As we approach Saturday's season finale against rival Eastern Michigan, BroncoBlitz.com takes a look at five factors that will decide which way the game goes.
1. How important is the Michigan MAC trophy to this team?
It would be a disappointing year no matter what happens to WMU Saturday, but a Michigan MAC trophy (including, of course, the win over Central Michigan) would certainly make the 2012 season more palatable for Bronco fans.
What remains to be seen is where the team's collective mind is. Certainly it's expected that the seniors, including Alex Carder, will be motivated to go out with a bang. If the rest of the team follows suit, this is certainly a very winnable game.
EMU, meanwhile, also has the trophy on the line. While an Eastern win Saturday would leave each team at 1-1, the Eagles hold the trophy from last season and would retain it with the three-way tie.
2. Can WMU stop the improved EMU attack?
Points shouldn't be at a premium when this game kicks off. EMU is giving up almost 500 yards per game, including a shocking 284 on the ground alone. While Western Michigan's defense has been fairly respectable all year, the Eagles are coming into their own offensively making them a far more dangerous opponent than their record might indicate.
The revival is led by youth in the backfield, namely quarterback Tyler Benz and running back Bronson Hill. Hill in particular has been a revelation, running for 814 yards and six touchdowns despite being the feature back for only six weeks.
Benz's numbers aren't as flashy, but he's nonetheless been a major upgrade from the disappointing play of senior Alex Gillett. Benz is averaging 7.5 yards per attempt (to Gillett's 5.1) and while both have seven picks, Benz has tossed 11 touchdowns where Gillett managed only five.
This is still not a great offensive team, but it's far from the same offense that managed only 14 points in a 31-14 loss to FCS Illinois State.
3. How comfortable is Alex Carder?
Alex Carder shocked everyone last week when he started against Buffalo after it was reported he was very unlikely to play. Once it was kicked off, we saw very mixed results from the prolific senior quarterback.
Carder threw for 275 yards and three scores, but his four picks were a backbreaker and the final one was a particularly head-scratching decision. The good news is that while he sometimes looked uncomfortable and a bit slower to make his decisions, he didn't appear to be bothered physically by his hand.
If Carder's comfort level increases with a game under the belt and a full week of practice, he shouldn't have too much trouble against an inferior EMU defense, and he should have plenty of help from the running game.
4. Who can stop Eric Monette?
Over the past few weeks, WMU has taken full advantage of Eric Monette's height advantage over opposing corners. In his last three games, the senior and former walk-on has 416 yards and five touchdowns.
While EMU's secondary has decent size and has been the better of their defensive units, Monette's size still will be a mismatch for nearly any corner. It was certainly a frustrating start to the season for Monette, who was one of the victims of the injury bug that bit the receiving corps. Now healthy, he's showing why Bill Cubit and the coaching staff had such high praise for him in the spring and fall camp.
5. How many will turn out for Senior Day?
Frankly, with the way attendance has gone the past few games, it's hard to see a big crowd turning out on Saturday. While the weather forecast looks decent, there's just not a lot to be excited about heading into this game other than the last chance to see some distinguished seniors.
What could result is an eerily similar atmosphere to the one that greeted WMU at Eastern's Rynearson Stadium last year. Bronco fans no doubt remember how that game turned out as EMU surprised the Broncos 14-10 in a lackluster game on all fronts. The atmosphere shouldn't necessarily affect the quality of play on the field, but it certainly seemed to last time these teams met.