Rising Western Michigan looks to stay perfect vs. Kent State
KENT, Ohio (AP) — While the nation counts ballots, No. 14 Western Michigan might be able to influence some voters Tuesday night.
One of five unbeaten teams in the Top 25 , the Broncos (9-0) jumped three spots in the poll this week and have risen steadily despite minimal national attention. They will get a chance to showcase what they’re all about on election night in a televised game against Kent State (3-6), which has played better than its record.
There’s a lot on the line as Western Michigan, No. 23 in the initial college football playoff ranking and the highest rated Mid-American Conference school in the AP poll since Ball State was No. 12 in 2008, plays its final road conference game.
A victory would give the Broncos their first 10-win season in school history, extend their winning streak to 12 — only top-ranked Alabama has a longer one — and keep them in line for a major bowl bid. If Western Michigan wins its final three regular-season games and the MAC championship game, it would be in line to go to the Cotton Bowl, which reserves a spot for the highest-ranked, non-Power Five conference team.
Don’t tell any of that to Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck, who continues to preach his "Row the Boat " motivational mantra to anyone who will listen. Fleck has turned around a program that went 1-11 in his first season and may be college football’s best story in 2016.
"We’re not even there yet," Fleck said. "This is part of the journey. We’re a long way away from our goal."
A national title is out of the question, but that doesn’t diminish what Western Michigan has done this season, which began with a 22-21 win over Northwestern. The Broncos also have a win over Illinois on their resume and have been gaining support as the season wears on.
They’ve got a few NFL-caliber players on their roster, led by wide receiver Corey Davis, who is coming off a three-touchdown, 272-yard performance in a win over Ball State.
Before the Ball State game, Fleck told Davis that he was going to be used heavily as Western Michigan’s coaches designed their game plan for him.
"I told him this is going to be a huge day for you, if you prepare and get yourself ready and ready to have one of the best games you’ve ever had," Fleck said. "And there it goes, 272 yards, three touchdowns and he left a lot of meat on the bone as well. He could have had 340 or 350 yards."
Here are some other things to watch as the Broncos try to stay unbeaten:
KENT COUNT ‘EM OUT
Kent State’s record could easily be reversed. The Golden Flashes have lost four games by a combined 15 points.
They also won’t be intimidated playing a ranked school as they know what it’s like to take on the best after traveling to Tuscaloosa in Week 2 and getting thrashed 48-0 by the Crimson Tide. But Kent State finally has some positive momentum after rallying from 14 down in the second half last week to win 27-24 at Central Michigan.
An All-American candidate, the 6-foot-3, 213-pound Davis has pro scouts buzzing. He leads the nation with 14 receiving TDs and he’s on the verge of becoming the FBS career yardage leader.
Davis needs to 209 yards for that mark and one TD to become the MAC’s career leader in touchdown catches.
HOLLEY AND HOLLEY
Kent State has a terrific twosome in twins Nate and Nick Holley.
A senior safety, Nate leads the nation in tackles per game while his twin brother, Nick, took over at quarterback following early season injuries. The Holleys are one of six sets of twins on FBS rosters.
Nick Holley, a former running back and wide receiver who hadn’t played QB since his senior year at high school before making the switch, reminds Fleck of former Kent State quarterback Julien Edelman, now a wide receiver with the New England Patriots.