David Drew covers Western Michigan for the Kalamazoo Gazette/Mlive.com, and took some time out of his schedule to answer some questions about the Broncos. You can read his work at Mlive, and follow him on Twitter @Drew_on_WMU.
Steve Nitz: First off, everyone expected the Broncos to be improved this year, but how surprised are you by their 8-3 record?
David Drew: I thought the Broncos would be better. How much better? I predicted a 3-9 season. Not only is this team winning, but it’s winning big. WMU has much more talent on offense with playmakers like receivers Darius Phillips and Daniel Braverman to go along with Corey Davis, who is having a better season than his MAC Freshman of the Year campaign last season. This offense has become dynamic and defenses have to pick their poison with it. It’s hard to truly shut down all aspects of the offense, especially with quarterback Zach Terrell completing 70 percent of his passes this season. Defensively, WMU’s biggest improvement is in the front seven. WMU recorded just seven sacks last year and the Broncos have 22 entering this week. Quarterback pressure has allowed a talented secondary to make plays. I think the biggest underlying reason why WMU has turned it around is because of the team chemistry. Fleck said he thought he had a divided locker room last year with some players having their own agendas. Returning players have told me the same thing. This year, the chemistry is noticeable. They always seem to be upbeat, even after three losses.
Nitz: What type of a back is Jarvion Franklin? How do the Broncos utilize him in the running game?
Drew: He’s a physical back who loves contact, but he’s doing a better job of not searching it out as much as he used to. He also has very quick feet and continues to make better decisions on when to hit a hole and when to cut back. He also has sneaky speed for his size (6-1, 220). I don’t think opposing defenses have respected his speed enough. In the open field he’s hard to catch and between the tackles he rarely loses a yard. He has a lot to learn and improve on, from pass blocking to hitting the right holes, but he’s going to be a special player for years to come at WMU.
Nitz: P.J. Fleck has done a great job turning the program around. Any chance he gets a bigger job after the season?
Drew: Fleck has a 9-14 record at WMU. His biggest wins are Bowling Green and Central Michigan. There is always a chance he leaves, but I don’t see it happening after this season. This turnaround has been incredible, but in the big picture he hasn’t hit a lot of milestones. He’s 0-2 against Toledo and 0-1 against NIU entering this week. I think Fleck loves the challenges at WMU. I think he sees this as a project. If he continues to have success and wins the big games it’s only going to help his resume, which already boasts of his incredible recruiting skills. I think this conversation has the potential to be much more serious after successful 2015 and 2016 seasons.
Nitz: How has fan support been at Waldo Stadium? What kind of crowd do you expect Friday?
Drew: A lot of people complain among the fan base that WMU doesn’t fill Waldo Stadium, but in reality the Broncos get decent fan support. With Michigan State, Michigan and Notre Dame all within an hour-and-a-half away, I think WMU does a nice job of getting butts in seats. WMU is averaging 16,732 fans per home game, which ranks somewhere in the middle of the MAC. However, Friday could be a tough draw for WMU. I’d be surprised to see 10,000 people actually show up.
Nitz: Western Michigan opened as a 7-point favorite. Who do you see winning and why?
Drew: This is tough. NIU is the king of the mountain and has a “been there, done that” mentality that WMU doesn’t have. However, I think the Broncos are the better team because they are more dangerous offensively. Like most teams, I think the Huskies will look to control the line of scrimmage to limit Franklin and the jet sweep WMU likes to use, but I think Zach Terrell has a good day passing and WMU wins 31-27.
– Steve Nitz, email@example.com, @SNitz_DDC
Back in October, I wrote about former NIU football players Jordan Delegal and Keith Otis and their project, The Doghouse, a food truck they hope to bring to DeKalb, which would sell a variety of items.
Delegal is a former Huskie linebacker who had 82 tackles on the team's 2011 MAC championship team. Otis was a starting offensive tackle.
I spoke with Delegal this week. The group started a Kickstarter campaign in an effort to raise money for the project. They were out at NIU's “The Yard” tailgate area for a home game this season, and Delegal and Co. are raising money to buy the truck, which would sell a variety of gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches in additon to other items. Delegal said they plan on bringing the truck to events around campus, and use it throughout the Chicagoland area.
The goal was to raise $20,000, and they are only about $2,500 away from the goal. The Kickstarter campaign ends Tuesday, and earier this week The Doghouse recently received a $10,000 contribution.
“We're close, we're not there just yet,” Delegal said. “We want to not just meet but exceed the goals.”
Delegal said they've gotten a lot of support from NIU alumni. One reason Delegal wanted to start the Doghouse was to provide opportunities for NIU students, and help them take an initiative of their own.
“Whatever way we can help the university, because they've helped us tremendously, is what we want to do,” Delegal said. “We are doing this for the right reasons. We want to help students, we want to help DeKalb and help the place that helped us.”
Bowl selections are just a little over two weeks away. That being said, I've done some forecasting and decided to put together bowl projections for the Mid-American Conference.
Here's an update on how the selection process works – the GoDaddy Bowl in Mobile has the first selection among MAC teams. However, the bowl is not required to pick the MAC champion. After the GoDaddy, the MAC has spots in the Boca Raton, Famous Idaho Potato, Camellia and Bahamas Bowls.
The MAC will work with the opposing conferences and ESPN to determine the best fits and match ups. So, there's plenty of things that can happen.
Here's what I see at this point.
GoDaddy (Mobile, Alabama vs. Sun Belt): Northern Illinois vs. Louisiana-Lafayette
Boca Raton (Boca Raton, Florida vs. C-USA): Bowling Green vs. Rice
Famous Idaho Potato (Boise, Idaho vs. Mountain West): Nevada vs. Toledo
Camellia (Montgomery, Alabama vs. Sun Belt): Western Michigan vs. South Alabama
Bahamas (Nassau, Bahamas vs. C-USA): Central Michigan vs. UAB
NIU is the current favorite to win the MAC title (if they win the MAC West, they should be 10-point favorites against Bowling Green), and I would guess the GoDaddy will take the MAC champion.
The Sun Belt's top team right now, Georgia Southern, is ineligible for a bowl as its in its first season of FBS. The Sun Belt's GoDaddy representative will most likely be either UL-Lafayette or Arkansas State. I think the Rajin' Cajuns would end up in Mobile, as they were in the New Orleans Bowl (the league's other top bowl slot) last year.
There's some interesting possibilities out there. Could the MAC try and pair a potential 10-win NIU team against Marshall (if it doesn't get the Group of Five bid) in Boca Raton or the Bahamas? What about a matchup between the Huskies and Colorado State or Boise State in Boise? Would NIU/MAC want any part of playing the Broncos on the road?
It will also be interesting to see how much of a disaster the Bahamas Bowl is. My guess is the game won't be around for more than a few years.
– Steve Nitz, firstname.lastname@example.org, @SNitz_DDC
Northern Illinois men's basketball added four players in the early signing period Thursday.
The class includes forwards Levi Bradley (Milwaukee) and Jaylen Key (Mequon, Wisconsin) and guards Austin Pauga (Naperville) and Laytwan Porter (Rockford).
Bradley and Key certainly look like good gets for NIU.
Here's some background on each player:
Averaged 20 points, 8.5 rebounds and three blocks as a junior at Milwaukee Pius XI last season. Rivals has Bradley as a three-star prospect, and according to the site he also had offers from The Citadel, Wisconsin-Green Bay and South Dakota.
Averaged 14 points and eight rebounds last year at Homestead High School in the Milwaukee suburbs. Another three-star prospect, Key also had offers from The Citadel, UW-Milwaukee and South Dakota.
Pauga attended Naperville Central High School before transferring IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. He's in a postgraduate year this season. Rivals does not have any information on Pauga, who can play both shooting guard and wing.
Averaged 15.7 points, 6.1 assists and 3.3 steals last year at Auburn High School, helping his team to conference and sectional titles. Rivals does not have him rated, and according to the site his only D-I offer was from NIU.
– Steve Nitz, email@example.com, @SNitz_DDC
Nick Piotrowicz covers Toledo for the Toledo Blade, and took some time out of his schedule to answer some questions about the Rockets from Daily Chronicle NIU beat writer Steve Nitz. You can read Nick's work at The Blade and follow him on Twitter @NickPiotrowicz.
Steve Nitz: First off, do you expect Toledo QB Logan Woodside (leg injury) to play Tuesday?
Nick Piotrowicz: I do not. Matt Campbell has been saying all week that he is hopeful Woodside will play, but I just don't see it. His practice time has been pretty limited and he has been wearing a cast. Woodside isn't fooling anybody into thinking he's Michael Vick, but he can run a little bit and Toledo runs the zone read at least a few times per game.
I just don't know that he can help the team seven days after getting knocked out of a game.
Nitz: If Woodside somehow can't go, what can fans expect to see from redshirt freshman Michael Julian?
Piotrowicz:That's a good question and I wish I had the answer. He's never started. Julian is big and he has a good arm, but I'm not sure how ready he is for a game. During the summer quarterback competition, one of the tactics Toledo used was heavy blitzing, and out of the three, Julian struggled the most with it.
He has the capability to do damage on skill alone, but there certainly are better places to make your first start than on the road against the league's top program.
Nitz: Toledo is looking to beat the Huskies for the first time since 2009. How do Toledo fans view the rivalry?
Piotrowicz: As a serious pain in the butt. Toledo has had some good teams in the past few years that just couldn't beat NIU. A lot of teams have felt that way about NIU, but Toledo has the added bonus of being in the Huskies' division. I think there has been a sense all season that if they plan on going to Detroit, they have to beat NIU.
Now, the Huskies did Toledo a huge favor by losing to Central Michigan. This game essentially has been the MAC West championship game in the past, but Toledo can lose this game this time and still win the division. It doesn't have the gravity it did the past few years for Toledo.
Nitz: Toledo coach Matt Campbell has had some success during his two-plus seasons with the Rockets, but it's not like the program wasn't in good shape before he got there. Do you expect him to be in play for some bigger jobs this offseason?
Piotrowicz: Potentially. He likes Ohio and I think he's content here, so it would have to be the right job. But I also think he'll listen if a bigger program comes calling. His players love him.
Nitz: Last thing, what does Toledo absolutely have to do to beat NIU on Tuesday? Care to give a score prediction?
Piotrowicz: Throw the ball with some sort of conviction. Toledo is running team, just like NIU, but the Rockets have to be able to complete passes. If Julian plays, I think NIU is going to hound him and the running backs until he proves he can beat them in the passing game. Because I don't know who will play QB for Toledo, I can't say with conviction that will happen. Northern Illinois 28, Toledo 17.