Western Michigan looking to ride senior quarterback Alex Carder and experienced offense to first MAC title in more than 20 years.
By: Athlon Sports | 5/14/12, 1:17 PM EDT
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#77 Western Michigan
MAC West PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Bill Cubit, 47-39 (7 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Bill Cubit, Ryan Cubit | DEF. COORDINATOR: RIch Nagy
For two seasons, quarterback Alex Carder has put up school-record numbers with gritty performances. But he’s done so with experienced and talented receivers — most notably Jordan White, who led the nation in receptions (140) and receiving yards (1,911) last fall. Carder returns for his senior season, but without nearly as many proven targets. Senior Eric Monette, a 6'6" former walk-on with 29 catches for 306 yards in 2011, and gifted junior Josh Schaffer (19 catches, 241 yards) have had their moments, but never with defenses keyed on them.
WMU is hoping its veteran-heavy and fairly deep offensive line — a contrast from a year ago — finally gives it a useful ground game, something it lacked with any consistency the last half-dozen seasons.
The Broncos also bring back their leading rushers in juniors Tevin Drake (5.6 yards per carry) and Brian Fields. However, Drake is coming off a broken foot suffered in spring practice. Elusive 5'5" junior Dareyon Chance made a strong push for the No. 1 spot on the depth chart with Drake sidelined.
Statistically, there’s nowhere to go but up. Twice last season, the Broncos set school records for yards allowed, giving up 697 to Northern Illinois and then 804 in a 66–63 loss at Toledo. Defensive coordinator Dave Cohen left to be linebackers coach at Rutgers, replaced by his longtime aide Rich Nagy, WMU’s safeties coach the previous two years.
This isn’t a unit devoid of talent, and it wasn’t in 2011 despite its struggles. WMU returns six starters, though it must replace its motor, defensive tackle Drew Nowak, the MAC’s Defensive Player of the Year.
The next star among this crew might be junior rover Johnnie Simon (114 tackles), whose closing speed is reminiscent of Detroit Lions safety and former Bronco Louis Delmas.
What made last season’s issues so puzzling was that WMU supposedly had its best defensive line of Bill Cubit’s tenure. Even in losing Nowak, the Broncos should be stout up front, with junior Travonte Boles plugging the middle and sophomore Demetris Anderson at his side.
The key to the Bronco defense — other than solving the riddle of tackling in space — could be senior Paul Hazel. The lanky and speedy defensive end was disruptive as a sophomore but disappeared as a junior.
Nobody other than John Potter or Ben Armer has attempted a field goal or punt for the Broncos since 2007. That changes this fall with redshirt freshman walk-on Andrew Haldeman kicking and true freshman J Schroeder punting. The loss of Potter, whose kickoffs routinely found the end zone, will be offset in part by a new NCAA rule that brings touchbacks out to the 25-yard line.
There was perhaps no team in college football that produced such statistical extremes in 2011. It was all very entertaining but only modestly effective. The Broncos returned to the postseason with a Little Caesars Pizza Bowl loss to Purdue but came up well short again of a league title.
It’s been written before in the Cubit era, but this season WMU has a strong chance to change that. The Broncos have a quarterback who’s done everything but win big, experience in the trenches and six home games (rare for this program), including visits from West Division rivals Northern Illinois and Toledo.