2009 CFN Western Michigan Preview
Western Michigan QB Tim Hiller
Western Michigan QB Tim Hiller
Posted May 12, 2009 2009 Preview - Western Michigan Broncos

Western Michigan Broncos

Preview 2009

By Pete Fiutak

- 2009 CFN Western Michigan Preview | 2009 WMU Offense
- 2009 WMU Defense | 2009 WMU Depth Chart
- 2008 WMU Preview | 2007 WMU Preview | 2006 WMU Preview 

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Head coach: Bill Cubit
5th year: 29-20
10th year overall: 66-38-1
Returning Lettermen:
Off 19, Def 10, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 18
Ten Best Bronco Players
1. QB Tim Hiller, Sr.
2. LB Austin Pritchard, Sr.
3. RB Brandon West, Sr.
4. OG Phillip Swanson, Jr.
5. LB Mitch Zajac, Soph.
6. WR Juan Nunez, Jr.
7. TE Matt Stevens, Sr.
8. SS Mario Armstrong, Jr.
9. DE Justin Braska, Jr.
10. FS Doug Wiggins, Jr.

2009 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2009 Record: 0-0

9/5 at Michigan
9/12 at Indiana
9/19 Miami Univ.
9/26 Hofstra
10/3 at No. Illinois
10/10 at Toledo
10/17 Central Michigan
10/24 Buffalo
10/31 at Kent State
11/7 at Michigan State
11/14 at Eastern Michigan
11/24 Ball State

2008 Schedule
CFN Prediction: 8-4
2008 Record:

8//30 at Nebraska L 47-24
9/6 No Illinois W 29-26
9/13 at Idaho W 51-28
9/20 Tenn Tech W 41-7
9/27 at Temple W 7-3
10/4 Ohio W 41-20
10/11 at Buffalo W 34-28 OT
10/18 at Cent Mich L 38-28
11/1 East Mich W 31-10
11/8 Illinois (Det.) W 23-17
11/15 Toledo W 27-17
11/25 at Ball State L 45-22
Texas Bowl
12/30 Rice L 38-14

Western Michigan has been close to doing some really big things, but it continues to be unable to come up with the really, really big game it needs to win to get over the MAC hump.

This has been a strange team to figure out. It was good enough to beat Illinois last year, ruin Iowa’s bowl dream in 2007, and has put up fantastic offensive numbers, but when push came to shove, it lost a shootout against Central Michigan, was blown out by Ball State, and was embarrassed by Rice in the Texas Bowl. Unfortunately, that was with a veteran team that had everyone back on defense and a receiving corps full of tremendous talents.

This year’s team isn’t going to be any better talent-wise, there are several young, untested players in some key spots, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be more success. Nine wins might be a stretch, but the areas the Broncos are good, they’re really good and should be able to beat some teams on the strengths alone. But the potential weaknesses could be glaring.

Last year’s secondary, led by Louis Delmas and Londen Fryar, was supposed to be a killer, and it wasn’t close. Even so, a wholesale change could be a problem early on unless Miami transfer Doug Wiggins is the real deal at safety and if the corners are able to be steady and stable. The receiving corps was tremendously productive, and now it loses Jamarko Simmons and Schneider Julien along with tight end Branden Ledbetter. On the plus side, there’s Tim Hiller to make everyone better.

The veteran quarterback should make his new receivers shine, and should help Juan Nunez turn into a No. 1 star, while a good defensive front seven should be able to help the green secondary. Brandon West and Aaron Winchester form a solid running back tandem that should do far more behind a line with four good starters returning.

There will be times when nothing works. There’s good potential at receiver and defensive back, and the overall starters will be fine, but the depth is lacking and there will be a disaster if major injuries strike. Even so, the Broncos will simply outbomb their way out of several problems, while the defense should be able to get into the backfield on a regular basis.

This will be a fun team to watch, for good and bad, and while there’s plenty of youth to develop, the time is now to play for the MAC title again. It’ll take some work and some luck, but the Broncos can do it.

What to watch for on offense: The new receivers. It’s asking a lot to replace Jamarko Simmons, Schneider Julien, and Branden Ledbetter, who were all major producers in the passing game over the last few years, but WMU’s cupboard might not be completely bare. Juan Nunez flourished with all the attention paid to the other stars, and now he has to prove he can be a decent No. 1 and more than just a deep threat. Newcomers Ansell Ponder and Chleb Ravenell could take starting jobs right away. If they don’t, there’s no way the MAC’s best air attack can reach last year’s level of success.

What to watch for on defense: The linebackers. The starting threesome of Austin Pritchard, Mitch Zajac, and Harrison Porter should be among the most productive in the conference. All three can move and all three can hit, but they’ll have to come up with more big plays and they’ll have to do even more to keep decent running games in check. Last year was about learning the ropes. This year is about blowing up offenses.

The team will be far better if … the secondary shows up. Last year’s secondary boasted NFL safety Louis Delmas, all-star corner Londen Fryar, and depth, experience and talent all across the board. It didn’t matter as the Broncos allowed 255 yards per game, gave up 21 touchdown passes and only came up with ten picks. This year’s secondary needs Miami transfer Doug Wiggins to be a star at safety, while the spotlight will be on Josh Price and David Lewis. The pass rush will help out, but the corners will be on an island with so much blitzing and aggressiveness. They have to come through.

The Schedule:
There aren't any big breaks starting in early September and going straight through. There's a chance to make some big early statements with winnable road games at Michigan and Indiana, but the early November date at Michigan State isn't going to be a breeze. The MAC slate gets two big breaks with Central Michigan and Ball State coming to Mount Pleasant, but going to Northern Illinois and Toledo in back to back weeks in October will be nasty. Getting defending MAC champion Buffalo from the East isn't a good break. Three road games in three weeks before the regular-season finale against Ball State will be a test of the team's toughness.

Best Offensive Player: Senior QB Tim Hiller. He burst onto the scene as a freshman throwing 20 touchdown passes and three interceptions in 2005, but a devastating knee injury cost him all of 2006. Still recovering a bit as a sophomore, having problems with his consistency and with interceptions, he finally got back into the swing of things as a junior with 36 touchdown passes and just ten picks. He’s overcoming another knee injury, though not as serious, and he should be ready by fall.

Best Defensive Player: Senior LB Austin Pritchard. The team’s new defensive star, Pritchard was a tackling machine on the outside, highlighted by a 17 stop performance against Central Michigan. Aggressive enough to get into the backfield on a regular basis, he led the team with 12.5 tackles for loss to go along with two sacks. He’ll be asked to do even more and to be the statistical star the defensive scheme needs.

Key player to a successful season: Senior DT Cody Cielenski. The corners have to come up with big years and the new receivers have to play up to their billing, but outside of Hiller, the team’s most indispensable player is Cielenski. The 6-2, 280-pound tackle is one of the only linemen with any semblance of bulk. WMU is extremely quick up front, but it could have problems with anyone who wants to pound away for a full four quarters. Cielenski is terrific at making plays behind the line, with four sacks and ten tackles for loss, and he has to be on the field as much as possible.

The season will be a success if ... WMU wins the West. This could be the league’s second best team behind Central Michigan, but that could change if the secondary produces and if the receiving corps doesn’t become a liability. The Broncos have been hovering around greatness without being able to come up with the big win to make it happen. With a good mix of veterans and young talents, a star in Hiller, and the success of the last few years to build on, anything less than a trip to the MAC title will be a disappointment.

Key game: Oct. 3 at Northern Illinois. If WMU is as good as it's expected to be, it should be able to handle Miami University in the MAC opener. If there's any real hope of winning the MAC title, or at least the West, beating Central Michigan is a must and getting past Northern Illinois in DeKalb could be needed. The Huskies are fantastic, but WMU can be the leader in the race if it can come away with a big win.

2008 Fun Stats: 
- Punt returns: Opponents 13.3 yards per try – Western Michigan 7.1 yards per try
- First quarter scoring: Opponents 97 – Western Michigan 59
- Fumbles lost: Western Michigan 15 – Opponents 5


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