Broncos armed for MAC West title run Print E-mail
Written by Mike Smith   
Saturday, August 08 2009
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Tim Hiller led MAC quarterbacks as he averaged 286.5 passing yards per contest

With seven starters, including talented quarterback Tim Hiller, returning to a prolific offensive unit, Western Michigan should again this season be able to move the football. That said, it remains to be seen if the Broncos can improve their defense enough to secure a MAC West championship in 2009.

OFFENSE: Hiller topped all MAC passers last year as he connected on 339-of-522 (64.9 percent) of his aerials for 3,725 yards (286.4 ypg). Although 2008 MAC West champ Ball State is moving into the post-Nate Davis era, Western Michigan fans can enjoy another year with Hiller at the helm. The Broncos are obviously in the MAC West conversation, but it will take another solid offensive year from Hiller and Associates to challenge for the title again in 2009.

The biggest offensive question marks concern the receiving corps. Jamarko Simmons (No. 1 among MAC receivers), Schneider Julien (No. 10 among MAC receivers) and Branden Ledbetter are gone. That group pulled in 208 receptions for 2,452 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2008.

Junior Juan Nunez (All-MAC third team) did have 57 catches last season and can step into a key role this time around. However, for an offense that enjoys passing as much as the Broncos do, WMU may still need more.

We had a lot of seniors last year, so there will be some new faces stepping up. But at the same time, there are a lot of returning guys, so it is a nice mixture, Hiller said. Im excited for the possibilities.

Of his own role, Hiller offered, Its all about staying ahead of the sticks being a manager of the game, distributing it to the playmakers and not turning it over.

Candidates for stepping up in the receiving game include sophomore Robert Arnheim, a converted quarterback; junior Jordan White, redshirt freshman; and freshman Seth Patterson. White sat out 2008 with an injury, but if healthy, he could provide the downfield threat that would help open up other areas.

Fortunately, it isnt as though the entire weight of the offense is going to fall on receivers. Western Michigan will enjoy the services of senior running back Brandon West (5-10, 188), who gained over 1,000 rushing yards last year and also can catch the ball out of the backfield. Backing up West is Aaron Winchester. The sophomore averaged nearly four yards per carry during his rookie campaign and is also a capable receiver.

Who ever runs the ball, he will benefit from the experience of a veteran line. Phillip Swanson (6-4, 307, Jr.) was an all-MAC third team selection and part of a unit that returns nearly intact. The chief concern is how younger players will perform in the event of injuries. Backups are freshmen and sophomores.

Another important area, according to head coach Bill Cubit is offensive turnovers. Not only do the turnovers stop drives, Cubit said, "We can't put the defense in a tough spot."

DEFENSE: Western Michigan lost two-thirds of its starters on the defensive side of the ball, and defensive improvement especially against the pass - is a concern. The 2008 Broncos were next-to-last against the pass among MAC teams when all games were considered and middle-of the-pack in MAC-only competition stats. With a number of new players moving into starting defensive roles, they will be tested. "We'll probably have two seniors in the front, and then all the rest of the kids are freshmen and sophomores," Cubit said. "There is enough talent to win."

The defense is doing a great job, and they are ready to go. They have a few more younger guys than we do (on offense) (but) theyre ready, and were ready, and it is going to be a great year, Hiller said. Weve been fortunate. Weve had a great off-season, and everybody is has been pretty healthy.

Senior Austin Prichard (All-MAC first-team) will anchor the Broncos linebacking group. Mario Armstrong (6-0, 188, Jr.) and Doug Wiggens (6-0, 180, transfer from Miami, Fla.) figure as key pieces in the WMU secondary.

"We've got to do a better job (against) the pass," said Cubit, who thinks a few more sacks - or at least hurries - would go a long way. "If we can pressure the quarterback, we'll be a lot better."

SPECIAL TEAMS: With West (the schools all-time leader) returning kickoffs, the position is in good hands. Doug Wiggins returns punts, while sophomores John Potter (placekicker) and Ben Armer (punters) handle kicking duties. Potter was 11-of-16 on field goal attempts, with a long of 45 yards in 2008.
OTHER: Last year was the third nine-win campaign in program history. It was also the fourth bowl appearance for the Broncos and second in three seasons.

- There are going to be some new challenges, especially in the West Division. There are three new coaches. That makes it tough, Hiller said.  There are going to be some new faces and new looks. I think you have to bring your A game each and every week in this conference. In our conference, a loss can be so costly. Its important to play well.
- Western Michigan was 1-10 in 04 when Hiller was a senior in high school. The next year, they were 7-4 and, according to Hiller, have been steadily improving both on the field and elsewhere. He noted the team had a 2.9 GPA last year, the highest mark for any Broncos football team.
Last Updated ( Tuesday, August 11 2009 )
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