When Western Michigan football head coach Tim Lester took the job in the 2017 season, expectations were already high.
Former coach and now head coach at Minnesota, P.J. Fleck, had the program at a historic level in 2016. He took the Broncos to the Cotton Bowl and guided them to their first MAC championship since 1988 and just fourth in program history during a 13-1 season before leaving for the Gophers.
Since Lester took the job at his alma mater, he has made it clear to his teams that one of the goals each season is to win a MAC title. The Broncos have come close each of the past two seasons, but ultimately have not delivered.
But the 2020 season presents a new opportunity for the Broncos, as they have positioned themselves as a contender for the division in this six-game season, sitting at 2-0.
Last week, hope for a chance at a MAC title looked dim as WMU found itself down 10 with 2:54 against a Toledo team Lester had not beaten yet in his tenure.
Then, the Broncos pulled off some magic at the end to secure the 41-38 victory over the Rockets.
WMU didn't play well for much of the game, but it found a way. Sometimes, championship teams need to win games where they don't play well.
Lester acknowledged as much after the improbable finish.
"You need to have wins like this, one where you claw back in the game," Lester said. "We didn't play well enough to stay in it. But you just got to keep going. We talk about having faith all the time and trusting each other, and we did."
Whether the momentum of that win will carry over to Wednesday's rivalry game at Central Michigan remains to be seen.
One thing that seems obvious is it's not going to come easy against a Chippewas team that is also 2-0 and boasts the No. 1 ranked defense in the MAC coming into Wednesday.
And even though the Chippewas came out on top of the MAC West last season, the Broncos hammered CMU at Waldo Stadium by a score of 31-15 in 2019, a performance CMU coach Jim McElwain called 'ridiculous' for his team in his weekly press conference.
"This is a team, that-- I mean they just blew us off the field a year ago, it was ridiculous," McElwain said. "So, are we able to kind of step up to that challenge? We'll find out on Wednesday."
The stakes for Wednesday's game don't get much higher considering what the result means for the MAC West standings. The winner will control its own destiny and own the head-to-head tiebreaker at the halfway point in the shortened schedule, while the loser would likely have to win out and hope for some help to secure a trip to Ford Field on Dec. 18.
Lester said he recognizes those implications and thinks the already storied game means a little bit more when it determines which team is at the top of the standings.
"It's always a big game, but it means a lot more when it puts you in a position within the league," Lester said. "It always puts you in a position within the bragging rights of the rivalry and the state, and there's so many families where the Mom went to Central and the Dad went to Western. But when there's ramifications to the championship of the West, then it does, it adds a little bit more."
The Broncos have had success against the Chippewas over the past two seasons, with WMU winning the last two after falling in 2017 at home.
Going back to the last 10 meetings, WMU has taken seven of the last 10, with CMU's last home win over the Broncos coming back in 2010, with Western Michigan leading the series 50-38-2 overall.
Despite the recent success and last year's victory, the Chippewas got the last laugh by the season's end by beating WMU out for the division and getting to Ford Field.
Lester said winning the battle for the Victory Cannon is on the top of the team's 'goals' board and recognizes the path to a MAC West title goes through the defending champions.
"We're playing the MAC West champs from last year," Lester said. "And if you want to be the MAC West champ, you've got to beat the guys that won it last year."