Head coach: Bill Cubit
Last season: The Broncos were 1-10 in 2004. Then Cubit took over. His teams have gone 7-4 and 8-5. While J.D. Brookhart has outrecruited his counterpart at Western Michigan, Cubit has done much more with his predecessor's recruits. Credit their stingy ... naw, downright scary defense. The Broncos allowed just 76.1 rushing yards per game, good for best in the MAC (almost 50 yards fewer than second-best Northern Illinois) and sixth-best in the nation. Ameer Ismael led the way, and the nation, with 17 sacks and 25.5 tackles for loss. Those are not typos. Somehow the second-team All-American wasn't drafted. He landed with New Orleans as non-draftee.
Ryan Cubit effectively ran the offense for his dad, taking the team to the International Bowl, which the Broncos lost to Cincinnati. Mark Bonds was a 1,000-yard rusher, but perhaps the more talented player was behind him. Brandon West averaged 4.8 yards per carry in his freshman year.
Best returning player: Junior cornerback Londen Fryar
Offense: The Broncos lost a lot from the 2006 team. Thomas Peregrin and Tim Hiller will duel for the quarterback job. Peregrin started twice last season, and he started in wins against Toledo and Virginia. He's a junior college transfer who will be a senior this season. Hiller, on the other hand, was 2005 MAC Freshman of the Year. He threw 20 touchdowns that year before injuring his knee and sitting out an entire season. Most of a solid receiving corps returns, including Branden Ledbetter, who scored six touchdowns as the tight end. The offensive line also brings back four of five starters, including Robbie Krutilla -- a preseason All-MAC selection and possibly the highest draftee next spring. Even without a returning starter at quarterback, the Broncos offense should be very strong and multi-faceted.
Defense: And yeah, their defense will still be good. They lost four of the front seven, but return impact players such as defensive lineman Zach Davidson, who logged eight sacks his sophomore season, and Dustin Duclo, whom the team named its defensive player of the year. The secondary, however, might take over as the defense's signature cog. Each starter returns from last year, when the team gave up a fair amount of yardage, but also led the conference with 24 interceptions. Londen Fryar is an outstanding cornerback and, being only a junior, has "first-day draftee" tagged on his shoulder pads. He grabbed four interceptions (two for touchdowns), broke up five passes and forced a fumble last year.
How the Zips match up: With all due respect given to the defending Big Ten champions, the Broncos are a dynamite team and possibly the more difficult game. Every aspect of the team is water-tight. The only question mark is kicker, but the Zips shouldn't be close enough to make that matter.
Way-too-early prediction: Western Michigan 31, Akron 7
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