NCAA Football Preview - Western Michigan Broncos
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From The Sports Network By John Agovino, College Football Staff Writer 2003 SEASON IN REVIEW: For the third straight season the Broncos failed to post a winning record. Western Michigan opened the 2003 campaign dropping two of their first three contests, with the losses coming against Michigan State (26-21) and Virginia (59-16). The Broncos rebounded with two road victories against Ohio University (39-32) and Eastern Michigan (31-3), but then came the toughest part of their schedule as they were pitted against Bowling Green, Northern Illinois, Marshall and Connecticut. Those four opponents, who combined for a 38-12 record last season, defeated the Broncos by an average of 18 points. Coach Gary Darnellâ¿¿s team did regroup to defeat Ball State (28-20) and Central Michigan (44-21), but finished the season with a crushing 34-17 loss to Toledo. 2004 ANALYSIS: OFFENSE: Only four players return to an offensive unit that averaged just 26.4 points per game last season. Three of the four returnees are from an offensive line that paved the way for a league-low 2.8 yards per carry and 84.3 yards rushing per game. Hopefully the line that allowed 39 sacks last season, can give new quarterback Ryan Cubit enough time in the pocket. Cubit, who played at Rutgers his first two seasons, will definitely look to Greg Jennings on the field, considering he is practically the only target returning from last season. Jennings finished the '03 slate with 56 receptions for a team-high 1,050 yards while finding the end zone an impressive 14 times. However, the loss of receivers Kendrick Mosley and Antonio Thomas leaves Cubit with only one other option, TE Tyson DeVree, who caught 30 passes for 301 yards a year ago. As mentioned previously, the offensive line struggled in the run game last season, and that aspect of the WMU offense could be even worse this year time around without running back Phil Reed, who racked 788 yards and eight touchdowns in '03. Reed departs after leading the Broncos in rushing for three straight seasons, and the team will look to junior Daniel Marks to fill the void. DEFENSE: Although the WMU defensive unit is returning seven players, standout defensive end Jason Babin is not one of them and that should be extremely detrimental to the Broncos in 2004. Babin, who was a two-time MAC Defensive Player of the Year, leaves the program as its all-time sacks leader, which includes his total of 15 last year. Senior Nick Melcher will try to fill the huge shoes left vacant by Babin as he joins returning linemen Paul Moersch and Jack Gitler. As a redshirt freshman, inside linebacker Paul Tithof racked up 88 tackles and nine TFLs last season. Tithof, will be rejoined in the middle by Mike Giorgianni, who tallied 52 tackles a year ago for the Broncos. Kevin Ford, who was second on the squad with 111 tackles in '03, will lead an experienced defensive backfield that also consists of DeRae Allen and Scott Robinson at the two corner spots. Robinson collected 82 tackles last year at SS, but moves over to corner for the '04 campaign to make room for sophomore Jon Hall. SPECIAL TEAMS: After connecting on 7-of-9 field goal attempts in 2002, kicker Robert Menchinger struggled mightily last season, hitting just 8-of-15 kicks, while missing 5-of-7 between 30 and 39 yards. Despite Menchingerâ¿¿s woes, the unit does return punter Adam Anderson, who set a school record last season with an average of 43.9 yards per punt. With the departure of Kendrick Mosley look for Tyrone Walker to take over the punt return duties, leaving the dangerous Greg Jennings, who averaged 21.6 yards per kick return last season, to see more opportunities at that spot in '04. OUTLOOK: Western Michigan is riddled with inexperience on offense this season and the defense looks weaker with the loss of four starters. That said, expect the Broncos to fall somewhere in the middle of the MAC West. The team opens the season with three of its first four games on the road. A win in the season opener is likely against I-AA Tennessee-Martin, but three straight road games against Virginia Tech, Illinois and Ball State could be trouble. The team was unlucky in drawing Miami-Ohio and Marshall from the East and although they face division rivals Toledo and Northern Illinois at Waldo Stadium, they must go on the road to face defending West Division champion Bowling Green. Due to the loss of a substantial number of key components on both sides of the ball, combined with their excruciating MAC schedule, the Broncos could be looking at their fourth straight losing season.