Where do Western Michigan fans want this program to be? How close are the Broncos to getting there?
Evan Ertel: 2016, when the Western Michigan Broncos made it all the way to an invitation in the Cotton Bowl, was not all that long ago. How far does it feel like the Broncos program is to getting back to that? Of course, maybe not to another undefeated season, but contending to be one of the best Group of 5 teams in the nation?
Steve Helwick: What’s crazy is no MAC team has even come close to posting a season like 2016 Western Michigan since that Cotton Bowl. The following year in 2017, Toledo finished 11-3. In the five years following, not a single MAC champion attained double-digit victories, demonstrating the incredible parity of the conference. It’s commonplace for the league to produce 8-6 and 9-5 champions with several MAC losses, and the conference really feels like “any given Saturday” in the fall and “any given Tuesday/Wednesday” come November.
That being said, no team has produced 2016 Western Michigan vibes in quite some time. But the Broncos particularly haven’t been close to replicating a campaign like that. They fielded potent teams from 2017-21 under P.J. Fleck’s successor Tim Lester, but they shockingly never returned to the MAC Championship Game despite four-straight winning seasons under Lester — including an 8-5 record in 2021, which is the best Western Michigan has performed since the Fleck era. But after a 5-7 campaign last fall, the Broncos decided to change directions and start anew with Lance Taylor.
The foundation is still being established under first-time head coach, and the team isn’t expected to contend for a MAC championship this season. Attaining six wins and qualifying for a bowl would be impressive accomplishments for year one of Taylor’s tenure, and the Broncos’ rebuild would be ahead of schedule if those objectives were met.