Western Michigan's expectations rise with success

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Detroit — During last year’s Mid-American Conference media day, Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck was a forgotten man.

But during Wednesday’s event at Ford Field, he was front and center.

That’s what a turnaround from 1-11 to 8-5 and playing in a bowl does for a program.

“Our whole emphasis this year has been a little different because last year there wasn’t anybody talking to any of us,” said Fleck, entering his third season. “We had one person on a watch list and now we have 15, so the bull’s-eye is on our back.

“The hardest part of a program turnaround is actually getting into the turn. But now to sustain that and understand all the words the outside world is going to throw at them, ‘slumps, expectations,’ they’ve never heard that. They have been learning that for the last eight months.”

Fleck, who led Western Michigan to a 6-2 record in the West Division, returns several skilled players, including Zach Terrell (3,443 yards, 26 touchdowns); the reigning offensive player of the year, running back Jarvion Franklin (1,551 yards, 24 touchdowns); and receivers Corey Davis (78 receptions, 1,408 yards) and Daniel Braverman (86 receptions, 997 yards, six touchdowns).

And while the players aren’t all that concerned with numbers — “We’re just focused on the process,” Terrell said. — the outside forces are expecting great things from the Broncos.

In voting by the media, Western Michigan was picked to finish second in the West. The winner? Toledo, by one point, 121-120. The Rockets received nine votes to win the conference championship game, the Broncos eight.

“This is the first year we actually have 85 total scholarships on our football team; last year we had 64, so we have depth now, but it’s just true freshmen depth,” Fleck said. “The actual talent of our football team (excites me).

“You’re not convincing anymore. You’re developing.”

And with his success and developing, Fleck has opened the eyes of recruits. Western Michigan has had the top class in the conference the past two years.

But Fleck understands the challenge is taking those classes and playing up to their competition. And that’s what he’s doing this season.

Western Michigan opens its season against Michigan State on Sept. 4 — in Kalamazoo — and plays at defending national champion Ohio State on Sept. 26.

“We have the second-hardest nonconference schedule in the country,” Fleck said. “When I took the job I said we’re going to play the best teams in the country, period. I want our landmark to sit there and say, we want to be based on a national stage. We want to compare ourselves to a national brand and see where we’re at.”