2021 Western Michigan Football Preview: Schedule, 4 Things

Western Michigan is one of the most well-regarded football programs in the Mid-American Conference. It won a MAC title as recently as 2016 and this year the team is well-suited enough to reach those heights yet again.

But will everything fall into place? WMU’s won some important games, but it also has some regrettable losses that’s kept it from being consistent at the top of the MAC West division. There are a lot of All-MAC worthy players up and down the roster, but there aren’t any easy wins on this team’s schedule.

Schedule

2020 WMU football schedule, final results

SP+ final rank: 62 (28 offense, 95 defense, 94 special teams)

  • W @ Akron, 58-13
  • W vs. Toledo, 41-38
  • W @ CMU, 52-44
  • W vs. NIU, 30-27
  • L vs. EMU, 53-42
  • L @ Ball State, 30-27

2021 WMU football schedule

SP+ preseason rank: 85 (42 offense, 114 defense)

  1. @ Michigan
  2. vs. Illinois State
  3. @ Pitt
  4. vs. San Jose State
  5. @ Buffalo
  6. vs. Ball State
  7. vs. Kent State
  8. @ Toledo
  9. bye
  10. vs. CMU (Wed.)
  11. vs. Akron (Tues.)
  12. @ EMU (Tues.)
  13. @ NIU (Tues.)

4 Things

Kaleb Eleby is absolutely special

I don’t care about trying to prove to you that Kaleb Eleby is or isn’t the best quarterback in the MAC. I just want you to know that he’s easily one of the most fun QBs to watch.

Eleby’s one of the most hyped-up recruits that Tim Lester recruited, and he’s absolutely done well for himself so far. His career stats: 11 games, 190/299 (63.5% passing), 2,791 yards (9.3 Y/A), 22 TD, 5 INT, 162.9 QBR.

A quick game of “What If?”: featuring D’Wayne Eskridge and Jayden Reed

Just for conversation’s sake. What if D’Wayne Eskridge stayed to play as a super senior instead of going pro? And what if Jayden Reed, now one of the top receivers for Michigan State, had stuck around at Western Michigan and were still on the Broncos’ roster this year?

The answer to the question is pretty clear: This offense would be super duper awesome and bound to break some records.

This offense, even without Eskridge or Reed, is still easily one of the best ones in this conference, and has record-breaking potential. Keep sulking in the ‘what if?’ proposal if you want, but this team’s wide receiver room is still one of the most talented and deepest the MAC has to offer.

Skyy Moore returns as the team’s leading receiver: 76 catches on 122 targets (10/27 contested throws), 1,193 yards, 6 TD, 2.54 yards per route run. He’s a short (5’9) slot guy that’s been consistently been used over the last two years.

Jaylen Hall’s a much taller (6’3) option on the outside, and he’s had more production in 2020 than he did in 2019 in large part because he caught more contested catches. Per PFF, Hall was 3 for 12 on catching contest passes in 2019, and 5 for 6 in 2020. Hall ended up with 7 TD in 2020 (four more than he had in 2019) and went from 282 receiving yards in 2019 to 323 in 2020. Hall was also recently featured in this year’s Bruce Feldman’s Freaks List:

The Broncos have had a few blazers the past couple of years in LeVante Bellamy and D’Wayne Eskridge, Hall is longer at 6-3, 185 and probably doesn’t have the same burst off the line but has similar top-end speed. Hall clocked a 4.32 40 a year ago. His broad jump this offseason was 10-7, and he ran a 4.10 in the pro agility shuttle. On the field, that athleticism translated into a number of big plays. Hall caught 12 passes in 2020, but they went for 323 yards and seven touchdowns.

Bruce Feldman, The Athletic

Corey Crooms, last year, usually subbed in for Eskridge, so one would think to look in his direction to see an expanded role out of him.

A name I’m interested in is Bryce Nunnelly. He came in through the transfer portal, from Chattanooga (Tom Arth coached him) and was twice a First Team All-Southern Conference honoree. Let’s roll the film.

Two straight losses to EMU

Western Michigan is currently riding a two-game losing road bump to Eastern Michigan, which snapped a 5-game win streak by the Broncos in this series.

The 2019 contest, where Preston Hutchinson made a surprise start at QB for EMU and beat WMU 34-27 to prevent the Broncos from making it to Detroit. Had WMU won the game, it would’ve been 6-2 in MAC play (finished 5-3) to tie with Central Michigan. WMU had already beaten CMU 31-15 the week before the Eastern game, which meant that a tiebreaker scenario between WMU and CMU would’ve leaned in the Broncos’ favor. While WMU also has losses to Toledo and NIU to point to from that season, it’s the EMU game that really fractured the team’s chances in mid-October.

WMU was riding high with a 4-0 record to defend Waldo Stadium against the Eagles, in hopes of righting its wrongs and making it back to Detroit after a 3-year layoff. But EMU’s offense got hot and ripped the Bronco secondary apart. WMU was playing 60 minutes of catch-up, and EMU won the shootout 53-42.

Whether you think WMU’s talented enough to win the conference is one thing, but it can’t continually lose to teams that you generally out-recruit and expect good things to happen.

To improve on: Turnover margin

In 2019, Western Michigan was +8 in the turnover margin with 22 total fumbles and interceptions gained and 14 fumbles and interceptions lost.

Last year, WMU was -3 in the turnover margin with six turnovers and three takeaways.

WMU’s defense has a lot of talent, but it needs to create takeaways for the team to have more success this year. If this defense creates enough turnovers or shortens drives with better production from its coverage and pass rush snaps, then the offense will have more valuable possessions to play with.

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