Coach: Bill Cubit (first season) 2004 record: 1-10 MAC finish: 0-8 (7th West) 2004 I-A offensive rankings: Rushing: 103rd (99.6 ypg) Passing: 16th (264.8 ypg) 2004 I-A defensive rankings: Rushing: 108th (215.4 ypg) Passing: 108th (265.2 ypg)
at Bowling Green
at Northern Illinois
Depth Chart: Offense
8 returning starters in red
Depth Chart: Defense
6 returning starters in red
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Western Michigan University celebrates its 100th season of varsity football this year. It may seem that long since the Broncos were able to field a team that was competitive in the MAC. After four straight losing seasons culminated in last year's 1-10 debacle, a centennial celebration begins with a new coach, Bill Cubit, who comes with ties to old winning ways.
Cubit, the offensive coordinator at Western Michigan under Gary Darnell from 1997-1999, helped the Broncos compile a 22-12 record during his tenure, while leading an offense that averaged 30.4 points per game. Unfortunately for Cubit, he's inherited a defense that posted century marks in futility, finishing 115th nationally in total defense and 114th in points allowed. Cubit sees that as one of his biggest challenges.
"Defensively we have to play with reckless abandon," Cubit said. "The attitude and discipline have been so far down. We've got to change that. You can do that much quicker in this type of situation than you could at a BCS school. The kids are so coachable here. They just say, 'Tell us what to do, coach.'"
Ryan Cubit -- yes, Coach Cubit's son -- is the incumbent at quarterback. A transfer from Rutgers, Cubit started six games last season for WMU and finished with 1,887 yards passing, 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He'll return with more experience than the majority of MAC signal-callers.
The last time Cubit patrolled the sidelines at WMU, a 1,000-yard rusher was commonplace. Expect the return of that grand accomplishment this season if senior Trovon Riley can capitalize on the strain Cubit's offense is going to put on opposing defenses. Riley led the Broncos with 691 yards rushing last season.
Hometown hero Greg Jennings is one of the top wide receivers in the country, breaking plays open with blazing speed and pro-like cutting ability. He finished with 1,092 yards and 11 receiving touchdowns last season and carries a 23-game reception streak into '05. Cubit believes that All-MAC tight end Tony Scheffler is an NFL prospect. Scheffler had 53 receptions and 570 yards last season.
Four starters and two key reserves return on the offensive line to offer WMU a chance to win the battle in the trenches. This group combined to cut its sack total in half last year. The focus in 2005 will be improved run-blocking. Center Robbie Krutilla was named to one freshman All-America team last season.
The focus on the defensive line will be stopping the run -- something Western did not do very well a year ago. Senior tackles Paul Moersch and Joe Alvarez are returning starters, joined by ends Anthony Belmonte and Matt Ludeman. The Broncos only have one reserve with game experience, Dezmond Gray.
Depth is a serious issue at linebacker. Junior Paul Tithof is the team's top returning tackler with 56 stops last year. He'll move outside to the strong side while senior Josh Behrens will plug the middle. Junior Darrell Copeland will make the transition from safety -- where he started 10 games -- to the weak-side position.
The second unit consists entirely of transplanted players -- converted running backs and a former safety. This is a dangerously thin unit.
Youth will be served in WMU's defensive backfield. Jimmie Vincent and Brandon Henderson are slotted as starters at cornerback on the depth chart, but Cubit is expecting big things out of star recruit E.J. Biggers. Chad Feldpausch returns at strong safety and Kevin Ford mans the free safety position. Ford is a tenacious hitter with 172 career tackles and four interceptions.
Jim Laney will likely punt for the Broncos after working behind the MAC's top punter in Adam Anderson the last two seasons. At this point, Cubit isn't comfortable naming a kicker and knows that this will be one of the challenges for his team. "We're going to be playing with kicking specialists who have never done it before," he said.
The defensive cupboard is relatively bare and the kicking game is untested. Cubit is optimistic, but realizes some of the hurdles he faces. "We do have to get some talent in here," he said.
This will be a learning year for the Broncos, but expect high output from the offense and better defensive numbers. Western will battle it out with rivals Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan for third place in the improving MAC West.