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Syracuse football 2019 opponent preview: Western Michigan Broncos

We meet again, #MethodCats.

81st Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic - Western Michigan v Wisconsin Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

A week ago, we previewed the Syracuse Orange’s week three football opponent, Clemson, and how the Tigers were potentially poised to be just as good as they were last year. Whether that’s true or not, things get a bit easier in the ensuing couple games.

Perhaps you’re not as excited since it’s only May. But since Syracuse won 10 games last year, and I run this place, we’re talking about them anyway. The Orange have plenty of challenges ahead — some of those greater than others. Today, we take a look at SU’s week four foe:

Western Michigan Broncos

School: Western Michigan University

Mascot: Broncos

#BRAND Slogan(s): #LetsRide, #WesternWay, #Team114

Alternate #BRAND Slogan Suggestions: #MethodCats, #CatchThatBronc-itis OR “A Michigan”

Recommended Blog: Hustle Belt

Conference: MAC

Coach: Tim Lester, third year. You already know the #MethodCat from his time as QB coach/offensive coordinator at Syracuse during the Scott SHafer era. With Lester in charge, the Orange offense was better than it was under George McDonald, but not to any extent that it could repair the pieces of my soul I’d lose while re-watching SU football games from 2013-15. Before he was the #MethodCat, Lester was “the Submarine” in XFL trading card circles. Doubt him at your own risk, despite the 13-12 record through two seasons.

2018 Record: (7-6) (5-3)

NCAA Football: Western Michigan at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Recapping Last Season:

The WMU defense looked rocky from the start last year, dropping games to Syracuse, 55-42 and Michigan, 49-3. They’d improve against lesser foes Georgia State and Delaware State (won by a combined 102-15), but they’d give up 35.1 points per game in MAC play (just two teams were worse in that regard). Western Michigan’s big win on the year came against eventual conference champ Northern Illinois in the season finale, 28-21. Before that game, they’d lost three straight (following a six-game winning streak).

The Broncos’ offense was pretty effective in 2018, scoring 32 points per game (fourth in the conference) and 31.4 against league foes (fifth). Nationally, they were a top-40 total and rushing offense (by yards), and a top-70 passing offense. Things would get a bit derailed once they lost junior quarterback Jon Wassink for the year early against Toledo in late October. WMU was 1-4 in those final four games largely without him. Prior to that injury, he’d thrown for 1,994 yards and 16 scores (vs. six interceptions). LeVante Bellamy was a very effective rusher, amassing 1,228 yards on 5.99 yards per carry. That said, he only topped 60 yards once after October 20 — when he ran for 213 against Ball State.

As mentioned, WMU’s defense was a bit of a mess in year two under former Syracuse assistant Tim Daoust. The team finished a little above average in yards allowed, while forcing 20 turnovers and 31 sacks. Those last two were key to the unit getting much done, as Orange fans will likely recall. Admittedly, it was also a younger group, with just two seniors among the top 15 tacklers.

2019 Season Outlook:

There’s actually a lot to like about the Broncos this year. Wassink and Bellamy both return, which should mean the offense is back on track. Last year’s top four receiving options also return, led by Jayden Reed — who had 56 catches for 797 yards and eight scores as a freshman last season. As Bill Connelly pointed out when previewing WMU back in February, this might be the country’s most experienced team. That’ll show on offense for sure. But the defense is situated just as well.

You’ll note in the previous section that just two of the top 15 Broncos tacklers were seniors, so that means a whole lot of talent is coming back on that side of the football. They’ll lose just 4.5 sacks from last year’s total, and two of nine interceptions. With everyone else back, there’s a good chance they’ll make great strides to improve. Though as we know, something keeping a lot of players from a defense that struggled at times can have its drawbacks. Don’t necessarily think that’ll be the case here, however.

WMU has the same sort of challenges on the schedule that last year presented. Syracuse and Michigan State are both very challenging road games, and they’ll round out non-conference play with Monmouth and Georgia State. The MAC schedule will prove tough with road dates at Ohio and Northern Illinois to end the year, plus Toledo and Eastern Michigan away from Kalamazoo as well. Basically, all of their best opponents are road games, which makes it very difficult to pick up extra wins a team might get from being a home underdog.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Western Michigan Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Syracuse Game Date: Saturday, September 21

Location: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.

Odds of Orange Victory: 80 percent

Very Early Outlook vs. Syracuse:

The talent gap between these two teams will continue to grow as the P.J. Fleck era gets further in the rear-view mirror and the Dino Babers era continues to upgrade talent for Syracuse — a definite positive since these teams still face off again in both 2020 and 2023. But even with a lot of experience on the roster for the Broncos, the odds are very much in the Orange’s favor for this one with production advantages on both sides of the ball. What happens in the Clemson game could create some sort of letdown factor a week later for SU, however. How the Orange bounce back win or lose there will be an interesting early test for Tommy DeVito, too.