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Syracuse football 2020 opponent preview: Western Michigan Broncos

These guys again...

Syracuse v Western Michigan Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Sure, there’s a chance that the 2020 college football season looks nothing like what’s on the schedule. But until we hear something different from what we know right now, it’s business as usual.

Last week, we reintroduced ourselves to former rival Colgate. The Raiders are coming off a disappointing 2019 where expectations were high, but a poor start scuttled things fairly quickly (sound familiar?). After that one home game, though, the Syracuse Orange head back on the road for a return trip to Kalamazoo to take on the Western Michigan Broncos. SU’s beaten WMU for two years straight. And while those final scores weren’t THAT close, te third quarter was fairly dicey both times.

If you think it’s a little early to be talking about upcoming opponents, you’re probably right, especially given the circumstances. But whether we’re coming off a five-win season or a 10-win season, I’m personally excited to see what 2020 turns into for the Orange. And since I run this place, we’re already diving into the coming year’s opponents. Next up:

Western Michigan Broncos

School: Western Michigan

Mascot: Broncos

#BRAND Slogan(s): #LetsRide

Alternate #BRAND Slogan Suggestions: ##MethodCats OR #PureWESTERNMchigan

Recommended Blog: Hustle Belt

Conference: MAC

Coach: Tim Lester, fourth season.

You’re plenty familiar with Lester, given his previous time at Syracuse (QB coach 2013-14, OC 2014-15) and the fact that WMU has been on the schedule so much lately. Before the Method Cat himself wound up coaching his alma mater, he coached high school football for a couple years, took a break to be THE SUBMARINE, then moved on to Elmurst (DIII), followed by his first head coaching job at St. Joseph’s — Indiana (DII). Lester was Western Michigan’s QB coach by 2005, but wound up at North Central (DIII) in 2007 before taking over Elmhurst (DIII) from 2008 to 2012.

Lester went 33-19 with Elmhurst, and made the DIII quartefinals in his final season (that year’s 10 wins have since been vacated). He landed at Syracuse from 2013-15, then got a one-year OC gig at Purdue afterward. Timing worked out that the Broncos needed a coach, and he was happy to head back to Kalamazoo in 2017. He’s gone 20-18 with two bowl losses in three years, though he also hasn’t logged a losing season.

2019 Record: (7-6) (5-3)

Western Michigan v Syracuse Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Recapping Last Season:

Western Michigan put together another quality campaign, going 7-5 in the regular season before losing to Western Kentucky in the First Responder Bowl. WMU actually had a shot to play for the MAC title, but a loss to Northern Illinois in the final regular season game thwarted their division title hopes. Interestingly, the Broncos never lost two in a row until the final two games of the year.

WMU was a pretty dynamic offense last season, ranking top 25 in yards per game (445.7) and top 30 in points per game (33.1). They scored 35 or more in four different MAC games, and showed off an impressive rushing attack at over 200 yards per game. LeVante Bellamy put together one of the season’s top individual rushing seasons, with 1,472 yards and 23 scores (he had 165 and two TDs vs. Syracuse last year). Jon Wassink threw for over 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns, with Skyy Moore accounting for 802 of those yards (with three TDs). Tight end Giovanni Ricci had 642 yards of his own, plus eight scores.

Defensively, things were a little less great. WMU allowed nearly 420 yards per game, though that only translated to 25.9 points per game. As we noticed last season, they weren’t all that adept at making stops against the pass or run. Treshaun Hayward led the team with a big 142 tackles, and Drake Spears added 96 of his own. The Broncos forced 22 turnovers, which was 23rd-best int he country. They also got after the passer pretty well, logging 36 sacks on the year (Hayward, Ali Fayad and Timothy Collins all had at least five).

2020 Season Outlook:

Western Michigan hits reset at a couple key positions this year, and has an even tougher schedule ahead if they want to win six or more games for the seventh straight season. At this point, much of the talent P.J. Fleck brought in has departed — though WMU has continued to recruit at/near the top of the MAC since he left. The Broncos also face Cincinnati, Notre Dame and Syracuse in September (no easy stretch), before facing a more manageable stretch in MAC play.

Without Wassink under center anymore, Griffin Alstott is the most experienced passer on the roster, though those reps were pretty limited for him in 2019. Bellamy and Davon Tucker (351 yards) have both left the backfield, but Sean Tyler averaged nearly six yards per carry as a freshman last year and should take the reins at running back. Leading wideout Skyy Moore comes back, though Ricci and Keith Mixon (500 yards) graduated. Two of the team’s top three offensive linemen are back as well.

The return of injured receiver/DB D’Wayne Eskridge should help the Broncos out on both sides of the ball. He had 776 receiving yards (20.4 yards per catch) back in 2018. But specifically on defense, two of the top three tacklers (Spears, Justin Tranquill) have both departed, but Hayward’s back, as are A.J. Thomas, Patrick Lupro and more. A sizeable portion of last year’s pass-rushing prowess comes back, though there are some replacements needed in the secondary.

Western Michigan v Northwestern Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

Syracuse Game Date: Saturday, September 26

Location: Waldo Stadium, Kalamazoo, Mich.

Odds of Orange Victory: 67 percent

Very Early Outlook vs. Syracuse:

WMU brings back a bunch on defense, so it seems unlikely the Orange are able to just slice through the Broncos like they did last season. However, replacing Wassink, Bellamy and Ricci is a tall order, even with Eskridge healthy. Even if their replacements can hit the ground running fairly quickly, a) keeping up with SU won’t be so simple and b) this is the end of a grueling September for them. I actually think this game winds up closer than what we’ve seen in recent years. Still, a Syracuse win seems likely, however.