On Wednesday, the Mid-American Conference released its schedule for the upcoming 2020 football season.
WMU football goes on the road to take on Akron (Nov. 4) in the conference’s opening night of action in a schedule which features five divisional games and one crossover opponent for each team.
Here are three takeaways from Western Michigan’s schedule before Tim Lester and the Broncos take the field in Week 1.
Broncos catch a break in Week 1
For the conferences in college football that have already started games, many of those Week 1 openers were filled with mistakes and overall shakiness. With the uncertainties surrounding COVID-19 and the effect it has had on throwing off college football programs’ routine schedules, taking some time to shake off a little bit of rust is understandable.
With that being the case, the Broncos could not have asked for a better opponent in which it will have the opportunity to start the season off strongly, playing an Akron team that was winless last season and one of the worst teams in college football.
The Zips were last in the nation in scoring last season, last in total offense and last in third down conversions. Even though Akron returns eight starters on offense, including quarterback Kato Nelson, it will be a good opportunity for the WMU defense to start off on the right foot and build some confidence on that side of the ball.
Akron should be better on the defensive side of the ball than on offense, but redshirt sophomore quarterback Kaleb Eleby should have time to throw against a Zips defense that generated little pass rush last season.
In terms of building confidence and getting the season started on the right foot, this game plays into the Broncos favor and it caught a break with Akron being its lone crossover opponent.
Weeks 2 and 3 will make or break the season
If WMU hopes to appear in the MAC title game at Ford Field on Dec. 18 for the first time under fourth-year coach Tim Lester, its second and third games of the season will be critical.
On Nov. 11, the Broncos welcome Toledo to Waldo Stadium for its first home tilt of the season. While the Rockets fell out of MAC title contention down the stretch last year, this is a program the Broncos have struggled with since Lester arrived in 2017, dropping all three contests. WMU dropped a tough, one possession game at the Glass Bowl last season and this year’s game does not figure to be any easier.
Quarterback Eli Peters got work in half of the 2019 season after Mitchell Guadagni went out with an injury. If the Broncos wish to come away with a win, slowing down running back Bryant Koback on the ground, who averaged over six yards per carry last season, would go a long way to helping its cause.
Then, one week later, the Broncos head to Mount Pleasant to take on rival and defending MAC West champion Central Michigan.
WMU has won the past two meetings in the series for the Battle of the Cannon Trophy and five of the past six, but the Chippewas are building momentum within its program under second-year head coach Jim McElwain.
McElwain led CMU to one of the more impressive turnarounds in all of college football last season, taking the program from one win in 2018 to an 8-6 record last season.
Quarterback David Moore is back after throwing for 1,143 yards last season before a suspension, but the competition will be open with redshirt freshman Daniel Richardson in the mix as well.
No matter who the quarterback is, the Broncos secondary will have its hands full with receivers like Kalil Pimpleton as the Chippewas return its top seven pass catchers from 2019. Secondary players such as Patrick Lupro, AJ Thomas and Therran Coleman will have to come up big at a spot that is one of WMU’s biggest question marks coming into the season.
If the Broncos can get out of this stretch 2-0, the path to Ford Field becomes incredibly likely.
A sprint to the finish line
In a typical college football season, it can typically be viewed as one where teams have room to slip up a couple of times and still win a conference championship.
With this MAC season being just six games, there is little room for error and one bad game could cost a team a trip to the conference championship game.
There are no out of conference games for coaches to get a feel for their personnel before the race for a conference championship begins.
The key to whether WMU will be successful this season will depend on whether or not it can establish a rhythm on both sides of the ball from Week 1 and sustain that momentum all the way to Dec. 12.
Under Lester, the Broncos have shown the ability to play really good stretches of football- such as when it pulled off six wins in a row in the middle of the 2018 season.
All it is going to take this season is a quick stretch where the team clicks on all cylinders. But one slip up could essentially end the Broncos season.
Let the MACtion begin.