Later tonight one of the greatest rivalries in the Midwest will kickoff when Central Michigan hosts Western Michigan at 6pm on ESPNU.
Though the two teams are both in the midst of down seasons with CMU at 2-7 and WMU at 3-5, meetings between the two programs never lack any emotion. Last season the Chippewas went into Kalamazoo and handled the Broncos 34-23 in what was a hyped game. This season may lack the hype and expectations of last year's game, but that doesn't mean there won't be plenty on the line. Western Michigan still has a chance to go to a bowl game, and those chances would evaporate with a loss in Kelly/Shorts Stadium tonight. On the other hand, CMU has lost five straight games and they have a chance to salvage a part of their season with a win, and to send their senior class off without a single loss to the Broncos.
KEY WESTERN MICHIGAN PLAYERS: OFFENSE
QB Alex Carder
-Carder has completed 201-328 passes this year for 2299 yards and 18 touchdowns. While he also has 11 interceptions, he has been a markedly improved quarterback as the season has progressed. Carder has also ran for over 300 yards on the ground. His play could go a long way to deciding the game, and it's no secret that the Broncos are going to chuck the ball around tonight.
WR Jordan White
-White has slowly developed into Carder's #1 guy and he has put together a few monster games in a row. For the season, White has caught 64 passes for 938 yards and 6 touchdowns, and he is rapidly becoming one of the MAC's best wide receivers.
WR Juan Nunez
-In the Broncos pass happy attack wide receivers become the playmakers, and Nunez is a name all to familiar to CMU fans. In what seems like his 7th year, Nunez has 635 yards receiving and 6 touchdowns on 56 receptions. He and White make what could be the MAC's best WR duo.
KEY WESTERN MICHIGAN PLAYERS: DEFENSE
LB Dex Jones
-The transfer from Wisconsin has lived up to the hype, as he has been the Broncos top player in the front seven. He has tallied 36 tackles, 11 TFL and 4 sacks this season.
DE Paul Hazel
-Opponents consistently looked at Hazel and come to the conclusion that he can't possibly be an impact player with his weight (listed at 6-foot-5, 202 pounds). But, Hazel continues to prove people wrong. He leads WMU in sacks with 5.5 and he has also totaled 37 tackles. With CMU's struggles to protect the QB lately, Hazel is a name to keep an eye on.
-Berry has continued the tradition of talented DB's at WMU by leading the team in tackles (56) and forced fumbles (3). He has also collected 5.5 TFL, 1 INT, 1 sack and 2 fumble recoveries.
HOW IT SHAKES OUT
Central Michigan is beat up and in the midst of one of their worst seasons in recent memory, but seeing the Broncos jerseys should inspire some added emotion. Western Michigan has struggled notoriously at Kelly/Shorts Stadium as CMU has notched a 15-2-1 career record against the Broncos in Mt. Pleasant.
That said, CMU is very thin in the secondary and I fully expect the Broncos to throw the ball 50+ times in this contest unless they have success running the ball for the first time this season. Central Michigan will need to score points and mount some offense... and like many of CMU's tough games this season, it will rest on the arm of QB Ryan Radcliff.
With it being senior night and CMU's seniors never having lost to Western Michigan, I look for that to stay status quo.
Central Michigan: 31
Western Michigan: 30