MAC notes: WMU won’t be intimidated at Northwestern
P.J. Fleck recalls taking Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald out to lunch while Fleck was a receivers coach at Northern Illinois nearly a decade ago.
Now, Fleck will be trying to beat Fitzgerald and Northwestern in his fourth year of leading Western Michigan’s program.
The Broncos open the season Saturday at Northwestern (noon, ESPNU). Fleck has guided the Broncos to consecutive 8-5 records, including the program’s first bowl win in school history last year.
Now, Fleck will try to do what his predecessor Bill Cubit accomplished numerous times before being fired following the 2012 season – beat Big Ten teams and Power Five teams.
Cubit replaced Gary Darnell after the Broncos went 1-10 in 2004, then guided them to wins over Virginia (2006), Iowa (2007) and Illinois (2008). Fleck is 0-7 against Power Five teams, 0-6 against Big Ten schools.
This could be Fleck’s best opportunity to knock off a Big Ten team too, especially since MAC first-team receiver Corey Davis, senior quarterback Zach Terrell and several other players played at Northwestern, a 38-17 loss in 2013; they won’t be intimidated with the atmosphere.
WMU also showed in the season opener last year that it can play against top-tier Power Five teams, losing to Michigan State, 37-24.
WMU is a 5.5-point underdog to the Wildcats.
Fitzgerald played at Northwestern and now is in his 11th year as head coach.
“There’s not a better ambassador for Northwestern than Pat Fitzgerald,” said Fleck. “I admire him. He was a guy that I wanted to be like. I have a ton of respect for him, always have and always will. I think he’s one of the best coaches in the country, in all of football.”
Northwestern finished 10-3 last year, but was outscored 123-16 margin in its three losses to Michigan, Iowa and Tennessee.
The Broncos will have to slow down junior running back Justin Jackson, the Big Ten’s top returning rusher (1,418 yards), if it hopes to have a chance at pulling off the upset.
CMU hosts Presbyterian Thursday
Central Michigan is host to FCS school Presbyterian of the Big South Conference Thursday night at Kelly/Shorts Stadium in Mount Pleasant.
CMU second-year head coach John Bonamego has the luxury of having a four-year starter in Cooper Rush running the Chippewas’ offense.
The Chippewas will be looking to stop All-Big South first-team running back Darrell Bridges (1,065 yards) to start the season on a high note before heading into a Week No. 2 showdown at Oklahoma State.
Presbyterian finished 2-9 last year, ranking last in all of FCS’s 123 teams in total offense, passing efficiency and first downs.
“We’re really excited about our down lineman, specifically inside with Kelby Latta and Jabari Dean, and now we have a healthy Joe Ostman and also Mitch Stanitzek at two ends,” said Bonamego.
EMU opens Friday
Eastern Michigan faces Mississippi Valley State Friday in the Eagles’ home opener. It’s important for the Eagles to get off to a good start after last year’s 1-11 showing.
EMU will be without its starting quarterback, Brogan Roback, against Mississippi State. Roback has been suspended for at least one game for breaking team rules.
Mississippi Valley State was 1-10 last year.