As the 2016-17 college football bowl season was winding down, only two teams still had perfect records. One of those teams was a highly unlikely one, the Western Michigan Broncos. Out of the Mid-American Conference, the Broncos finished the regular season with a record of 13-0.
Led by their young and exuberant head coach P.J. Fleck, the Broncos rolled through their schedule which included road victories over two Big Ten teams, Northwestern and Illinois. The Broncos had never cracked the AP Top 25 rankings before this season but in week seven they did, coming in at No. 24.
By the end of the season, Western was ranked No. 15 and was selected to play in The Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic against another Big Ten team, the Wisconsin Badgers. The Badgers made it to the Big Ten championship game before losing to Penn State and finished the regular season with an 10-3 record.
Hoping to complete their perfect season, Western would need to slow down the Wisconsin running game, always one of the Badgers strengths. The Broncos run defense was one of their strengths all season but in the first half they allowed 156 rush yards to Wisconsin and couldn’t seem to stop them from what they do best.
Wisconsin took a quick 14-0 lead in the first quarter on two rushing touchdowns. Western came back with a score of their own when quarterback Zach Terrell ran one in from two yards out. But before the half, the Badgers added a field goal to make it 17-7 at halftime.Shop Wisconsin Cotton Bowl Gear
The Broncos added a field goal in the third to cut the score to 17-10 but Wisconsin extended the lead to two touchdowns early in the fourth on a touchdown pass from Alex Hornibrook to Troy Fumagalli. A late touchdown from Western made the game close but it wasn’t enough as the Broncos took their only loss of the year.
In Kalamazoo, Fleck is a bit of a rock star. The 36-year old coach brought the mantra “Row the Boat” to the Western program and has taken the team from 1-11 in his first season to 13-1 this year. His bubbly personality and his catch phrases like, “Have an Elite Day”, have energized the players and fans and the national media has caught on.
The Broncos were featured on College Gameday prior to their game against Buffalo on November 19th and the broadcast featured a piece on Coach Fleck that highlighted his unique bond with his players and the community.
Fleck is currently signed with Western through the 2020 season but the school has been discussing an extension. As of this article nothing has been completed. Speculation has had him taking a higher profile position but he has insisted he wants to return to Kalamazoo and continue to coach the Broncos. Given the success of the program it is most likely only a matter of time before Fleck is headed to a school that can offer him more money with greater opportunities.
For Broncos fans, the hope is that he stays right where he is. Fingers crossed.
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