he’ll let his nerves get in the way, but the thing for him will be the speed. The speed of the game the first time you go out there is unlike anything you’re ever used to.”The Broncos will undoubtedly have to replace a lot of firepower on offense if they plan to remain amongst the top offenses in the MAC. They’ll do so with three returning offensive linemen. Behind those returning linemen are two of the best runners in the MAC, Jarvion Franklin and Jamauri Bogan. Franklin finished last season with 1,353 yards rushing, while Bogan finished with 923 yards. Both yardage totals ranked in the top six rushing totals in the MAC last season. The main departure for the Broncos on the defensive end was Keion Adams. Adams was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the seventh round of this year’s NFL Draft after being a key piece in WMU’s 13-1 season last year. Even with that loss, the Broncos still return cornerback Darius Phillips, last year’s conference leader in interceptions and kickoff return yards. After leaving the team for a short period this summer, starting linebacker and leading tackler Robert Spillane also returns. Spillane was named to the all-MAC second team after a strong junior season in which he finished with 105 tackles and three interceptions. Linebacker Asantay Brown and safety Justin Tranquill return as well, making the defense this team’s strength. It is undoubtedly difficult to replicate a nearly undefeated season, so the Broncos will have to take somewhat of a step back. Doing so with a new coaching staff and a game on the road against a top-five team makes the sledding even tougher. The Broncos may struggle in a tough opener Saturday at the Coliseum. However, the Broncos can make it through the first two games of the season — on the road against USC and Michigan State, respectively — they should be in the running for another MAC Championship.last_img

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