Brandon Fitzsimmons of Hustle Belt, SB Nation's great MAC blog, was kind enough to answer some questions about Western Michigan, MSU's Week 1 opponent.
1. P.J. Fleck came in as an unknown but has brought an incredible amount of energy. He's drawn many national headlines for his unique motivational techniques. What do WMU fans think of him right now?
Fans are on both sides of the Fleck spectrum. One one side, you have the fans that love his high energy, motivation in both the players and fans, and his superb job recruiting thus far. He managed to grab 4-star QB Chance Stewart (who was originally committed to play for Bielema at Wisconsin) and has breathed new life into some of the students in an effort to boost attendance.
However, on the other hand you have the fans that are already sick of the "horse and pony show". I tend to side more on this half of the spectrum. Yes, he is getting the community and students involved, but his energy tends to overpower and destroy his message. His excitement alone was good for the first couple weeks, but now it's gotten to the point of being annoying.
As for recruiting, there is still months left in this current recruiting period, so it'll be interesting to see if 17-18 year olds keep their word if the losses start piling up or if they truly buy into Fleck's message.
2. Was the Bill Cubit firing surprising? He had been a staple there and produced some pretty good teams and players.
Not to me. Keep in mind, last season was expected to be a dominant one for WMU: weak non-conference schedule (Minny, Illinois, UConn), get Toledo and NIU at home, senior QB, solid defense. Instead, WMU went (in order of my "list" from last year): 2-2 in non-conference [vs 4-0/3-1], missed a bowl game [0-3 in bowls in Cubit's tenure, 0-5 in program history], finished 5th in the MAC West [could've contended for it], lost the "Michigan MAC Trophy" [embarrassing loss to EMU].
And the sad part is that he could've kept his job but might've lost it by being so loyal to his senior QB Alex Carder. After getting injured (in pretty much garbage time no less) against UConn, back-up QB Tyler VanTubbergen stepped in and struggled at first. But he finally settled in and nearly beat Ball State, had a 1st half lead against NIU, and beat rival CMU in Mt. Pleasant, something WMU hadn't done in 10 years, with a monster 4th quarter (3 TDs, 179 yards).
With a 4-6 record, momentum, and a bowl bid possible, all Cubit had to do was beat lowly Buffalo and EMU, the latter at home. Cubit decided to insert a rusty, possibly still injured Carder at Buffalo and Carder ended up throwing 4 INTs. He'd follow that up with a horrible showing against Eastern Michigan the next week.
Sure there are some fans that think going 51-47 in 8 years is not worth getting fired over, but keep in mind that he never won the MAC West, never won a bowl game (there are so many today), and went 22-27 over the past 4 seasons.
3. Looking at 2013, what are expectations for the Broncos? Is a bowl game a possibility?
This is tough to look at in all honesty. You look at the schedule, and you look at this team and Fleck, and you think "it's going to be a long season". In their first 4 games, they have 3 road games against B1G foes (MSU, Northwestern, Iowa) and an FCS foe. After that, they jump into their MAC Schedule with (in order): Kent State (11-3 last season), @ Toledo, vs Buffalo, vs Ball State (9-4 last season). Outside of Buffalo, I don't see the Broncos winning any of those games.
They end the season with @ UMass, @ EMU, vs CMU for 3 winnable games before getting NIU on the road. I honestly see a 4-8 record again, with a 1-7 start entirely in the realm of possibility. Maybe Fleck rallies the troops and gets to 6 wins, but I doubt that anything above that is realistic.
4. MSU plays at WMU in 2015. Is there talk around Kalamazoo about that game yet? It was a huge event in Mt. Pleasant last year. What do you think about this 3-for-1 "Celebrate The State" series?
I'm excited for that game. Unfortunately, I think it is still too far away for other Bronco fans to get excited about yet. It will undoubtedly be a big game and I hope to see a sell-out, something Waldo Stadium hasn't seen in ages.
As for the series as a whole, I absolutely love it. Everyone wins. MSU gets multiple (10?) home games against regional, weaker foes, which is an almost guaranteed draw in that the away fans will travel if Sparty fans decide the quality of play won't be to their liking. Plus, each of "directionals" gets a huge drawing home game against a local big name. Win-win.
5. For those who don't know much about the roster, who are a few key players who could have big seasons?
VanTubbergen (nicknamed TVT) is a great QB. He has a cannon for an arm, and had to play second fiddle to Carder and his legs for 2.5 years. Now he has full reign and should have a great season. With an improved running game, he could find Jaime Wilson often, as Wilson looks to be fully healthy after limping into the offseason after a stellar start last year.
On the defensive side, Johnnie Simon makes the transition from "rover" to LB this season after leading the Broncos in tackles in back-to-back seasons. He's a ball-hawk and it'll be interesting to see how he does in the 4-3 scheme. As for pass defense, Lewis Toler is gone having transferred shortly after the Cubit firing but will be replaced by Donald Celiscar who had himself a good season opposite Toler. Justin Currie and Demetrius Pettway complete the secondary, which was at times suspect early on last year.
Thanks to Brandon. Make sure you check out Hustle Belt.