Today, we’re 89 days away from the kickoff of the 2012 college football season. As such, we’ll preview the No. 89 team in our Rant Sports 100 in 100 college football previews, the Western Michigan Broncos.
The Broncos finished 7-6 in 2011, ending the season with a rough 37-32 loss at the hands of the Purdue Boilermakers, but return a total of 11 starters on the two sides of the ball for their 2012 campaign.
A relatively light non-conference schedule and the return of Alex Carder at quarterback could signal more success for one the MAC’s perennially-strong programs.
Alex Carder threw for 3,831 yards and 31 touchdowns last season– which included five games in which he threw for over 400 yards. In the past two seasons, he has thrown for 7,207 yards, but will be working with a new crop of unproven receivers this fall. Luckily, four starters return from a solid offensive line, so there shouldn’t be any shortage of time for Carder to work in the pocket.
Of the wideouts who do remain, senior Eric Monette and junior John Schaffer will be called upon to take up the majority of the lost production. Tight end Clark Mussman could be the x-factor in the passing game and will need to be available for Carder who may be forced to check down after going through progressions more often than which he is accustomed.
This lack of experience depth could mean more of a focus on the running game for the Broncos who return their entire backfield, including junior Brian Fields who rushed for close to 300 yards in 2011 and should see the majority of carries in the early going.
Finding a way to replace last year’s MAC player of the year, Drew Nowak, is one of may challenges facing Broncos defensive coordinator Rich Nagy. Nagy will turn to defensive end Freddie Bishop and rover Johnnie Simon to be in the middle of the action and come up with key tackles on Saturdays.
Defensive end Paul Hazel should also make an impact in the defensive backfield. Defensive tackle Travante Boles is Nowak’s replacement and will be expected to step in on the line and not miss a beat to ensure the WMU defense remains a challenge for opposing offensive units.
Donald Celiscar and and Lewis Toler will key the defensive secondary which will operate as the back-side of a 3-3-5 defensive scheme which will depend on them to cover opposing wideouts and eliminate big plays.
In short, plenty of new faces will be depended upon to step up and increase their production for the Broncos to be successful defensively in 2012.
A road opener against the Illinois Fighting Illini in Champaign will be a good early-season test for Bill Cubit‘s Broncos. Weeks two and three include a home test against Eastern Illinois and a trip to Minnesota to take on the Golden Gophers. A 2-1 split would be a good result for WMU in these first three games as they wind down non-conference play against the Connecticut Huskies at home on September 22nd.
Having positive momentum going into MACtion will be essential for a Broncos team that has plenty of questions to answer, and obstacles to overcome, to make a return bowl trip early in 2013.