2011 Record: (7-6, 5-3 in MAC)
Head Coach: Bill Cubit (47-39 at WMU, 34-21 in MAC games)
Four Year Coaching Trend (6.75 wins, 5.75 losses per year; avg of 5-3 in conference)
Last Bowl Game: 2011 Little Caesars Bowl: Lost to Purdue 37-32
Must Win: 9/8 vs Eastern Illinois, 10/6 vs UMass
Revenge: 9/1 at Illinois, 9/29 vs Toledo, 10/27 vs NIU, 11/17 vs EMU
Swing Games: 9/15 at Minnesota, 9/22 vs UConn
Stat to Cheer: 76 plays that gained 20+ yds from scrimmage (second in MAC)
Stat to Fear: gave up 311 yds rushing per game in six losses
Phil Steele's Returning Starters (Offense: 7; Defense: 6: Specialists: 0)
Key Defensive Returnees: S Johnnie Simon (114 tackles), DE Freddie Bishop (5.5 sacks)
Key Offensive Returnees: QB Alex Carder (31 TD, 14 INT), RB Tevin Drake (586 yards rushing, 5 TD)
CFBZ: Bill Cubit has had back-to-back-to-back seasons with improvements of one game. What is needed for the Broncos to take the next step?
Hustle Belt: Bill Cubit is on a hot seat. Finally beating Central and making a bowl game helped ease the burn, but a one game improvement probably wont be good enough this year. Cubit needs to show that he can do more than coach offense, and show that a defense exists. Now this isn't impossible. Last year, the Broncos started 4-2 with close losses to Michigan (before the monsoon at half-time) and Illinois, both on the road. The defense looked good, and everything seemed good. The last 7 games seemed to counteract that, so defense will be the key.
If Western doesn't go 9-4 or better, Cubit could be facing being fired. He has yet to win a divisional title, bowl game, and lost the Michigan MAC Trophy last year with a loss to Eastern Michigan. With Toledo in a coaching change and Eric Page-less, and NIU now without Chandler Harnish, the time to step up is now.
CFBZ: Star QB Alex Carder losses his top three receiving targets. Who will step up at WR to fill the void?
Hustle Belt: The #1 WR will be Josh Schaffer. The 6-2 Jr looked really good down the stretch, and even made some huge plays in the LCPB to help keep Western in it. Easily, the top WR position is in good hands.
After that, it gets kind of sketchy. Eric Monette will be a senior that showed some promise last year, and Timmy Keith and A.J. King are freshmen that could provide impact, but the #2 WR could be rapidly changing throughout the year.
Now that doesn't mean Carder (and at times Tyler VanTubbergen) won't have other options. Blake Hammond is a nice TE that should get some looks inside, and recent sport changer Flenard Whitfield will be a nice 6-7 target at the position as well. Add the RB position (which is never set in stone), and the offense should be fine.
CFBZ: The defense ranked among the worst in the MAC in yards given up and yards per play. Do the Broncos have players this year that can help correct this?
Hustle Belt: Well, most of the defense returns, so the idea is that another year equals more experience and athleticism. In theory a good idea, but remember, this is (mostly) the same squad that folded down the stretch.
The Broncos lose CB Aaron Winchester and DT, and MAC Defensive POTY, Drew Nowak from last year's squad. Winchester was a play-maker, but also a liability in that he seemed to be constantly getting called for personal fouls. Nowak was a monster in the middle, and will be hard to replace. Demetrius Anderson should have the first shot at filling that void.
As for the DB spot, also gone is hard-hitter Doug Wiggins. However, he was relatively un-heard from late, due to personal issues, and was released from the team before the bowl game. Demetrius Petway and Johnnie Simon should have the safety positions locked down. Lewis Toler will have to step up this year as the shut-down corner, but the same thing was said last year for him when he was a sophomore. Opposite from him should be either Jon Henry or Ronald Zamort, but again, it'll be an open competition.
CFBZ: What is your gut feeling on the final record for the 2012 season and what makes the season successful in your eyes?
Hustle Belt: This Bronco schedule is so favorable, it is almost plausible to think WMU could go 12-0. Think about it, they open at a recently changed Illinois squad who they almost beat last year, they host NIU, Toledo, EMU, and UConn, they go to Minnesota who was horrid last year, and get Buffalo, UMass, and Kent State this year on the cross-over games. Maybe it's the fan in me, but its there.
Realistically, this Bronco team will drop 2-3 games this year, because they always do. I'm going to go with the Illinois, Ball State, and UConn games. So 9-3 isn't bad, it should win the MAC West. Western beats both of their rivals, and makes it back to a bowl game. Overall, they should finish 10-4, winning one of their last two games, but not both.
Cubit remains, and gets off the hot seat only if he wins a bowl game or wins a division. If he wins a conference title that helps, and if he does all 3, it could be the end of all this talk.
In seven years at Western Michigan, Bill Cubit has compiled four winning seasons, two losing seasons and one 6-6 campaign. The Broncos worst season under Cubit was 5-7 (twice) and their best was in 2008 when they went 9-4. With Cubit, WMU has consistently hung around the .500 mark.
The concern on offense this year is the loss of Jordan White (140 receptions in 2011) and the next two leading receivers. In those three players, the Broncos lose 269 receptions, 3452 yards of receiving and 30 TD receptions. The good news is that the Broncos return senior QB Alex Carder. He will need to quickly establish new connections with his receivers in order to keep WMU in the MAC Championship conversation.
On defense, they have to do a better job stopping the run. Teams ran on the Broncos 57% of the time and averaged a whopping 5.4 yards per carry. The Broncos gave up over 100 yards rushing in every game they played but one (a win at Miami of Ohio). WMU lost six games last season and they gave up at least 190 yards rushing in all of those games (Topping out at 494 given up against NIU). Another concern is that WMU is losing four of it's five leading tacklers from last year.
2012 Prediction: 7-5
Previous 2012 Previews:
Get more great college football news and analysis over at College Football Zealots.