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October 22, 2013

Next three games provide opportunity, pitfalls

Western Michigan head coach P.J. Fleck has never been one to mince words, but he had to be careful with his phrasing at Tuesday's WMU football press conference.

Everyone who follows the program knows that the next three games-- at Massachusetts, Central Michigan in Kalamazoo, and at Eastern Michigan-- represent a chance for Fleck and the winless Broncos to get something going. Success this year is essentially out the window, but even just a couple of wins would give the Broncos something meaningful to build on. A tangible foundation, not just the theoretical one Fleck references so often.

It's hard, as a head coach, to express that without disrespecting an opponent. And Fleck was careful to give Charley Molnar's UMass team plenty of credit, especially for their defense that has been playing quite well of late.

Fleck's candor has to be respected, though, as he didn't downplay the importance of the game and the opportunity it presents. Once the pleasantries were out of the way, there was no "it's just another game" to be heard.

"These are very important football games for us," Fleck said of the remaining four. "Our schedule has been tough, all year. We were fighting uphill in a lot of games."

That shouldn't be the case in the next three. UMass is still essentially transitioning from FCS, so there's little reason that the talent base there should be stronger than WMU's. Central Michigan has also suffered multiple key injuries and has to play at Waldo Stadium in a big rivalry, and EMU's play has not been any better than WMU's for most of the season.

It may be too early for defining moments in a head coach's career that hasn't even seen an anniversary yet. But this is as close as it gets.

Win a couple, particularly if one comes in front of a big student crowd against Central Michigan, and everything changes. The fanbase heads into the offseason with some optimism, recruits are more likely to see progress and players have an easier time buying in.

Lose, though, and the mood is not going to be good around this program.

Fleck is probably a good enough motivator and speaker that he can keep the team and recruits on board, but some wins sure would make his job easier. He knows it.

"Both teams need a win to be able to establish that next brick," Fleck said. "Very, very key game for us and the future of this program. Not one game will ever make or break a program, but our kids deserve a win. They've earned it, but they haven't gone out and taken it."

Many fans are willing to excuse the start to this point. Excuses are about to be harder to come by, because the schedule is letting up. Winning the next three is far from a must, but 0-12 is not going to sit well with anyone.

Fleck's comments today show that he gets it. Now it's time to get it done.

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