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November 2, 2012

Five keys to Central Michigan

As we approach Saturday's tilt with MAC West leader Northern Illinois, BroncoBlitz.com takes a look at five factors that will decide which way the game goes.

1. Can the Broncos jump ahead early?

There's been a lot said this week about Western Michigan's struggles going up to Mount Pleasant and coming away with a win. If you're not tired of hearing it, WMU has one win since 1973 up north.

Why this is remains somewhat of a mystery. Sure, it's hard to win on the road in rivalry games, and sure, Central Michigan has had some solid teams in that time frame. There's still a bit of mystique though, as the talent certainly hasn't been that lopsided.

The best way to ease any nerves the Broncos are feeling headed into Saturday's game is to jump on top in the early going. Expect WMU to come out of the chute with an aggressive game plan offensively with exactly that in mind.

2. Will Zurlon Tipton be as effective as Trayion Durham?

Two weeks ago, Kent State's Trayion Durham bulled his way to 124 yards on 19 carries, continually getting yards after contact as is his specialty. This week, the Broncos will face a similar back in Central Michigan's Zurlon Tipton.

While Tipton isn't quite the load that Durham is, checking in almost 30 pounds lighter at 222, he has a similar bruising style. At Tuesday's press luncheon, WMU head coach Bill Cubit stressed gang-tackling as the only way to stop a back like Tipton once his forward momentum is started.

ChippewaCountry.com publisher Steve Livingston noted in our Five Questions that the best way to slow down this CMU offense is to force them out of their natural balance and into an aerial game. For that reason, failure of WMU to accomplish the first key would make this one all that much more important.

3. Will the crowd turn out?

Maybe this is a silly question. There's not a lot of doubt that the student section in Mount Pleasant will be full as always in this rivalry. Add in that the game is on a Saturday afternoon with a decent weather forecast, and there's not much excuse for a poor turnout.

It's still a legitimate question, though. Questions have swirled a bit in CMU country about reaching the 15,000 attendance mark, as numbers have been significantly down since the 35,000-plus that saw Michigan State come to town. This is a surprise to many that expected CMU to ride a good home schedule to the MAC attendance lead.

I'd still expect a big crowd, as that's the norm in this rivalry. But if not (and there are reasons to be skeptical), that could take away some of the advantage CMU is accustomed to in this game at home.

4. Who wins the turnover battle?

There's some intrigue here, as the Chippewas were so poor in this category a year ago and have made real strides in a positive direction. While their turnover margin still sits at -3, they were -12 a year ago and threw 18 interceptions. Well over halfway through 2012, Ryan Radcliff has only seven picks.

CMU still could use some more playmaking ability out of the defense, but they may get some opportunities this week against a Bronco offense that's turned it over more than any other team in the conference in 2012. The WMU sideline, conversely, will be hoping that the one turnover performance last week against Northern Illinois will carry over into this Saturday.

It's hard to give WMU an edge in this category as they've struggled so much, but the Chippewas don't present the worst matchup. Thus far, CMU has forced only nine turnovers (four fumbles and five interceptions) on the season, tied with Akron and Miami and ahead of only Buffalo in the MAC.

5. How accurate is WMU's record?

After nine games, it's reasonable to think we'd have a good idea of exactly how good Western Michigan is. The nature of their MAC schedule, though, makes it a bit difficult.

So far, WMU has played four of the top teams in the conference with a combined MAC record of 17-2, as well as likely the worst team in the league in UMass. The middle ground (besides arguably Ball State, an overtime thriller) has been absent on the Broncos' slate.

For really the first time this Saturday, WMU will face a team that's neither at the top nor the bottom of the conference. While it's not really possible for the Broncos to finish above the middle of the pack, at least we'll get an idea of where they really stand and if this team is in fact better than their 3-6 record would indicate.

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