COLLEGE FOOTBALL LOOK AHEAD

Western Michigan plays as ranked team for 1st time

The Sports Xchange

October 11, 2016 at 10:11 pm.

Sep 3, 2016; Evanston, IL, USA;  Western Michigan Broncos quarterback Zach Terrell (11) rushes the ball against the Northwestern Wildcats during the fourth quarter at Ryan Field. Western Michigan defeats Northwestern 22-21. Photo Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 3, 2016; Evanston, IL, USA; Western Michigan Broncos quarterback Zach Terrell (11) rushes the ball against the Northwestern Wildcats during the fourth quarter at Ryan Field. Western Michigan defeats Northwestern 22-21. Photo Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

P.J. Fleck may soon be an attractive hire as a Power 5 conference coach, but for now he’s content on guiding Western Michigan to what could wind up as the best season in school history.

The No. 24 Broncos play their first game as a ranked team in the Associated Press Top 25 poll when they visit Akron on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network) in a matchup of Mid-American Conference division leaders.

Western Michigan (6-0, 2-0 MAC West), which entered the coaches poll for the first time last week, is off to its best start since the 1941 team went 8-0.

Fleck, who of course won’t speculate on his future, prevents the Broncos from getting caught up in any midseason accomplishment, but recognizes the significance of cracking the Top 25.

“Of course it means something. I think it matters a lot,” Fleck said. “Internally, we play it down a lot because where you are right now doesn’t mean you have the right to be there tomorrow.

“What I do love it for is our community. This is a 109-year history of our program … we’ve never been ranked.

“This city of Kalamazoo is a special place. We have an incredible institution with an amazing student body. And incredible faculty and professors that deserve to have a top 25 football program. And now they have one. They can say they have one.”

Fleck is the second-youngest coach in the FBS at 35 — Memphis’s Mike Norvell is 24. Fleck was 1-11 in his first season at Western Michigan before going 8-5 in each of the last two years while going to a pair of bowl games.

“Our failing equals growth,” Fleck said. “We have a lot of scars. But we’ve built leather skin.”

The Broncos are the only FBS team in the country without a turnover and protecting the ball starts with senior quarterback Zach Terrell, who completes 70.6 percent of his passes (fourth nationally) with 15 touchdowns. Terrell threw three touchdown passes and rushed for another in Western Michigan’s 45-30 victory over Northern Illinois last week despite severely biting his tongue while taking a hard hit early in the second quarter, causing him to miss two plays.

Terrell’s favorite target is senior wide receiver Corey Davis (36 catches, 16.4 yard average, eight touchdowns), the all-time MAC leader in receiving yards with 4,374. He caught a pair of touchdown passes last week, giving him a school-record 41 for his career and breaking the previous standard of 39 set by Greg Jennings.

The Broncos, who average a MAC-best 44.8 points, are also difficult to stop when they run. Junior running back Jarvion Franklin was named MAC West Division Offensive Player of the Week after totaling a career-high 249 yards from scrimmage — 169 rushing — with two touchdowns (one receiving) against Northern Illinois. He has 34 career rushing touchdowns and should blow by the school record of 39 set by Jerome Persell from 1976-78.

Franklin (514 yards this season) rushed for 132 yards and a pair of scores in Western Michigan’s 49-10 victory over Central Michigan on Oct. 1 after No. 1 running back Jamauri Bogan (530) went down with an ankle injury after one carry. Bogan did not play against Northern Illinois and is questionable to play Saturday.

The Broncos shouldn’t have much trouble moving the ball against the Zips (4-2, 2-0 MAC East), who are near the bottom of the conference in all major defensive statistical categories.

Akron, though, boasts the No. 3 scoring offense in the MAC (37.7 points), but must contend with the conference’s No. 1 defense (20.5 points allowed).

Junior quarterback Tra’Von Chapman filled in admirably for the injured Thomas Woodson (shoulder) in leading the Zips to consecutive victories over Kent State on the road 31-27 on Oct. 1 and Miami (Ohio) 35-13 last week. Chapman threw five touchdown passes against two interceptions while rushing for a score in those games.

Woodson is questionable to play Saturday and it appears more than likely Chapman makes his third straight start.

The Zips lost their 11th straight game to a ranked opponent 54-10 at No. 8 Wisconsin earlier this season and are 1-26 all-time in such contests — 1-2 at home. The victory was a 34-20 verdict over No. 25 Marshall in 2002.