The 2007 Fiesta Bowl was a game that captured the imaginations of college football fans across the country. Behind a seemingly endless litany of gadget plays, Boise State stunned Oklahoma, proving that the little guy does have a shot to knock off the big dogs in college football. When the BCS was blown up for the new playoff structure, it was ensured that every year a team outside the power five conferences would have a chance to play in a major bowl game.
With Boise State not in control of its division due to a loss to Wyoming, this year it’s the Western Michigan Broncos’ turn to be giant killers. With two more regular season wins, the team will likely clinch a spot in the Cotton Bowl. But how did such a no-name school rise to such national prominence?
The Mid-American conference is more of a stepping stone for coaches than a final destination and is far outside the limelight of the fall’s annual hype over college ball. Urban Meyer and Nick Saban called the MAC their home back in the day, although of course, few remember their pit-stops now. With not much separating the wheat from the chaff in a conference where no one team dominates for very long, MAC teams sometimes take gambles to find a diamond coach in the rough.
Buffalo went all the down to Division III UW-Whitewater to find its coach, and Western Michigan hired PJ Fleck in 2012, a coach with very little in the way of credentials or experience. As Saturday’s 38-0 Broncos rout over the now 2-9 Bulls demonstrated, Buffalo seems to have swung and missed with its gamble, whereas the now 11-0 Broncos struck gold.
While the team’s game Friday against Toledo may not have much in the way of name power, it actually will play a major role in the playoff bowl picture.
The Broncos have a modestly successful defense, but their offense, which is averaging 43 points a game, has plenty of key players at the skill positions to help put points on the board. Receiver Corey Davis is closing in on the FBS career yardage record, and this year has contributed 1200 yards and 16 touchdowns, far and away the most on the team. Running back Jarvion Franklin leads the charge on the ground with 1247 yards and ten trips to the house.
Quarterback Zach Terrell has completed an impressive 71% of his passes with a startling 27 to 1 TD to pick ratio. The team’s firepower has been enough to power through the conference schedule with nary a close call so far. Whichever power team that gets slated to face the Broncos in a potential David vs. Goliath matchup would be unwise to, like Oklahoma ten years ago, overlook college football’s new small-school darling.
The unfortunate truth about teams like Boise State and Western Michigan is there’s only so high they can climb the ladder of college football success before they reach a concrete ceiling. Even in Boise State’s best years the team never was a serious national title contender, and even an undefeated MAC team would probably never have a good enough strength of schedule to be in the playoff picture seriously. Fleck could very well move on to greener pastures to any number of big name schools with unending openings, leaving the Broncos to cycle right back down, just like Northern Illinois before it.
But for this year’s team, and students fortunate enough to be on campus today, the Bronco’s moment in the sun should be a moment to cherish in the usually dull world of mid-major football. When, inevitably, the Broncos return to the middle of the pack of the MAC, those fortunate enough to remember today’s grand success should view it as a microcosm of life itself. It’s something short, sweet, and meaningful-and subject to be taken away at a moment’s notice.