The Orlando Sentinel has ranked all 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 120 to our projected No. 1 team. We will not be including the four teams the NCAA lists as still reclassifying to the Football Bowl Subdivision level.

Today at No. 68: Western Michigan

Coach: Bill Cubit (47-39, eighth season; 81-57-1 overall in 11 seasons)

2011 record: 7-6 (5-3 in Mid-American Conference, third in West Division)


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Look back: Western Michigan had one of its better seasons under head coach Bill Cubit. The team managed seven victories and it first bowl appearance since the 2008 Texas Bowl. Although, the Broncos continue to have their struggles in the postseason (0-5 in bowl games). The team finished third in the MAC in scoring offense (35.3 points per game) and total offense (458.5 yards per game) however it was the defense that struggled, finishing a dismal 12th out of 13 teams in total defense.

Offensive starters lost/returning: 4/7

Defensive starters lost/returning: 3/8

Key losses: WR Jordan White, WR Chleb Ravenell, WR Robert Arnheim, LB Mitch Zajac, DT Drew Nowak

Top returnees: QB Alex Carder, RB Tevin Drake, RB Brian Fields, DE Freddie Bishop, DE Travonte Boles, DB Johnnie Simon

Strengths: Western Michigan’s high-powered offense is led by quarterback Alex Carder, who set school-records with 3,873 yards including five games with over 400 yards passing. In addition, he had 31 touchdown passes to lead the Broncos. Tevin Drake and Brian Fields combined for 864 total yards on the ground and seven touchdowns. Both will be called upon to carry the load in the rushing game. The offensive line is Western Michigan’s strength. The line returns four of five starters from last season and depth shouldn’t be a concern with 17 players having seen some time on the line.

Weaknesses: A key concern for Cubit and his staff has to be the losses of receivers Jordan White, Chleb Ravenell and Robert Arnheim, who combined for close to 80 percent of the team’s total receiving yards and 73 percent of the catches last season. As previously stated, the defense finished next to last in the league in total defense but features eight returning starters. MAC Defensive Player of the Year Drew Nowak is gone and his presence on the front line – 20 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks – will be sorely missed. Mitch Zajac is gone as well, leaving the linebacking position with lots of talent but concerns with leadership.
Outlook: If Western Michigan can find able-bodied players to step up and play wide receiver, the Broncos should once again be one of the top scoring teams in the Mid-American Conference. Which will be good considering how badly this team stopped teams. If the defense doesn’t find a way to shut down some teams, it could be another long season. The schedule features winnable non-conference games – Illinois, Minnesota and Connecticut – which opens the door for another possible run at a bowl appearance and maybe a West Division crown.

2012 Schedule
Sept. 1 at Illinois
Sept. 8 Eastern Illinois
Sept. 15 at Minnesota
Sept. 22 Connecticut
Sept. 29 Toledo
Oct. 6 UMass
Oct. 13 at Ball State
Oct. 20 at Kent State
Oct. 27 Northern Illinois
Nov. 3 at Central Michigan
Nov. 10 at Buffalo
Nov. 17 Eastern Michigan

Rest of the countdown:

No. 69 Louisiana Tech

No. 70 Kentucky

No. 71 Air Force 

No. 72 Western Kentucky

No. 73 UCLA

No. 74 Toledo

No. 75 FIU