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1. "Set the bar at three wins and let the Broncos surprise you."
P.J. Fleck looks like Jurgen Klinsmann and recruits like Hugh Freeze. He has put together a comically enthusiastic staff, and he reaped the rewards with an incredible recruiting class.
Now he has to coach them. [...]
The season begins and ends with potential wins. WMU's first three opponents are projected 104th or worse, as are four of its final five. If the new blood results in an immediate transfusion, WMU could reach four to six wins.
But the odds of that coming together are small. Most of WMU's three-star freshmen will be redshirting or trying not to drown, and even if the class ends up successful, only some of that will matter in 2014.
Surprise! In last year's WMU preview, I marveled at Fleck's recruiting ability, but I cautioned against expecting immediate returns.
We almost always overestimate the immediate-impact potential of a good recruiting class. Almost. Granted, there weren't a ton of true-freshman stars across the board, but the extra influx of talent, combined with a common Year Zero effect, gave the Broncos an enormous boost.
We talk about Year Zero a bit in these previews, the idea that sometimes a new coach needs a mulligan year to establish his culture, rearrange the depth chart, and figure out what he has. Year Zero tends to mean that a coach's first year is a disaster, and his second year sees a nice surge. We saw it across FBS last year: N.C. State (Dave Doeren) went from 3-9 to 8-5, Louisiana Tech (Skip Holtz) went from 4-8 to 9-5, UTEP (Sean Kugler) went from 2-10 to 7-6, California (Sonny Dykes) went from 1-11 to 5-7, Arkansas (Bret Bielema) went from 3-9 to 7-6, and Temple (Matt Rhule) went from 2-10 to 6-6.
But nothing could match what WMU did. A year after going 1-11, with seven losses by at least 18 points, Fleck's Broncos came within a half of winning the MAC West. Not even the MAC East -- the MAC West! The tough division!
The incoming freshmen filled in some gaps, and the youngsters who got pushed around became the veterans doing the pushing. The defense improved a little (from 106th in Def. S&P+ to 90th and from 5.8 yards per play allowed to 5.5), and the offense erupted. The Broncos went from averaging 4.8 yards per play to 6.5, from 17.2 points per game to 33.8, and from 121st in Off. S&P+ to 52nd.
WMU finished bowling for just the fifth time ever. Then Fleck once again signed the best recruiting class in the MAC.
It's easy to get starry-eyed about recruiting rankings, to assume they are cure-alls. And to be sure, WMU is doing laps around the rest of the MAC. Two-year recruiting rankings have the Broncos at 73rd, Toledo at 87th, and everybody else 99th or worse. Third-place Akron (99th) is as close to WMU as WMU is to Texas Tech (47th). And when you back that up with the fact that WMU was, per F/+, already the best in the MAC last year ... well ... how do you not get starry-eyed?
2. 31 more minutes
The trick for 2015: figure out how to row the boat for another 31 minutes. With the West on the line, WMU hosted four-time defending West champion NIU on November 28 and raced out to a 21-7 lead. The defense was dominating; after allowing a 65-yard touchdown on the first play, the Broncos had given up just 36 yards in the next six possessions, forcing three punts, two turnovers, and a safety. Everything was working.
Then NIU's Drew Hare hit Da'Ron Brown for 39 yards with a minute left in the first half, setting up a 40-yard field goal before the break. And then NIU scored all 21 points in the second half.
It's tough to knock the champ out. The champ's been there before, and you haven't. In terms of F/+ rankings, WMU outpaced NIU over the course of 2014, and in the four games leading up to their head-to-head battle, the Broncos played at a level NIU didn't hit all year. But with everything on the line, NIU made the plays that WMU did not.
In 2015, it appears three West teams -- WMU, Toledo, NIU -- will stand above the others, and WMU finishes with trips to each primary rival (NIU on No. 18, Toledo on Nov. 27). Can a deeper Bronco squad figure out a way to win at least one of the two?
2014 Schedule & Results
|Record: 8-5 | Adj. Record: 6-7 | Final F/+ Rk: 56|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|28-Sep||at Virginia Tech||33||17-35||L||14%||-25.7||9%|
|12-Oct||at Ball State||91||42-38||W||55%||3.0||90%|
|19-Oct||at Bowling Green||98||26-14||W||44%||-3.7||79%|
|2-Nov||at Miami (Ohio)||103||41-10||W||89%||28.3||100%|
|23-Nov||at Central Michigan||85||32-20||W||69%||11.6||93%|
|21-Dec||vs. Air Force||48||24-38||L||30%||-12.1||27%|
|Points Per Game||33.8||33||24.9||43|
3. A spectacular four-game surge
What WMU did over the first seven games of the season was impressive enough. The Broncos had doubled 2013's win total by the third game of the year, played reasonably competitive ball against Virginia Tech and Toledo, and took down Ball State and Bowling Green on the road. They were 4-3 and on track for bowl eligibility, and Fleck was the front-runner for MAC coach of the year awards.
The back-to-back road wins gave WMU an incredible boost. And in the next four games, the Broncos went from surprisingly good to dominant. It's not that they beat Ohio, Miami, EMU, and CMU -- they dominated them. Average score: WMU 42, opponent 13. Average yards per play: WMU 7.3, opponent 5.1. WMU began playing at a level that would have led to wins in the Big Ten, much less the MAC.
- Average Percentile Performance (first 7 games): 42% (record: 4-3)
- Average Percentile Performance (next 4 games): 83% (record: 4-0)
- Average Percentile Performance (last 2 games): 19% (record: 0-2)
Honestly, the late-season fade might have been a blessing. It tamped expectations. It added a quest for redemption to the end of what was already a hell of a redemption tale. It gave Fleck something to harp on in the offseason.
But the four-game tease that preceded the fade was more than a little bit tantalizing. The 83rd percentile is top-25 caliber. And for a team that returns 16 starters and almost all of last year's second string, it tells you what the ceiling could be.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||43.6%||49||Succ. Rt. +||102.6||59|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||30.9||87||Def. FP+||95.1||116|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||5.4||1||Redzone S&P+||113.1||31|
|Q1 Rk||86||1st Down Rk||68|
|Q2 Rk||28||2nd Down Rk||34|
|Q3 Rk||44||3rd Down Rk||102|
4. Slow and balanced
There are no tricks for Fleck and offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca. In signing more three-star recruits than most of the MAC combined over the last two years, WMU hasn't wooed prospects with the promise of some trendy offense. Ciarrocca is an old-school, East Coast guy. The Broncos operated at one of the lowest tempos in the country and tried to run through you, then pass over you.
We talk a lot about underdog tactics, but WMU basically used favorite tactics. And when you have more athleticism than everybody else, that might not be the worst idea.
WMU was almost impossibly balanced, running and throwing at rates that almost mirrored national averages: 59.5 percent rushing on standard downs (0.5 percent from the national average), 33.9 percent on passing downs (0.9 percent from the average). They ran more when they were ahead, they threw more when they were behind, and, thanks mostly to big back Jarvion Franklin, they finished drives in the end zone as well as almost anybody.
And considering who returns -- Franklin, starting quarterback Zach Terrell, last year's top five wideouts and top two tight ends, and three two-year starting linemen (plus a couple upperclassmen with experience) -- there's no reason to think they'll have to get much more creative.
Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Zach Terrell||6'1, 210||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7880||250||368||3443||26||10||67.9%||22||5.6%||8.5|
|Cameron Thomas||6'2, 179||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8076|
|Chance Stewart||6'5, 220||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8672|
|Jon Wassink||6'3, 195||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8174|
|Jarvion Franklin||RB||6'0, 220||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7967||307||1551||24||5.1||5.3||35.2%||8||3|
|Zach Terrell||QB||6'1, 210||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7880||56||395||3||7.1||4.6||62.5%||7||2|
|Fabian Johnson||RB||5'7, 192||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7700||19||64||0||3.4||2.9||31.6%||1||0|
|Daniel Braverman||WR||5'10, 164||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8006||5||66||1||13.2||30.2||40.0%||2||1|
|Donnie Ernsberger||FB||6'2, 237||So.||NR||NR|
|Jamauri Bogan||RB||5'8, 170||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8133|
|Leo Ekwoge||RB||5'11, 205||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8206|
|Davon Tucker||RB||5'10, 205||Fr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8301|
5. Jarvion Franklin's basically a junior already
Going by recruiting rankings alone, Jarvion Franklin should have been the No. 3 freshman in WMU's backfield. Both Jamauri Bogan and Leo Ekwoge graded out higher than Franklin according to the 247Sports Composite. But while Bogan and Ekwoge needed time in the weight room and on the practice squad, Franklin came out of the package ready to roll. The 220-pound specimen immediately worked his way into the starting lineup, carrying 19 times for 163 yards against Purdue in his debut. And by the end of his third game, he had carried 82 times in his career.
Through nine games, Franklin had carried 242 times. His per-game carries put even those of Georgia's Nick Chubb to shame, and Chubb got to ease his way into the lineup for the first month of the season.
Ciarrocca is an old-school guy, and Franklin is an old-school back. Despite his size and an almost irresponsible workload, he showed impressive explosiveness in open-field opportunities, and his 35 percent opportunity rate (not great for a big back) shows that he could still improve.
It shouldn't have been a surprise that Franklin faded. He was banged up enough to see only 23 carries against EMU and CMU, and he gained just 118 yards in 41 carries against NIU and Air Force. He was averaging 5.5 yards per carry through 10 games, and that sank to 5.1 by the end of the year.
It will be interesting to see how Franklin's workload changes. He'll have had an opportunity to actually rebuild himself a bit in the weight room. But he'll also have more help; then-senior Dareyon Chance was a decent backup, but Franklin will be complemented by a trio of exciting young backs: not only could Bogan and Ekwoge be ready to share the load, but incoming three-star Davon Tucker could be as well. If at least one of those three proves ready to steal eight to 10 carries per game (Chance averaged 5.3), Franklin might have more gas.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|Corey Davis||WR-X||6'2, 205||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7000||115||78||1408||67.8%||32.7%||55.7%||12.2||474||12.4||219.7|
|Daniel Braverman||WR-X||5'10, 164||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8006||106||86||996||81.1%||30.1%||65.1%||9.4||-3||9.7||155.5|
|Timmy Keith (2013)||WR||6'0, 203||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8125||50||20||218||40.0%||12.4%||58.3%||4.4||-99||4.5||23.8|
|Darius Phillips||WR-Z||5'10, 179||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8300||40||32||479||80.0%||11.4%||50.0%||12.0||107||11.7||74.8|
|Kendrick Roberts||WR-Z||6'3, 203||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8056||30||16||202||53.3%||8.5%||66.7%||6.7||1||6.3||31.5|
|Jarvion Franklin||RB||6'0, 220||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7967||18||14||163||77.8%||5.1%||72.2%||9.1||-1||8.7||25.5|
|Eric Boyden||TE||6'4, 243||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7444||13||10||60||76.9%||3.7%||69.2%||4.6||-57||5.1||9.4|
|Michael Henry||WR||5'10, 172||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8026||9||6||86||66.7%||2.6%||66.7%||9.6||14||9.0||13.4|
|Fabian Johnson||RB||5'7, 192||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7700||5||4||47||80.0%||1.4%||0.0%||9.4||0||N/A||7.3|
|Taylor Moton||RT||6'5, 291||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7644||2||2||-6||100.0%||0.6%||0.0%||-3.0||-29||N/A||-0.9|
|Lucas Bezerra||TE||6'4, 242||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7733|
|Javonte Seabury||WR||5'9, 170||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8472|
|LeVante Bellamy||WR||5'11, 185||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8619|
|Kadeem Goulburne||WR||6'4, 200||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8302|
|Anton Curtis||WR||6'3, 185||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8124|
6. Too many targets
It's amazing what a reliable run game and a more experienced quarterback can do for a receiver.
In 2013, Corey Davis led WMU in targets, catches, and yards as a freshman, but his averages (49.6 percent catchr ate, 7.0 yards per target) were lackluster. In 2014, he caught 68 percent of his passes and averaged a dynamite 12.2 yards per target. He caught at least six passes in eight of 12 games, gained at least 99 yards in nine games, caught nine for 212 against Ohio, and, as Air Force bottled Franklin up, caught eight for 176 and three scores in the Potato Bowl.
Davis is a proven go-to guy. But with Franklin and the backs likely to command the ball, I'm curious about the distribution in the receiving corps. Because not only does Davis return, so does 2014 breakout receiver Daniel Braverman (18 catches in 2012, redshirt in 2013, 86 catches). And explosive three-star sophomore Darius Phillips might have earned more touches. And high-three-star youngsters Javonte Seabury and LeVante Bellamy. And tight end Eric Boyden. And Franklin, who averaged 9.1 yards per target out of the backfield.
WMU has the best problem you can have: too many options.
(I've glossed over Terrell, but his improvement from 2013 to 2014 was dramatic: his completion rate rose from 53 to 68 percent, his interception rate fell from 3.2 percent to 2.7 percent, his sack rate fell from 6.3 percent to 5.6 percent, and his per-completion average rose from 12.0 yards to 13.8. An improved supporting cast will obviously help a quarterback, but that level of improvement doesn't happen without the quarterback himself taking steps.)
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Willie Beavers||LT||6'4, 309||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8156||27||2014 2nd All-MAC|
|James Kristof||LG||6'3, 296||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7788||27|
|Taylor Moton||RT||6'5, 291||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7644||25|
|Jackson Day||C||6'3, 279||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8088||2|
|John Jackson||LT||6'2, 319||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7000||0|
|Zach Novoselsky||LG||6'5, 295||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8006||0|
|Curtis Doyle||RG||6'5, 304||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8076||0|
|Chukwuma Okorafor||RT||6'5, 275||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8547||0|
|Wesley French||OL||6'5, 300||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8430|
|John Keenoy||OL||6'3, 285||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8307|
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||39.3%||41||Succ. Rt. +||100.5||61|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||28.7||97||Off. FP+||95.1||116|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.0||34||Redzone S&P+||93.5||91|
|Q1 Rk||103||1st Down Rk||82|
|Q2 Rk||49||2nd Down Rk||109|
|Q3 Rk||79||3rd Down Rk||39|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Jarrell McKinney||DE||6'4, 216||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7759||13||34.5||4.9%||7.5||3.5||0||2||0||0|
|Andre Turner||DE||6'3, 218||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7867||13||22.5||3.2%||2.5||1.5||0||0||0||0|
|Nathan Braster||DE||6'5, 252||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8248||12||20.5||2.9%||4.0||2.0||0||1||0||0|
|Cleveland Smith||DT||6'1, 233||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7333||12||19.0||2.7%||8.5||5.5||0||1||0||0|
|Jamar Simpkins||DE||6'2, 277||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7000||11||13.0||1.9%||0.0||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Nick Matich||DT||6'2, 300||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7756||13||11.5||1.6%||1.0||0.5||0||0||0||0|
|Keion Adams||DE||6'3, 230||Jr.||NR||NR||13||9.5||1.4%||2.5||0.5||0||0||0||0|
|David Curle||NT||6'2, 290||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7800||12||4.0||0.6%||0.5||0.5||0||0||0||0|
|Khairi Bailey||DE||6'3, 251||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8100|
|Eric Assoua||DE||6'2, 230||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8256|
|Donte Horton||DE||6'4, 205||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8073|
|Anthony Rabasa (Notre Dame)||DE||6'3, 250||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8772||3||0||0||0||1||0||0|
7. Speed > strength
Richard Ash is one of two members of the front seven's two deep not scheduled to return, and to be sure, a wave of experience can wash away concerns about any specific player's departure. But Ash was a 6'3, 314-pound road grader for a defense that didn't otherwise boast much size. Because of a nasty secondary, WMU opponents tended to choose rushing on standard downs, and Ash was a key component in making sure WMU didn't get pushed around.
Ash's departure puts a lot of pressure on sophomore Nick Matich (6'2, 300) and junior David Curie (6'2, 290). WMU returns just about every fast member of the front seven, including sub-220 ends Jarrell McKinney and Andre Turner and ace blitzer Robert Spillane. But even with Ash, WMU only ranked 87th in Rushing S&P+ last year. It might be difficult to keep those numbers from sinking if Matich and Curie can't hold their own, especially considering the only departing linebacker (Trevor Ishmael) might have been the best run defender in his unit, too.
If size doesn't end up being much of a weakness, speed will be a strength. Cleveland Smith is tiny for a defensive tackle, but he was also WMU's best pass rusher. Turner and Nathan Braster made plays as freshman ends, Spillane showed major promise as a freshman, and undersized Grant DePalma went from walk-on scout-teamer to tackling machine.
There's a lot to like, but it all depends on the tackles.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Grant DePalma||MIKE||5'9, 218||Sr.||NR||NR||13||80.5||11.5%||8.0||2.5||0||0||0||0|
|Robert Spillane||WILL||6'2, 225||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8177||13||50.0||7.1%||5.5||4.0||0||0||0||0|
|Austin Lewis (2013)||MIKE||6'3, 215||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7833||9||27.0||3.8%||2.0||0.0||0||1||1||0|
|Devon Brant||MIKE||5'10, 230||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7798||6||27.0||3.9%||0.5||0.5||0||4||0||0|
|Lucas Cherocci||WILL||5'11, 216||So.||NR||NR||7||4.5||0.6%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Caleb Bailey||LB||5'11, 221||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8289||9||4.0||0.6%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|JaKevin Jackson||SAM||6'3, 204||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8604||4||4.0||0.6%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Jason Sylva||LB||6'3, 245||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8089|
|Alex Grace||LB||6'2, 200||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8170|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Rontavious Atkins||SS||6'0, 194||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8125||13||53.5||7.6%||1||0||0||9||1||0|
|Ronald Zamort||CB||5'10, 157||Sr.||NR||NR||13||22.0||3.1%||1||1||4||17||1||0|
|Asantay Brown||FS||6'0, 190||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7881||10||10.5||1.5%||0||0||0||0||2||0|
|Deontae Brown||SS||6'1, 200||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7897||12||9.5||1.4%||0.5||0.5||2||0||0||0|
|Logan Oce||CB||5'11, 173||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7855||6||1.5||0.2%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Tyree Stone-Davis||CB||6'3, 200||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8137|
|Justin Ferguson||S||6'2, 185||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8918|
|Antione Stone||DB||5'11, 190||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7726|
|Justin Tranquill||S||5'11, 185||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8705|
|Jett Spencer||CB||5'10, 190||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8282|
|Davontae Ginwright||DB||6'3, 195||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8042|
Havoc Rate is your combined tackles for loss, forced fumbles, and passes defensed divided by your total plays. It is a quick look at your overall aggressiveness. WMU logged a mediocre 62 TFLs and forced only five fumbles in 2014, but the Broncos ranked 42nd in Havoc Rate at 17 percent (third in the MAC) because of the secondary.
While its offense shrank the game down and opponents focused on rushing on first down, WMU managed to intercept or break up 83 passes, the fourth-most in the country. And looking only at defensive backs, WMU's 10.2 percent havoc rate was second in FBS, behind only Florida (10.4 percent).
WMU's defensive identity centered around a mean secondary. Corners Donald Celiscar and Ronald Zamort tied for the national lead with 21 passes defensed, safeties Justin Currie and Rontavious Atkins pitched in another 17, and freshman backups Asantay Brown and Deontae Brown (unrelated somehow) pitched in with a couple of picks and forced fumbles.
The development of the Browns could be key. Currie and Celiscar are gone, as is No. 3 corner Brian Williams. The team's best 2014 unit has the most pieces to replace, and while Zamort and Atkins are back, the recent run of successful recruiting will need to quickly bear fruit.
|J. Schroeder||6'0, 205||Sr.||58||42.8||2||10||20||51.7%|
|Brett Scanlon||6'0, 205||Jr.||77||61.5||25||1||32.5%|
|Andrew Haldeman||5'10, 168||Sr.||4||51.3||0||0||0.0%|
|Andrew Haldeman||5'10, 168||Sr.||51-56||13-16||81.3%||1-1||100.0%|
|Darius Phillips||KR||5'10, 179||So.||30||26.4||1|
|Daniel Braverman||PR||5'10, 164||Jr.||14||1.5||0|
|Special Teams F/+||64|
|Field Goal Efficiency||76|
|Punt Return Efficiency||100|
|Kick Return Efficiency||75|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||88|
9. Wanted: more field position help
The primary components of field position are kicks, returns, and offensive and defensive efficiency. Looking at the opponent adjusted numbers above, WMU ranked in the top 65 in both offensive and defensive Success Rate+ but ranked a brutal 116th in both offensive and defensive field position (FP+).
J. Schroeder is a strong punter, but kick coverage and returns left something to be desired, to put it nicely. All the key special teams components return, but they'll need to produce more.
2015 Schedule & Projection Factors
|Date||Opponent||2014 F/+ Rk|
|12-Sep||at Georgia Southern||57|
|26-Sep||at Ohio State||1|
|29-Oct||at Eastern Michigan||128|
|18-Nov||at Northern Illinois||69|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-13.6% (85)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||73 / 85|
|2014 TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||3 / 3.4|
|2014 TO Luck/Game||-0.2|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||16 (9, 7)|
|2014 Second-order wins (difference)||8.8 (-0.8)|
10. Surging again vs. solidifying gains
One of the biggest mistakes we make in forecasting college football is in making this statement: "[Team A] surged forward last year, and despite the loss of [key stars], we think they'll do it again this year!"
I used to call it the Nebraska Effect because of the way the Huskers were supposed to rise further in 2010 after losing Ndamukong Suh's destructive presence. Or maybe the Jevan Snead Effect because of how Ole Miss was supposed to improve drastically again after going from 3-9 to 9-4 in 2008.
Both Ole Miss in 2009 and Nebraska in 2010 did well just to solidify their gains from the year before. When you look at how well WMU played for most of November, and you see the glossy final F/+ ranking (59th), and you notice how many players return, it could be tempting to predict another huge step forward. But solidifying gains would be awfully impressive considering how drastic those gains were.
Of course, WMU might need to improve to conquer one hell of a schedule. The season starts with a ferocious September (Michigan State, at Georgia Southern in the Mid-Major Surge Bowl, at defending national champion Ohio State) and finishes with trips to NIU and Toledo. WMU should be able to put together a nice midseason winning streak, but the season will be remembered for the start and finish. If WMU plays at last year's level, the Broncos will bowl again but will struggle to surpass last year's eight wins. But if the Broncos do improve, then there are opportunities for something spectacular -- either a huge early upset, a MAC title, or both.
That we're saying this about a taem that went 1-11 in 2013 is amazing. Row that boat, P.J. Fleck.