Western Michigan's success garners national spotlight

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
WMU QB Zach Terrell

Western Michigan was profiled in a four-minute feature on ESPN's "SportsCenter" on Tuesday night, a day after the Broncos cracked the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time in the history of the 111-year-old program.

The Broncos are 6-0, one of 11 Division I teams still undefeated — and one of just eight teams already bowl-eligible.

Don't expect heads to get too inflated in Kalamazoo, though.

That's not coach P.J. Fleck's style.

"One-game seasons, that's all we continue to focus on," Fleck said during his weekly news conference. "It's everybody's else's job to get really excited."

And, oh, they're getting excited, especially a fan base that packed Waldo Stadium to the tune of nearly 30,000 fans against Northern Illinois last weekend.

The local and national narrative on Western Michigan (No. 24 AP, No. 23 coaches poll) is really picking up steam these days, especially given its seemingly solid path to being undefeated heading into the regular-season finale against a potent Toledo team.

Being 12-0 isn't at all out of the question, which has bowl prognosticators scrambling for the perfect fit for a Broncos team that plays in a Mid-American Conference that generally gets no respect in the Midwest, let alone across the country.

Sports Illustrated this week has Western Michigan cracking the New Year's Six, playing in the Cotton Bowl against Wisconsin.

Yet, Sporting News has Western Michigan playing Troy in something called the Dollar General Bowl.

Fleck's not worried about any of that stuff, of course, though he admits the attention can be fun, if not time-consuming.

"That's a little bit different than what we're used to," he said this week. "That's what everybody wanted, everything you prepared for.
"This is what we wanted as a community.

"We've kind of been at both end of the spectrum."

In Fleck's first year, the Broncos went 1-11 — followed by a pair of 8-5 seasons, the latter, 2015, which included the program's first bowl victory.

This year has been mighty impressive, with wins over Northwestern and Illinois — WMU's won more Big Ten games than Michigan State — and a demolition of a darn good Central Michigan, on the road and at night no less, that really caught the attention of AP voters.

The Broncos, dating to last season, actually have won eight straight games, the third-longest streak in the country, behind Alabama (18) and Washington (nine). WMU remains without a turnover, the lone team in Division I that can make that claim.

In other words, all is right for the Broncos, who even got a visit from Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider at practice this week.

"They have a culture there," Fleck said of the Seahawks, who made back-to-back Super Bowls in 2014-15, winning the first appearance. "A lot of times in the NFL you look at the top teams in the league, usually they have incredible cultures, incredible fan bases, incredible organization. ... It starts with culture."

"(Schneider's visit) was confirmation we're doing all the right things."

■ Bowl-eligible teams: Alabama, Boise State, Clemson, Michigan, Ohio State, Texas A&M, Washington, Western Michigan

■ Undefeated teams: Alabama, Baylor, Boise State, Clemson, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State, Texas A&M, Washington, West Virginia, Western Michigan