Will Western Michigan be a one-hit wonder in the MAC?
By MITCH STACY
Jul. 26, 2017
CANTON, Ohio (AP) — Western Michigan wants to show it's not a one-hit wonder. But Mid-American Conference West rival Toledo, with one of the nation's best quarterbacks, seems to have all the right pieces to grab the spotlight back from the Broncos.
The planets finally aligned for long-suffering Western Michigan in 2016. Embracing indefatigable coach P.J. Fleck's "row the boat" mantra, the Broncos finished 13-1 and won the MAC for the first time since 1988 and only the second time in history. Their MAC West title broke Northern Illinois' string of six appearances in the conference championship game.
Fleck was snapped up by Minnesota after the season and took a half-dozen assistants and some top recruits with him. New coach Tim Lester, who played quarterback for the Broncos in the 1990s, will find out if Fleck left enough behind to keep them a contender in the MAC West.
Lester must replace quarterback Zach Terrell and top target Corey Davis. With the transfer of junior Tom Flacco, younger brother of Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco, the door opens for redshirt sophomore Jon Wassink and other untested candidates.
"I really don't worry a ton about following the magical season," Lester said Wednesday at MAC Media Day. "Whether I was here or someone else was here, when Corey Davis and Zach walk out the door, you're going to be a different team. My biggest thing is getting the team to move on from that season. We're really focusing a ton on getting the new leaders to step up."
On the bright side, the Broncos return running backs Jamauri Bogan and Jarvion Franklin, who rushed for 1,300 yards and a dozen TDs, as well as eight starters on defense. Franklin could be one of the best in the country.
Toledo — the preseason media poll favorite — is loaded and ready to challenge.
The Rockets, looking for their first MAC West title since 2004, are led by fifth-year senior quarterback Logan Woodside and one of the best receiving corps in the conference.
"He led the country in touchdown passes last year, he's very cerebral, very smart," Toledo coach Jason Candle said. "A tremendous player, a tremendous leader, a very important piece to what we've got going forward."
The nationally televised meeting between Toledo and Western Michigan in the Glass Bowl the day after Thanksgiving could serve as an entertaining MAC West championship game.
"From an offensive standpoint, we've got some leaders on that team, we've got a lot of older guys and people who have played a whole lot to take that next step on offense, to be one of the best offenses in the country," Woodside said. "As of right now, we've got a long fall camp to worry about, we've got a lot of fundamentals to get better at. We're really excited."
In the MAC East, Ohio topped the preseason media poll, just edging Miami (Ohio). The Redhawks had a terrific second half last year when quarterback Gus Ragland returned after a knee injury. They return 17 starters.
Ohio, which won the East last year and was edged by Western Michigan in the MAC Championship Game, sorely needs consistent play from sophomore quarterback Quinton Maxwell. The Bobcats are still looking for their first conference crown since 1968.
"I'm not satisfied with not having gotten that done," said coach Frank Solich, who has led the team to three divisional titles in a dozen seasons in Athens. "We need to continue moving this program forward and take another step."
The Bobcats are buoyed by the return of marquee running back A.J. Oullette, who was injured on the first play of the season last year and didn't return.
"I like the makeup of our team," Solich said. "I like what they're all about in terms of leadership and ability. That's always a great place to start."
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