Western Michigan University's 2013 season was full of change, and not all for the better. The Broncos replaced longtime head coach Bill Cubit with an up-and-comer, P.J. Fleck. A former fan favorite at Northern Illinois University, Fleck had some strong coaching credentials as an assistant in both the NCAA and NFL.
Fleck would change everything from the uniforms, to the pregame rituals to how the team was marketed. In the end though, how his first season will be remembered is as an on-field disaster, seeing WMU go 1-11. It was Western Michigan's worst season since going 1-10 in 2004.
Can a more experienced Fleck turn around WMU's painful 2013 campaign and return the Broncos to respectability in the Mid-American Conference?
Looking back at 2013: Western Michigan opened the year with a 26-13 loss at Michigan State University, playing a close game against a Spartans team that would go on to win the Rose Bowl. The next week though, things got ugly for the Broncos after losing 27-23 at home to FCS opponent Nicholls.
The Broncos would start the season 0-8 before winning their only game, a 31-30 victory over the University of Massachusetts. Western Michigan would go on to lose its final three games, including losses to both of its in-state MAC rivals. Eastern Michigan University got the best of the Broncos, 35-32, and Central Michigan University won in Waldo Stadium, 27-22. Fleck finished the year with a homecoming of sorts, losing at his alma mater from Northern Illinois, 33-14.
Player to watch: Historically, WMU has been very strong at quarterback and recent history is remembered fondly for the exploits of Ryan Cubit, Tim Hiller and Alex Carder. This year though, the Broncos don't have a seasoned starter ready to take over from Day 1. They do have a potential hidden gem though in former Sturgis High School gunslinger Chance Stewart. The true freshman comes to Western Michigan after an outstanding high school career and early reports make it sound like it's just a matter of time before he's the starting quarterback in Kalamazoo.
Breaking down the schedule: From a scheduling angle, WMU's 2014 slate still looks very much like an old Cubit schedule. It's packed with tough games and big away dates. Western Michigan opens the year at Purdue University (Aug. 30) and also travels to Virginia Tech (Sept. 27). For WMU's only non-conference home game, it will welcome in an FCS team, this year Murray State University.
Western Michigan opens MAC play at home against the preseason favorite to win the MAC West, the University of Toledo. The Broncos also have an away date with preseason conference favorite Bowling Green State University and have to travel to Central Michigan later in the year. Western Michigan will finish its campaign against Northern Illinois for the second consecutive season.
Prediction for 2014: The good news for the Broncos is that it's nearly impossible to repeat last year's debacle. Western Michigan should go at least 1-3 in non-conference play, beating Murray State. A home game against Eastern Michigan should hold the key to win No. 2. The Broncos could get to 3-9 if they can steal a win at Miami University, another MAC team down on its luck these days.
Aug. 30: @ Purdue, 12 p.m.
Sept. 13: @ Idaho, 5 p.m.
Sept. 20: Murray State, TBA
Sept. 27: @ Virginia Tech, TBA
Oct. 4: Toledo, 7 p.m.
Oct. 11: @ Ball State, 3 p.m.
Oct. 18: @ Bowling Green, TBA
Oct. 25: Ohio, TBA
Nov. 1: @ Miami, TBA
Nov. 15: Eastern Michigan, TBA
Nov. 22: @ Central Michigan, TBA
Nov. 28: Northern Illinois, TBA