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Fleck has Western Michigan on fast track to success

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Kalamazoo — P.J. Fleck had big dreams for Western Michigan's football program when he took the job less than two years ago.

He's closing in on achieving those dreams.

Fleck at age 33 is the youngest Football Bowl Subdivision coach in the country. He came to Kalamazoo with dreams of winning titles and playing in big bowls.

While national titles are highly unlikely, that Mid-American Conference title is a possibility if Western Michigan topples Northern Illinois today and Toledo loses at Eastern Michigan.

The Broncos haven't won a conference title since 1988.

"My vision and dream is so big for this place and the challenging part is to get the people to actually see the unseen and that's what faith is," said Fleck, whose Broncos went 1-11 last season but are 8-3 and tied for first in the MAC West. "I really believe we're going to win the MAC title very shortly."

Western Michigan enters today's game on a six-game winning streak, having dominated some games — 41-10 at Miami, 51-7 against Eastern Michigan — while rallying in others — 21-point deficit at Ball State and 14-0 deficit at Central Michigan.

"I love Western Michigan," said Fleck, who replaced Bill Cubit following the 2012 season. "They took a shot on me when no one probably ever would. Northern (Illinois) turned me down twice as the coach. I do know this, this place is really special with special people.

"When I took this job I wanted to help re-brand and we wanted to make it something that it's never been before and to do that, it takes a lot of help from a lot of people."

Fleck, however, won't get a lot of help from Northern Illinois, his alma mater.

He earned first-team all-MAC honors as a receiver, and helped Northern Illinois upset Maryland, Alabama and Iowa State his senior year.

"If it wasn't for (former Northern Illinois coach) Joe Novak I wouldn't be sitting in this chair right now," Fleck said. "He gave me the only chance to be a scholarship player, then my first full-time coaching job coming out of Ohio State as a GA (grad assistant).

"I had one of my career games against Maryland, made some catches to move the chains against Alabama. I knew they probably didn't think I was very good. There I am, 5-foot-8, 180 pounds with 4.7, 4.8 speed going up against all those five-star Alabama players. It didn't matter to me. I knew I'd outwork them."

Now, Fleck has his Broncos working hard.

The offense is humming, led by sophomore quarterback Zach Terrell (208-for-297, 2,890 yards, 22 touchdowns), sophomore receiver Corey Davis (65 receptions, 1,173 yards, 11 touchdowns) and true freshman running back Jarvion Franklin (1,433 yards, 23 touchdowns). They are averaging 35.8 points, 24th nationally.

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Northern Illinois at Western Michigan

Kickoff: 11 a.m. Friday, Waldo Stadium, Kalamazoo

TV: ESPNU

Records: Northern Illinois 9-2 (6-1 Mid-American Conference), Western Michigan 8-3 (6-1)

Series: Western Michigan leads 26-13 (Northern Illinois 33-14, Nov. 26, 2013)

Outlook: If Northern Illinois wins, it clinches the West Division title and a spot in the MAC championship game next week at Ford Field. Western Michigan can win the title with a win and a Toledo loss against Eastern Michigan today. ... Western Michigan is sponspring a ticket promotion: Anyone who buys a student ticket will receive a second ticket free.