Central Michigan. Western Michigan. Two schools separated by 140 miles. Two schools that absolutely do not like each other.
On the field, this is one of the most intense rivalries in not just the state of Michigan, but the country. While neither team is competing for a MAC Championship this season, there is some added fuel to this rivalry. Gone from the Broncos is long-time coach Bill Cubit, who is no longer the head coach at WMU in large part because he struggled to beat CMU. While Cubit posted a 3-4 record against CMU during his tenure, he lost four straight between 2006-10 that could have swung the Broncos into the upper echelon of the MAC.
Enter new head coach P.J. Fleck, who bumped shoulders with current CMU head coach Dan Enos early in his tenure when he tried to sway CMU commit Zach Crouch to the Broncos.
Fueling the fire even more was the abrupt switch of CMU defensive line coach Vinson Reynolds, who jumped to the Broncos for the same position shortly after Fleck was hired. Enos has been steadfast in his silence towards Fleck and the WMU program this year, and he was the only MAC coach who refused to comment on Fleck at MAC Media Day.
This seasons game will not have the glamor of some of the past matchups, but each program knows this is a huge game. For the Broncos, it's a statement game for Fleck in what has been an otherwise disastrous season on the field. For CMU, it's a chance to salvage a 6-6 season and the potential for a second straight bowl game.
With all that drama set, let's take a look at the Five Keys for CMU on Saturday.
1) Throw Out the Records
-Normally I would list some stats from the season and how each team could do this and that. History has shown that doesn't matter in this rivalry. This is a game about who plays with the most passion, who makes the least amount of mistakes, and which team has the players who step up and make the big plays in big moments. Each team has taken their lumps this season, but they will start the game equal on Saturday. Heck recent history has backed this key up. In 2010 CMU pulled the upset at Kelly/Shorts to knock the Broncos out of a bowl berth. Last season WMU defeated CMU in a shootout in what was their only win in their final six games.
2) Expect a Shootout
-This game has typically featured some offensive fireworks, and it will be aided by two defensive units that have been struggling this season. Western Michigan ranks No. 12 in the MAC in PPG allowed with 36.5 with the Chippewas right behind them at 34.6 PPG allowed. Last season the two teams combined for 73 points and over 1,000 total yards. Although both teams have consistently shot themselves in the foot with turnovers, if the turnover margin doesn't favor one side over the other we look for a high scoring contest.
3) Freshman QB's in the Fire
-Both Cooper Rush for CMU and Zach Terrell for WMU are redshirt-freshman who could be playing in their first of four matchups against each other. Each started out the season as a backup on the depth chart but have been thrust in as starters due to injuries or ineffectiveness. They have strikingly similar passing stats, with both in that 55% completion percentage range and having a TD-INT ratio with one more touchdown than interception. Terrell is averaging 188 yards per game, while Rush is averaging 232 yards per game, but Rush is has thrown the ball more per game. Both have shown flashes of being quality QB's in the MAC, but they have also exuded the typically freshman mistakes. One of them will be 1-0 against their top rival, and it will probably come down to the one who has the fewest mistakes.
4) The Davis Dilemma
-Central Michigan WR Titus Davis and Western Michigan WR Corey Davis are not only brothers, but two of the MAC's best receivers and likely NFL players. They have size, speed and terrific hands to go along with their work ethic. Ranking No. 2 and No. 3 in the MAC in receiving yardage, they are also headaches for opposing secondary's and have shined against top competition such as Michigan State, NC State, Northwestern and Northern Illinois. Stopping either is probably not an option, so the key will be limiting the damage, and more importantly the big plays down the field both can provide.
5)Right the Ship or Sink the Boat
-Western Michigan head coach P.J. Fleck's trademark phrase "Row the Boat" has been plastered all over the Broncos program, and while he has struggled on the field, he has excelled on the recruiting trail and high school players are buying into his program. With his appointment to the head coach position, the Broncos saw a dramatic shift in their recruiting philosophy as they focused more on the Midwest and their home state of Michigan. Before, WMU and CMU went head to head for recruits rarely, and now it is almost a given. A win for either program would be a building block for their future, and each coach is desperate to chalk this one up as a W. Fleck has more or less said this is their season, as going 1-0 vs. CMU is now the focus. Enos is 1-2 vs. Western Michigan and a loss would knock them out of bowl eligibility. Each coach knows how important this game is, and someone's boat is going to take on water with a loss.
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