Western Michigan is making one of the biggest turnarounds in the country this season.
That happens when you finish 1-11, then have a winning record (4-3) heading into the stretch drive, including an impressive win on the road against the defending Mid-American Conference champions.
The Broncos have one of the elite running backs in the country -- and he is a true freshman. Jarvion Franklin is closing in on 1,000 yards (992) while leading the nation in rushing TD (16).
Franklin was a big reason WMU upset defending MAC champion Bowling Green 26-14 this past Saturday. He rushed for 149 yards (career-high 37 carries) and had a TD in the Broncos' statement win.
Franklin consistently had the Broncos moving the chains during the second half – 21 carries, 81 yards – to give them a 21-9 minute advantage in ball possession, holding onto the ball for more than 13 minutes in the final quarter.
"I came here because I wanted to be part of something special," said Franklin, who is 6-foot, 220 pounds with sub-4.5 speed. He did not have a Big Ten offer coming out of Tinley Park (Ill.) High. "I feel over the next four years we're going to be a real powerhouse in the MAC."
WMU first-year running backs coach Mike Hart, who set a Michigan record for rushing yards by a freshman (1,455), didn't know what to expect from Franklin when he arrived in Kalamazoo. However, he knew Franklin was talented and could be a special player.
"You knew Jarvion was talented, but you didn't know what to expect," Hart said. "He has great football knowledge and studies the game, prepares well. We didn't know what to expect from the offensive line and they have played well. Jarvion is a humble kid and that play at the end (of Bowling Green game), you don't see an 18-year-old kid take a knee at the 1 when he could have scored."
Franklin pushed his nation-leading TD total to 16 with a 22-yard run to open up a 26-14 cushion with 7:36 left. He could have had one more TD in the final seconds, but took tha knee after blasting through the line on fourth-and-2 from the 9. WMU held the ball for the final 4:36 with Franklin running on all eight plays.
Franklin is aided by a solid passing attack led by sophomore quarterback Zach Terrell (1,712 yards, 12 TD, 4 INT, 65 percent), and receivers Daniel Braverman (51 receptions, 4 TD), Corey Davis (36, 5 TD) and Darius Phillips (17).
Left tackle Willie Beavers enjoys playing in front of Franklin, saying: "Jarvion's really good, but sometimes you'll see him on the field breaking four or five tackles. You just have to get him a little hole and watch him go. This season has been a lot of fun, but we still have a lot to prove too."
The Broncos do have a lot to prove and a win over Ohio (4-4, 2-2) Saturday in Kalamazoo can go a long way to earning a bowl berth, especially with games at Miami (1-7) and Eastern Michigan (2-5) to follow.
WMU's defense has been playing well too. Linebacker Robert Spillane, grandson of former Notre Dame Heisman Trophy award winner Johnny Lattner (1953), had a team-high 10 tackles against Bowling Green (5-3, 3-1).
WMU limited Bowling Green to 274 total yards, 200 under its season average. The Broncos also stopped Bowling Green on a fourth-and-goal play from the 2 during the third quarter with cornerback Ronald Zamort shutting down Heath Jackson on a pass attempt.
It was the second big goal-line stand in as many weeks with the Broncos stopping Ball State at the WMU 7 in the final seconds to earn a 42-38 win in Muncie, Indiana, the previous week.
So much for Central Michigan (4-4, 2-2) running the table after Dan Enos guided the Chippewas to their biggest win in his five years at Mt. Pleasant, a 34-17 victory at Northern Illinois Oct. 11.
The Chips then followed it up with Enos' most disappointing loss, falling at Kelly/Shorts Stadium to a 1-5 Ball State team, 32-29.
CMU turned the ball over five times with standout running back Thomas Rawls coughing it up a couple of times despite running for 167 yards to top the 1,000-yard mark (1,007) for the season.
Next up is a trip to Buffalo (3-4, 1-2) Saturday. The Bulls are coming off a bye week after falling to Eastern Michigan (37-27) the previous week, costing head coach Jeff Quinn his job.
Eagles face big test
Eastern Michigan (2-5, 1-2) was dominated (outgained by 562-280 margin) by a 2-6 Massachusetts team, 36-14 Saturday with Minutemen quarterback Blake Frohnapfel picking them apart (28-of-51, 337 yards).
It doesn't get any easier with Northern Illinois (5-2, 2-1) invading The Factory Saturday in Ypsilanti.