We are now less than 3 days away from the opening weekend in college football, and as Western Michigan prepares for their first game at Michigan, let’s take a look at 10 questions facing the Broncos as they look to win the MAC Title for the first time since 1988.
1. After a sensational sophomore season, can Alex Carder continue to improve? Carder threw for more than 3300 yards and 30 touchdowns during the 2010 campaign, so repeating those numbers will be a difficult task to accomplish. But with a year under his belt, Carder should feel much more confident under center and should contribute to him making fewer mistakes. What doesn’t work in his favor is the improvement of the running game. Carder made 458 passing attempts in 2010. That number will drop with the running backs getting more carries, and most likely his passing yards will drop as well. I expect Carder to finish the season with around 3000 yards and 27 touchdowns.
2. Can Tevin Drake hold down the #1 running back spot all season? When Coach Cubit moved last year’s starting running back Aaron Winchester to cornerback, it all but wrapped up the number 1 spot for Drake. Drake played in only 7 games as a freshman, but when he did take the field, he made the most of the playing time he received. In 2010, Drake finished with a team high 405 yards on only 40 attempts, averaging over 10 yards per carry. During the final 2 games of the season he ran for over 200 yards. Drake has the unique combination of power and speed and as long as he remains healthy there’s no reason why he can’t finish with over 1000 yards and 10 touchdowns. He’ll get constant pressure from Brian Fields and Dareyon Chance for playing time, still Drake will see the majority of the carries this season.
3. Will the combination of Robert Arnheim, Chleb Ravenell and Eric Monette help with the loss of Juan Nunez? Juan Nunez had 91 receptions for over 1000 yards last year so finding someone to replace him will be a difficult challenge. Arnheim, Ravenell and Monette have looked good in practice but only Arnheim saw the field last year. Jordan White will be the most targeted wide receiver, so finding a reliable number 2 will be key to the Broncos success.
4. Speaking of Jordan White, how many receiving records will he break in 2011? White is well on his way of joining WMU legends Greg Jennings and Jamarko Simmons as one of the best receivers in Bronco history. If White can duplicate the numbers he put up in 2010, he will become the Broncos all-time leader in career receptions and receiving yards. He already holds the record for most receiving yards in a season. For the Broncos offense to be successful in 2011, White will need to have a big year.
5. Will the inexperience of the offensive line be a concern? With Nick Mitchell, Phil Swanson, and Nick Clemens all graduating, the offensive line lost 3 major contributors from 2010. Replacing them was originally going to be Terry Davisson, Kevin Galeher, and Greg Peterson. But with Galeher and Peterson out with injuries (both expected to be out until the beginning of October) and Davisson struggling to adjust to the center position, the offensive line has now become a giant concern. Junior college transfers Kasimili Uitalia and Deon Cammock are being used at the guard positions while Josh Hadel is rotating at center with Davisson. The O-Line will be tested early with games against Michigan, Illinois and UConn and will have to be near perfect for the Broncos to defeat one of the BCS teams on their schedule.
6. How dominate can the Broncos front 4 be? With all 4 starters returning, and numerous backups seeing significant playing time in 2010, the Broncos front 4 might be the best in the MAC. Paul Hazel led the team in sacks last year and has that rare speed at the end position that puts fear into opposing offensive lines. Travonte Boles started all 12 games last year as a true freshman, and after losing some weight during the offseason he is poised to have a dominate season in the middle.
7. Can Johnnie Simon effectively replace Jamail Berry? Jamail Berry finished 2010 with the 2nd most tackles for the Broncos and sophomore Johnnie Simon has the difficult task of replacing Berry at the rover position. Simon has been giving much praise from Coach Cubit. But with the praise comes responsibility. Simon is ready for the challenge and has worked hard in the offseason in preparation for the 2011 season.
8. Will the real Doug Wiggins please stand up? Wiggins transferred to WMU after one season with the Miami Hurricanes and hasn’t yet lived up to the 4 star recruit he received coming out of high school. As one of the only seniors in the secondary, Wiggins needs to become the leader of the secondary for the Broncos defense to be successful.
9. How will Aaron Winchester adjust to life as a cornerback? Winchester was moved to cornerback during the first week of training camp and has adjusted well to the switch from running back. He has worked hard and has already secured one of the starting cornerback positions opposite Lewis Toler. Winchester might struggle against taller receivers, as he stands only 5’6. But he is fast and physical, and the coaching staff won’t allow him to be put into too many one on one matchups.
10. Can the Broncos beat Central? The last time Western Michigan beat their arch rival, Central Michigan, was 2005. After five consecutive losses, nothing needs to be said to the Broncos about that stat. After a heartbreaking loss to the Chippewas last year in Mount Pleasant, the Broncos should have nothing but revenge on their minds. That loss combined with the fact that the game is the third game of the season and at home, should make for a good game.
11. Will the Broncos go to a bowl game this year? The Broncos have been to three bowl games (four if you count the now defunct Aviation Bowl) in school history, two of those came under current Head Coach, Bill Cubit. Although the Broncos finished 6-6 last season they were not invited to a bowl. If the Broncos can improve upon their play, theres no reason they shouldn't be playing in a bowl game this season.
12. How much better will the Bronco defense be as a whole? The Broncos are entering their second season with Defensive Coordinator Dave Cohen at the helm. Up to this point, the defense has looked more confident all around. As mentioned before, most people will be looking at the defensive line's production but dont forget about the linebackers and the rest of the secondary. Leaders such as preseason All-MAC first team selection Lewis Toler and preseason All-MAC second team selection Mitch Zajac should help make the defense one of the best units in the conference.
13. To what extent will the Tight End position be used? Much has been mad about the receiving corps of the Broncos but if they can get a decent amount of production from the Tight End spot, they can be even more explosive. Senior Tight End Dallas Walker and company having a productive year can only make quarterback Alex Carder better.
14. Will kicker John Potter and punter Ben Armer continue their excellence? Last year, Potter made 50 out of his attempted 50 extra points and 83 percent of his field goals, only missing two all season. Armer had 14 punts land inside the 20 yard line and 10 punts of 50 yards or more.The importance of special teams cannot be understated. Having a solid kicking and punting game helps a team win the ever important field position battle.
15. Can the Broncos win the MAC? Sure, why not? The team returns 21 of 25 starters from 2011 so the experience factor plays in the Broncos favor. The Broncos finished 2010 winning their final 3 games at an average score of 41-13. As long as they continue the momentum they built last year, I see them going 6-2 in the MAC and 8-4 overall. It will be key for the Broncos to win at least one game against UConn or Illinois and at least one tough road game against MAC West foes Toledo and Northern Illinois. If they can do that a MAC Championship game will be in the Broncos future.