2012 Record: 4-8 (2-6 in MAC)
Head Coach: P.J. Fleck (First Year Head Coach)
Last Bowl Game: 2011 Little Caesars Bowl: lost to Purdue 37-32
Stadium: Waldo Stadium in Kalamazoo, Michigan (capacity = 30,200)
Home Field Advantage: ranked 39th out of 55 mid-major teams
2013 Schedule Link
B1G Opponents: 8/30 at Michigan State, 9/14 at Northwestern, 9/21 at Iowa
Breaking the Streak (lost to these teams a minimum of two years in a row): 10/5 at Toledo, 11/9 at EMU, 11/26 at NIU
Swing Games: 10/12 vs Buffalo, 10/19 vs Ball State 10/26 at UMass, 11/16 vs CMU
2012 Statistics Link
Stat to Fear: have led the MAC in turnovers for two consecutive seasons
Stat to Cheer: 50 passing plays of 20 yards or more in 2012 (most in MAC)
Advanced Stats (Football Outsiders 2012 FEI Ranking): 82nd out of 124 teams
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: Offense: 7, Defense 7, Special Teams 2
Key Defensive Returnees: LB Johnnie Simon (103 tackles), SS Justin Currie (98 tackles), DT Travonte Boles (58 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks), LB Terry Easmon (83 tackles, 7 TFL, 3 sacks), LB Desmond Bozeman (90 tackles)
Key Offensive Returnees: QB Tyler Van Tubbergen (1825 yds passing, 15 TD, 11 INT), RB Dareyon Chance (947 yds rush, 5.38 ypc), WR Jaime Wilson (67 rec, 6 TD), WR Josh Schaffer (43 rec)
Top Recruits: WR Darius Phillips, DE Khairi Bailey, ILB Caleb Bailey, OT Jackson Day
Inside Scoop with Brandon of Hustle Belt:
CFBZ: Last year you said Bill Cubit was on the hot seat. He went 4-8 and is now OC at Illinois. P.J. Fleck comes to WMU as a first time college head coach. What are your thoughts on P.J. now that he's been on campus since mid-December?
Hustle Belt: Honestly, Cubit had his job saved after that comeback against Central Michigan in Mt. Pleasant up until the very next week when he started a rusty, possibly still injured Alex Carder over the "finally hitting his stride" Tyler Van Tubbergen. Carder threw 4 INTs against Buffalo and struggled his senior game against lowly Eastern Michigan (a game that cost WMU the Michigan MAC Trophy). Cubit was a decent coach, but his struggles last season, and loyalty to his "star" QB (if you can use that word) inevitably was his downfall.
Now insert P.J. Fleck. The differences between these two are night and day. Cubit was a strictly business, quiet guy off the field. Fleck has to have the mic ripped out of his hand. What P.J. brings is new energy to the fan base. He has tried to re-energize the students as well as the paying fans. As a coach, the players have all bought into his "Row The Boat" philosophy: It takes an entire crew rowing in the same direction at the same time to succeed.
As for me, I've been losing my faith in him to be honest. Call me old fashioned, but when you have a dance party and DJ at practice and then change the name of the spring game to something that only applies to your personal team philosophy rather than the university as a whole, you aren't selling to the general fan base as a "coach". He's come off as a better marketer, and played his first stringers against his second stringers both ways at the "Wooden Oar War", so you can't gage his coaching outside of practices. He's got a lot to prove and with 3 B1G road sets in his first 4 games, the bar could be too high.
CFBZ: The defense allowed less yards last year but about the same amount of points as 2011. What are the biggest areas of concern on that side of the football?
Hustle Belt: The fact that the defense gave up more points can probably be attributed to the fact that WMU quarterbacks threw 21 INTs last season, tied for second most in the nation. As a whole, however, the defense did look stellar MOST of the time last year. But the defensive line loses Freddie Bishop and Paul Hazel to graduation. On top of that, leading CB Lewis Toler transferred out of the program with the Cubit firing and leaves a gaping hole on the field opposite Donald Celiscar. Also, leading man Terry Easmon and fellow LB Devon Brant are both out with serious knee injuries, with Easmon only at a slight chance of returning this year.
This season, 2-time defending leading tackler Johnnie Simon moves from rover to linebacker in the 4-3 and the defense as a whole looks good against the pass. My main concern is the run defense, which could be hurting after losing most of the D-line, and playing a 3-3-5 last season, leaving very little experience to be had among the returning players. Simon needs to play stellar in his new role and Celiscar and crew need to lock down the pass to help the run defense really focus on doing their job. Travonte Boles will be big down on the DT position as the lone returning starter down there.
CFBZ: According to Phil Steele, the Broncos return just two offensive starters including just one starter on the OL. What will the offense look like this year?
Hustle Belt: Cubit changed his line up often last season, so there are two players with decent experience at that position. As a whole, that number is nowhere close to being correct. Van Tubbergen started half of the season (if not more) last year but didn't finish out as noted above. Dareyon Chance nearly ran for 1,000 yards, but will be hard pressed to get back there with a "running back by committee" backfield of 4, yes 4, players.
At WR, Jaime Wilson was leading the Broncos before going down with an injury and limping into the off-season, and Josh Schaffer was hitting his stride after a let-down start to the season last year. In all, only the OL and TE positions will see any major shake-up, and Clark Mussman saw some action at the TE spot last season.
As for major scheme, I'm not sure what we are looking at. Probably more pro-styled offense with a slight more emphasis on the run compared to what we saw from the Cubit offense. Van Tubbergen found Wilson a lot at the spring game and the run game did look solid, but remember the opponent was the 2nd string defense. Still, the offense will only need to hold at the line position, and Fleck is still trying to find his cohesive group there.
CFBZ: What will make the 2013 season a success in your eyes?
Hustle Belt: You look at the schedule and you're first thought is 6-6 or 7-5, or at least mine. But then I dig deeper. Of the 3 B1G road games, I doubt WMU will beat Northwestern or MSU under the lights. Possible upset against a weak Iowa team? Maybe, but doubtful. After a 1-3 start, they play two great teams/players in Kent State/Dri Archer and Toledo/David Fluellen. Now you're at 1-5 and doubt starts to set in.
Luckily, the next 5 games are winnable. Losses to Buffalo and Ball State to start that stretch though knock the Broncos to 1-7 and Fleck loses fan support. However, he beats UMass, gets a week to plan against EMU and CMU and gets both games there, but drops the finale to NIU to finish 4-8. So, my successful season is 6-6 and maybe a bowl game. I mean, hey, Central did it last season when Cubit had a chance to do it. Fleck just cannot start 1-7. Even 1-5 is rough to start. Steal a B1G game, steal a road game against the top of the MAC, and get to 6-6.
It's always curious when a school hires a head coach who has never been a head coach or a coordinator. It's really a wildcard and that's what the Broncos have with Fleck. Fleck's OC, Kirk Ciarrocca, does have OC experience but hasn't handled those duties the last couple of years. DC Ed Pinkham has a lot more experience as he handled DC last year at Elon and before that at Rutgers. All three coaches coached together at Rutgers so that should add some familiarity and cohesion to the unit.
Tyler Van Tubbergan is an interesting prospect at QB. You might remember the name from 2011 when he filled in for Alex Carder against Akron and went 19 of 21 with 6 TDs and 0 INTs. He didn't have as much success last season but as Brandon alluded to, he was hitting his stride at the end of the year (7 TD vs 2 INT in his last two games played vs NIU and CMU) before he got pulled for the returning Carder. This team also has talent and depth at RB. The two leading receivers also return and the team has four players returning that caught at least 25 balls in 2012. The lynchpin here is the offensive line. Their only true experience is Terry Davisson and it looks like he's been moved from LT to C.
On defense, the top five tacklers return and they also return nine of the top ten. Pinkham will move from the 3-4 to the 4-3 and his biggest obstacle on defense could be replacing both defensive ends. The back seven is full of experience and they were a middle of the pack defense in 2012 so we should expect the same this season at worst (keep an eye on Easmon and if he's able to return).
As Brandon mentioned, the schedule will be rough to start with three road B1G games. It doesn't get much easier in conference because they start with Kent State and Toledo. And then they play Ball State and Buffalo, both should be pretty decent this season. If the team can keep their heads up they can win some games on the back end of the schedule and I see them landing at 5-7 give or take a win.
Previous 2013 Pre-Season Previews: