Orange Fizz


Meet The Enemy: Western Michigan’s Facts and Players To Know

Photo Courtesy of WMU Athletics

For the second consecutive game, Syracuse Football will battle a non-Power Five opponent on Saturday. After demolishing Colgate, this time the opponent is a little more formidable in Western Michigan. Let’s get to know the Broncos.


No year will ever quite be like 2016 in Kalamazoo. With now-Minnesota head man PJ Fleck leading the way, Western Michigan went 13-1 and finished the season No. 15 in the AP poll, ending with a good fight against Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl. Fleck immediately left, and Tim Lester filled his role. The Broncos made three bowl games in Lester’s six seasons, but could never recapture the 2016 magic. Western Michigan beat Saint Francis 35-17 to open the new season with a new man leading the way…


Despite it being his first season in Kalamazoo, Taylor has some past experience with SU. The Alabama native was Notre Dame’s run game coordinator from 2019-21, which included a matchup with Syracuse in 2020. A year ago, Taylor was calling the shots as Louisville’s offensive coordinator, and things didn’t go great when the Cardinals matched up with the Orange. He passed his first test as Head Coach, put SU provides a much bigger challenge.


There was a bit of a QB competition as the season drew nearer for Western Michigan, and Salopek got the job done. The Irwin, Pennsylvania native had a respectable performance, completing nearly 70% of his passes and averaging over 5 yards per carry. A former three-star recruit, Salopek played in and started seven games in last season’s rotating quarterback room in Kalamazoo. The question now becomes can Salopek keep the job all year? He has quite the opportunity to stake his claim on the job Saturday.


Womack transfers to Western Michigan after being one of the most potent receivers in the FCS last season. The Sacred Heart transfer averaged over 13 yards per catch and led the team in receiving yards with well over 700. In his first FBS game, Womack tallied four receptions for 54 yards with a long of 31. Those numbers aren’t eye-popping, but they were good for at least a tie for the team lead. The Broncos receiving core is still working out its identity, but Womack could emerge as the alpha of the group.


Kneeland is the definition of a veteran. The Grand Rapids, Michigan native has played in each of the last four seasons for Western Michigan, including a Quick Lane Bowl victory over Nevada back in 2021. Kneeland is a guy you must have your eye on as soon as the play starts- he had 10 tackles for loss last season. He is versatile as well, with a background in both the 400m dash and high jump in high school. Syracuse’s offensive line held its own against Colgate. Kneeland presents a new challenge.


Wahlberg (no relation to Mark or Donnie) is a name that might ring familiar to SU fans. The Muskegon, Michigan native spent the previous four seasons at Purdue, and he made the trip to the Dome last season, recording three tackles. Wahlberg was never a giant star for the Boilermakers, but he has an opportunity to be just that playing for a non-Power Five team. Wahlberg knows what it’s like to play in the loud house, and could be a real veteran presence for the Broncos defense.

This should represent another tune-up game for SU before traveling to Purdue next weekend, but the Broncos are not a team to be looked past. They may not be as formidable as they were seven years ago, but any FBS team can beat another on any given day.

The Fizz is owned, edited and operated by Damon Amendolara. D.A. is an ’01 Syracuse graduate from the Newhouse School with a degree in Broadcast Journalism.


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