No. 17 Western Michigan heads to Ball St. focused on winning
Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck won't be watching when the College Football Playoff poll is released Tuesday night.
He'll be too busy dealing with other, more pressing matters.
See, Fleck understands the 17th-ranked Broncos didn't position themselves for an unbeaten season, a Mid-American Conference championship and perhaps a playoff spot by worrying about things beyond their control. He's turned Western Michigan into a national power by earning respect for the program on the field and keeping it by winning game after game.
''We are everybody's big game, we are everybody's elite opportunity and we know that,'' Fleck said. ''We used to play against teams like that when we weren't very good. We were there. We know where we've been. So now we've embraced this completely opposite role.''
While the Broncos (8-0, 4-0) relish this new role, they attack it with the same vigor they needed to reach this point – even if Tuesday night's game at last-place Ball State (4-4, 1-3) looks like a gimme to everyone else.
For Western Michigan , it's chance to show the college football world why they are one of five remaining unbeaten teams in the country and why they deserve to be in the CFP discussion. The first batch of rankings will be released shortly after the Broncos game begins.
Play poorly on national television, in a game most believe should be a rout, and the performance could taint Western Michigan's national perception for the rest of the season.
But it's also a potentially dangerous predicament for the Broncos.
Ball State can take more risks than usual, will likely play in front of a big, raucous crowd and has something to prove, too.
''If you want to be the best, you've got to beat the best, and they are the best in our conference,'' first-year Ball State coach Mike Neu said. ''It's great to have that challenge here at Scheumann Stadium. We look forward to that.''
If Western Michigan keeps it up, the possibilities could be limitless – if they keep climbing the CFP charts.
For now, Fleck and the Broncos will let everyone else debate where they belong. They'll be content to add a few more chapters to their 10-game winning streak – the school's longest since 1940-41.
''Like we say, start fast, accelerate in the middle and finish strong,'' running back Jarvion Franklin said. ''So I think we started fast, and I guess we accelerated in the middle and now we have to finish strong.''
Here are some other things to watch Tuesday night:
NO. 1 vs. NO. 2: Franklin and Ball State running back James Gilbert are the top two runners in the MAC and both could top the 1,000-yard mark on Tuesday. Gilbert, who committed to Western Michigan, leads the MAC with 987 yards and 11 touchdowns and has four straight 100-yard games. Franklin has 909 yards and seven TDs and averages 113.6 yards per game.
TIDY ON TURNOVERS: One reason Western Michigan is undefeated – they've had only three turnovers all season, the fewest in the FBS. Another reason: Their turnover margin of plus-1.5 per game, was second in the nation heading into the weekend behind only No. 4 Washington (plus-2.0).
RUN, RILEY, RUN: Ball State quarterback Riley Neal scored on two TD runs at Buffalo in the Cardinals' last victory. He has run for six scores this season, and Ball State is 3-1 when Neal scores on a TD run.
KEEPING UP WITH DAVIS: Broncos receiver Corey Davis is the FBS' active leader in yards receiving (4,524). But Davis has much bigger visions. The MAC's career receiving leader needs 482 yards to break the FBS career yardage record (Trevor Insley, Nevada, 5,005 yards). He also leads the nation with 11 TD receptions, giving him a school-record 44 in his career and three away from tying the conference's career mark.
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