Detroit – P.J. Fleck knew what was expected of him when he took the head coaching job at Western Michigan prior to the 2013 season – build a MAC championship-caliber program.
After all, the Broncos’ last MAC championship came in 1988, and they had never won a conference championship game since the format was put in place in 1997, losing the title game to Marshall in 1999 and then again in 2000 in Huntington, W.Va.
But the Broncos were the overwhelming favorite to win the MAC championship in a poll released during Media Day Thursday at Ford Field.
Media members picked WMU to win the MAC West Division by a 144-113 points margin over Toledo, receiving 19-of-26 first place votes. Six-time defending West champion Northern Illinois was picked third.
Defending MAC champion Bowling Green was picked to win the MAC East by a slim 136-134 margin over Ohio, getting two more first-place votes (12-10).
WMU was picked to win the MAC championship game – set for Dec. 2 at Ford Field – getting 19 votes compared to two apiece by Toledo and Northern Illinois.
“In January we told our team you’re probably going to be the pick to win the conference and obviously today that came true, but we want our team to always be prepared for things because preparation is the key to life,” said Fleck. “We want pressure. We want expectations. Pressure is earned. A lot of people go through life and never have that feeling of pressure that you have to perform.”
WMU was 1-11 in Fleck’s first season, then 8-5 the last two years. The Broncos return 13 starters from a team that shared the West Division title at 6-2, earning their first win over a top-25 team (Toledo), then winning their first bowl game in program history, 45-31 over Middle Tennessee in the Bahamas Bowl.
WMU is loaded on offense, especially at the skilled positions, led by three-year starting quarterback Zach Terrell, senior receiver Corey Davis, and running backs Jarvion Franklin and Jamauri Bogan.
“I didn’t realize the magnitude of us winning a bowl game until shortly after the season, just seeing the pride that it brought to the city of Kalamazoo and to Western Michigan University,” Terrell said. “To win a MAC championship, I could only imagine that it would be even more. It’s fun to see that everybody is starting to get passionate about the Broncos and they are really excited to see what we do this year.”
Central Michigan was picked to finish fourth in the West and Eastern Michigan, sixth, right behind Ball State.
Bonamego set for second year at CMU
Things are looking good these days for John Bonamego, who is starting his second year as head coach at Central Michigan.
Bonamego was battling cancer a year ago, only able to stay for a half hour at Media Day.
“Health-wise I’m night and day,” Bonamego said.
Bonamego was on the sidelines for the season opener, a 24-13 loss to Oklahoma State at Kelly/Shorts Stadium. He said he looks back at some of the pictures and wonders who that guy was, since he weighed 170 pounds. He now weighs 225 and looks fit and healthy.
Bonamego isn’t bothered with CMU being picked to finish fourth. The Chips return four-year starting quarterback Cooper Rush (3,848 yards, 25 TDs) from a 7-6 team (6-2 MAC) that defeated Northern Illinois and suffered close losses to WMU (41-39) and Toledo (28-23), costing them a shot at the title. They played in the Quick Lane Bowl, falling to Minnesota, 21-14 at Ford Field.
“I don’t put much stock in it,” said Bonamego of the poll. “It generates energy and enthusiasm, but at the end of the day it’s a poll and it doesn’t mean anything. The titles that I’m concerned with are the ones that are earned at the end of the year. We’ll play the games and see what happens.”
Bonamego said he was encouraged with the potential of CMU’s running game with freshman Romello Ross rushing for more than 100 yards in the bowl game. He is also thrilled to have his entire staff returning. He says his staff is way ahead of a year ago in recruiting.
Challenge at EMU
Chris Creighton enters his third season at Eastern Michigan with a 2-10 record in 2014 and 1-11 in 2015. The Eagles have lost 14 consecutive MAC games.
Creighton isn’t shying away from the challenge at hand and feels the Eagles’ strength this season will be in the trenches.
“The guys who have stayed with us want that challenge,” Creighton said of turning the program around. “We’re just in the middle of that right now. We’re enjoying the process of getting to where we need to go.
“Last season was definitely frustrating for us because our entire offseason preceding last season was very good. We had a lot of momentum, so the disappointment of not getting the victories on Saturday afternoons was definitely frustrating. But we also know that our ’15 team was better than our ’14 team, a lot better. We know we took steps forward.
“I think we have more quality depth. Our lines have the chance to be the strength of our team.”
Senior defensive lineman Pat O’Connor is one of the players who has returned to health after missing all of last season due to an injury.