In sports it's not how you start, it's how you finish. The Broncos started their season with a lackluster first half performance at the Big House and followed it with a similar first half at IU, before snatching defeat from the jaws of victory on a late fumble inside the IU five yard line.
That performance was followed by high powered first half against Miami, and a surprisingly difficult game against Hofstra. Next the Broncos laid an enormous egg at NIU, followed by a huge blowout victory at Toledo.
So what should Bronco fans take from this roller coaster season? Probably, that the combination of youth and experience equals unpredictability. The Broncos returned 7 starters on offense and 3 on defense, which tied them with Bowling Green for the fewest in the MAC.
However, youth is only a problem if it doesn't produce, and some of that Bronco's youth new starters are starting to show up. Youth is probably not the right word. Nick Mitchell has been around awhile, but hasn't had starts. He's the best center the Broncos have and his presence made a difference in the running game. Jordan White is fairly new to the starting rotation, but barring injuries he might have started two years ago. Doug Wiggins is new to the starting lineup, but had he signed initially with WMU he might be in his third year as a starting safety.
Point being, while they've lacked returning starters, the Broncos have never lacked talent, and they've never lacked experience. But they have lacked experience as starters, and that's the process we're in as we speak.
The question now, have the growing pains passed, and has this group jelled. If so, than this team may be ready to challenge for the MAC title. Where has that improvement shown up the most?
Tim Hiller is an exceptional 5th year quarterback who might have a future beyond college football. Even as a freshmen Hiller was productive. Some of that success had to be attributed to his targets Greg Jennings and Tony Scheffler, and some of much of his success as a sophomore and junior fell on Jamarko Simmons and Brandon Ledbetter.
Coming into this season the wideout position was a question mark, but it may have been answered.
Jordan White has emerged as a go to target with sure hands and an ability to gain yards after the catch. On Saturday he was drawing double teams after lighting up the Rockets early. White finished with 117 yards in catches, his second 100 yard plus performance this year. Juan Nunez was doing what he's done for two years, stretching the field and reeking havoc on undersized DB's.
The Broncos have what they've needed since the Michigan game; two legit go to targets, with a possible third emerging in 6'3" speedster Ansel Ponder.
Wide receiver was a question mark in September, but it may have been answered.
When you lose two DB's the the NFL you're probably going to have some growing pains. None the less Lewis, Armstrong, Dorcely, and Wiggins have begun to jell as a unit, and on Saturday were within an eyelash of a couple of picks. Jamal Berry has been inconsistent, but has had a few highlight moments. Wiggins showed on Saturday that they are much much better with him than without him. As of Saturday, this group is what we expected. Not as talented as last years starters, but pretty good and fairly deep.
The insertion of redshirt freshmen Freddie Bishop has given the Broncos a little more speed off the right side, and continued growth of speed merchant Paul Hazel showed when he sacked the Toledo quarterback. Hazel had 3 solo tackles and 1 sack in limited duty.
This game was critical for the Broncos as they head into rivalry week against league leader Central Michigan. As impressive as CMU's thrashing of EMU was, the Bronco road beat down of an improved Toledo team was even more impressive. Two things came out of Saturday. Central Michigan won't enter this game overconfident, and Western Michigan should come in very confident. These two teams will take the field fairly even in terms of talent, in a stadium that should be rocking.