USC vs Western Michigan: Quick intro to the Broncos

DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 02: Robert Spillane
DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 02: Robert Spillane /

It’s football season and Saturday’s USC vs Western Michigan game will begin one of the most-anticipated seasons in recent memory. But just who are these Broncos the Trojans will face?

Tailgate supplies are being bought, gameweek preparations are underway on the practice field and the Coliseum is getting stripped the Rams’ blue. It means one thing: USC vs Western Michigan is just days away to kickoff the 2017 season.

It’s a big one for the No. 4 Trojans, who begin the year with a treacherous three-game stretch at home against the defending MAC champion, a perennial nemesis and a national powerhouse.

Let’s start to get acclimated with USC’s first opponent, shall we?

What’s a Western Michigan?

Founded in 1903 as a teachers college, Western Michigan University sits in Kalamazoo, Mich. on the road between Detroit and Chicago. You might know it as the childhood home of the Yankees’ Derek Jeter and Wendys founder Dave Thomas.

WMU’s teams have been the Broncos since 1939, when they dropped the name Hilltoppers so they wouldn’t be mistaken as Western Kentucky. Ten years later, they joined the MAC. Saturday, they’ll become the first MAC team to ever play USC.

The 2016 team was historic

Last season marked the first time in school history the Broncos swept their conference schedule, ultimately amassing a 13-0 record before heading to the Cotton Bowl.

How crazy was 2016 for WMU? They achieved 74 different firsts, from their first year with two Power 5 wins, to beating all three FBS team in Illinois, having their first-ever All-American, first AP ranking and first hosting of College Gameday.

Wide receiver and Bilnetnikoff Award finalist Corey Davis led the way, amassing 97 catches and 19 touchdowns to go with his even 1,500 receiving yards. Then there was senior quarterback Zach Terrell, whose 175.2 passer rating ranked fourth in FBS.

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The incredible season saw the Broncos earn the Group of Five berth to a January Six bowl for the first time, where they lost to Wisconsin in a valiant effort. It all earned plenty of praise for hotshot head coach P.J. Fleck.

…but this has been an offseason of change.

Fleck and his ‘Row the Boat’ rallying cry were the face of Western Michigan’s rise to prominence the last few years, but 2016’s cherry on top ultimately took him to Minnesota as the Gophers’ new boss. He left with four other WMU assistants in January and the Broncos have undergone a wealth of change since.

Tim Lester, a Western Michigan alum and most recently the quarterbacks coach at Purdue, takes over a team losing its top three receivers (Davis, Michael Henry and Carrington Thompson), best offensive lineman (Taylor Moton) and most lethal defender (Keion Adams).

Even backup quarterback Tom Flacco —the brother of Joe— left, by transferring to Rutgers just last month.

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But despite all of the departures, the Broncos have plenty of reasons to feel good going into 2017, including eight returning starters on defense.

Then there’s the running game, which brings back an entire backfield including the school’s touchdown leader, Jarvion Franklin. He and Jamauri Bogan combined for 2,276 rushing yards last season.

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If Western Michigan can find a way to protect inexperienced quarterback Jon Wassink and get the ball in the hands of Franklin and Bogan, they’ll serve as a much-needed early season test for the Trojans.

And there’s one thing for sure. WMU won’t be scared.

The Broncos’ roster includes players who have won big games and played in hostile environments before, including at Virginia Tech and at Ohio State.

Let the football begin.